Animal Aid


Posted 1 November 2002
A calf

The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), a government advisory body, is reviewing animal welfare at markets. Their report has been repeatedly delayed because of FMD. Now, FAWC is widening its review to include alternative sales methods like video and electronic sales and holding centres. In our submission to FAWC, Animal Aid makes it clear that whilst we have long called for an end to livestock markets, the problems don't stop there.

Barbara Silberstein
FAWC Secretariat
1a Page Street

19 November 2002

Dear Ms Silberstein


You recently wrote to Animal Aid requesting our comments on alternatives to livestock markets such as electronic sales, video sales, collection centres or farm to farm transfers.

Animal Aid's fundamental position remains unchanged. We seek to encourage people to adopt an animal-free diet. But for so long as animals are raised and slaughtered for meat and dairy products, we believe they should be spared the wholly unnecessary additional hardships of a day at market.

FAWC has copies of our 3 reports into livestock markets, Auctioning Animal Flesh, A Brutal Business and Bartered Lives, as well as a detailed submission sent in as part of your initial consultation. These documents spell out our objections in detail and are based on first hand evidence of sales by our Marketwatch monitors. We have witnessed routine physical violence and seen animals crowded together in pens for hours on end with no access to water. Sick and injured animals are frequently left unnoticed by the authorities. We have evidence of animals giving birth and dying at market.

The foot-and-mouth outbreak highlighted how, apart from causing animals to suffer, markets can also hasten the spread of disease. Animals often make lengthy journeys up and down the country, via markets, before they are killed. Disease spreads because unfamiliar animals are mixed, because animals are crowded together and left standing in their own excrement and because stressed animals have lower resistance. The system itself is so complex that at the start of FMD, MAFF was forced to admit that it had no idea how many sheep were in transit.

FMD showed that when faced with the temporary closure of livestock markets, farmers were able to adapt and find new ways of selling their animals. It is this shift away from markets that has led you to extend the scope of your review. Animal Aid has long called for an end to livestock markets and we welcome any changes that would result in improvements for animals. However, the problems do not stop at markets. An honest critique of alternative sales methods is needed to ensure that any new mechanisms do not incorporate the animal welfare problems that are, unfortunately, so entrenched in the current system.

8 hour journey limit
The most appropriate situation that we can envisage for farmed animals would be a direct, single journey from farm to slaughterhouse with a maximum journey limit of 8 hours. The whole process of leaving the farm, loading and unloading and transportation is inherently stressful for animals and the shorter the process, the less they will suffer. Farmers should work together to overcome any obstacles which may prevent the realisation of this scenario. Small-scale farmers state that it is impractical for them to take a small number of animals all the way to the slaughterhouse and that it is simpler to bring them to market. Farmers could group together and arrange co-operatively to bring animals to the slaughterhouse. The first animal on board the truck should not have to travel for longer than 8 hours. Working to prevent the closure of small, local slaughterhouses would, at least, minimise the animals' journey and reduce the claimed need for markets - although our evidence shows that these slaughterhouses do not offer any better guarantee of a 'humane' kill.

Farmers' markets
Small-scale farmers also express concern that whilst larger operations can deal directly with supermarkets, they may be left out of the picture if they cannot bring their animals to market. Consumers have become increasingly keen to know more about the origins of their food and farmers' markets have sprung up in most towns and cities. These markets offer small farmers the opportunity to slaughter animals locally and sell the meat directly to the public.

Holding centres
We are worried that if holding centres are not properly monitored, they could become little more than unregulated livestock markets, hidden from the public eye. We appreciate that there are real concerns over the whole business of ad hoc dealing from these centres, with animals travelling vast distances via a network of agents and paperwork being faked. Foot-and-mouth finally put the spotlight onto these dealers and revealed the extent to which animals travel between farm and slaughterhouse.

From the animals' point of view, the same welfare issues will apply. They may be kept for hours in crowded pens in baking heat or pouring rain without water and with no bedding. They will have to endure the stress of being loaded and unloaded and mixing with unfamiliar animals (with the associate disease transmission risks). There will be a particular risk of physical violence towards animals if officials are not present to monitor the centres.

Animal Aid does not favour the use of holding centres but if they do become reality, the key will be to ensure proper law enforcement and to set down minimum and maximum holding times. Our consistent lobbying has resulted in certain improvements at markets, notably the September 1998 publication of the government's Strategy for the Protection of Animal Welfare at Livestock Markets. As you will be aware, this requires SVS vets to be present on at least 25 per cent of all sale days; the completion of biannual problem checklists and the introduction of incidents books citing any examples of poor droving, lack of water, injuries and sickness. Serious problems persist at market but our fear is that holding centres may be set up without even these basic accountability procedures - effectively taking animal welfare a step backwards.

We would suggest a minimum hold time of two hours and a maximum of four hours. A one hour rest period at a holding centre is simply not sufficient to allow animals to be unloaded, fed and watered and becomes more stressful than restful. There should be no need for animals to wait longer than four hours before being collected.

There is a danger that if an 8 hour journey limit was imposed, farmers would simply unload animals at a holding centre for a couple of hours and then load them up for the next 8 hour stint. To avoid this, if animals are travelling via a holding centre, a total journey time of 12 hours including hold time should be stipulated. If animals are to be transported again, animals must then have a proper 48 hour rest period where they are able to exercise outdoors, rest in shelter and with bedding and be fed and watered. The introduction of a measure like this would help to combat dealers' tendency to transport animals up and down the country.

Electronic and video sales
Farmers state that livestock markets are an important forum for socialising with other farmers and discussing business. If a central auctioneer lays on electronic or video sales facilities, farmers will not lose this opportunity.

Our concern is that electronic sales allow farmers to barter across great distances. When viewing the animals as 'commodities' on screen, they may forget the animal welfare implications of a sale. The key is to enforce a maximum 8 hour journey limit followed by a compulsory 48 hour rest period if animals are to be transported again.

Over the past 50 years, farming has become increasingly industrialised and 850 million animals are currently slaughtered for their meat each year. With such giant daily slaughterhouse throughputs, we believe it is impossible for animals to be reared, transported, bought, sold and killed in a genuinely humane way. Indeed we have yet to hear of any system, however small-scale, that does not result in suffering.

Within this context, we are still keen to see an end to the worst barbarities of modern farming. Our extensive, 10 year investigations into livestock markets prove beyond doubt that cruelty is inherent in the system. We have repeatedly called for markets to be consigned to history and we welcome the introduction of any alternative marketing practices that will lessen the animals' suffering. Our preferred option would be direct sales, with animals making just one journey (8 hours max) from farm to slaughterhouse. Supermarkets can buy directly from farms and small-scale enterprises could sell via farmers' markets.

Video and electronic selling techniques have potential but only if an 8 hour journey limit is strictly enforced (followed by a mandatory 48 hour resting period if animals are to be transported again).

Holding centres could present serious problems for the animals. The key must be strict monitoring and law enforcement combined with a maximum holding time of 4 hours.

Please do not hesitate to contact Animal Aid if you would like to discuss any of the issues we have raised in more detail.

Yours sincerely

Becky Smith
Animal Aid Campaigns


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