EU CATTLE continue to be subject to welfare abuses when exported to the Middle East, despite attempts by Brussels to tighten up on the trade.

Two years ago the EU Commission introduced a range of measures to discourage any mistreatment. This included eliminating export refunds, except for cattle going to traditional outlets in Lebanon and Egypt, and stepping up veterinary inspections in the country of destination. It also withheld export subsidies if a cow gave birth during transit or if stock died.

But a new film released by welfare group Compassion in World Farming suggests these changes have made little impact. Undercover investigators tracked a consignment of 1200 Irish cattle from Waterford to Lebanon last October, and then on to a state-owned slaughterhouse near the capital Beirut.

The film shows frequent use of electric goads and overcrowding on sub-standard trucks in the Lebanon. At the slaughterhouse the animals struggle as one hind leg is shackled, and then they have their throats cut, without stunning, before bleeding to death over several minutes.

The film was presented in Brussels on Wednesday, as part of CIWF’s new “Stop the Bull Ship” campaign, which is seeking an end to the trade. With dealers receiving up to £160 an animal, CIWF reckons it costs EU taxpayers around £42m a year in export refunds. “Public funds should be spent on schemes which protect rather than undermine animal welfare,” said MEP Neil Parish, who is supporting the campaign.

But the allegations have prompted an angry response from Irish farmers, who supply 40,000 head of cattle a year to Lebanon.

“Export refunds are essential for the international live export trade and for small, Irish family farms to compete on international markets in the face of competition from large-scale operators in Australia and South America,” said Irish Farmers’ Association livestock chairman, John Bryan.

A commission spokesman added that the live export trade was limited in scale and that veterinary inspections were carried out at all stages, though he admitted that “once they are out of the EU it is out of our hands”. If the cattle did not come from the EU, shippers would simply source them from further afield, involving more suffering, he added.

philip.clarke@rbi.co.uk