The NFU has rubbished claims by the RSPCA that the government is failing on its commitments to check animals destined for live export through Dover port.
In February, farm minister David Heath announced new tougher rules for live exports after more than 40 sheep had to be put down by RSPCA inspectors for “welfare reasons” following an incident at Ramsgate port.
As a result, Mr Heath stated that every consignment would be checked at loading and a proportion again at the port of departure until the government were entirely satisfied there was no risk to the welfare of animals.
On Thursday (19 September) the RSPCA released a statement claiming that the government was failing to follow its own guidance on welfare checks.
The charity said some animals were still not being checked at the point of loading – and less than less than half of lorries were checked at the port.
Answering a parliamentary question by Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke, Mr Heath confirmed that between 1 May and 5 September 2013 there were 46 vehicles carrying animals to the Continent.
All of these vehicles were inspected on departure by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), the government agency that oversees inspections at Dover. However, only 18 of these were subject to additional checks by AHVLA inspectors at the port of exit.
During the same period, the AHVLA served seven non-compliance notices for breaches of welfare during transport legislation. And in September, one lorry was prevented from continuing on its journey at the port as it did not comply with the legislation.
AN AHVLA spokesman said: “The AHVLA is committed to supervising the loading of all live animal export consignments. In addition checks may also be make at the port of embarkation.
“A single recent consignment was not inspected at loading due to unexpected staff illness. Given the timing of the consignment’s departure [3.30am] it was not possible to get an alternative inspector to the place of loading prior to the commencement of the journey.
“As a result, AHVLA implemented its contingency arrangement of undertaking a full inspection of this consignment at the port.”
But NFU south-east spokesman Frank Langrish, a sheep farmer from Kent, accused the RSPCA of sour grapes because its own inspectors were not being allowed to check consignments.
“The government only has to make a cursory inspection at the dock, which is exactly what they are doing. The checks are going smoothly and there are no problems at all,” said Mr Langrish.
“The RSPCA is just so hacked off because its own inspectors are not allowed in. They just want to stir up trouble to find out where these animals are going.
“Fortunately, they are not allowed to and that has made the whole thing an awful lot better.”
The RSPCA is calling for an end to all live transport and for all meat to be transported “on the hook”.
The live export trade resumed from the Port of Dover in May, following two years of operating from Ramsgate.
The RSPCA has been calling for both Dover Harbour Board and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) to allow RSPCA Inspectors into the port, as they were in Ramsgate.