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Animal activists plan toblockade Farmers Ferry

29 July 1998
Animal activists plan to
blockade Farmers Ferry

ANIMAL rights protesters plan a series of mass demonstrations in the run-up to next months maiden voyage of the £1.5 million Farmers Ferry, which aims to export live sheep to the Continent.

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Animal activists plan toblockade Farmers Ferry

29 July 1998
Animal activists plan to
blockade Farmers Ferry

By Johann Tasker

ANIMAL rights protesters plan a series of mass demonstrations in the run-up to next months maiden voyage of the £1.5 million Farmers Ferry, which aims to export live sheep to the Continent.

The five farmers behind the ferry are desperate to revive the live export trade. The trade slumped after major ferry companies stop shipping livestock abroad, following protests, three years ago.

But campaigners opposed to live exports warn that Farmers Ferry is destined to sail into stormy waters. They have planned a series of protests at Dover over the coming weeks and claim “hundreds of demonstrators” are prepared to take part.

“Farmers are badly misjudging the public mood towards animal welfare,” said Peter Stevenson, political and legal director of Compassion in World Farming. “Whatever short-term gains they get now, its not good for farmers to behave in a way that ignores the concern of much of the public.”

Campaigners from other protest groups, including Kent Against Live Exports and Brightlingsea Against Live Exports, are also set to join protests at Dover.

The five Welsh farmers behind the Farmers Ferry company now claim to have raised half of the £1.5m needed to restart live exports. The Cap Afrique, a roll-on-roll-off ferry with room for about 10,000 sheep, will initially sail between Dover and Dunkirk.

“Nobody else is going to stimulate the market on our behalf, so we decided wed do it ourselves,” said Farmers Ferry chairman Terry Bayliss, who runs a sheep farm near Abergavenny. “Weve had an incredible amount of enquiries for sheep this season and yet weve got great difficulty getting them out there.”

After protesters demonstrated at ports across the south of England three years ago, annual live sheep exports slumped from 1.7 million animals to their current level of 437,000. The drop has resulted in an oversupplied domestic market and prices have plummeted. Lambs now worth £30 were worth £45 a year ago.

The farming community has reacted with mixed feelings towards the notion of exporting live animals again. A Farmers Ferry mailshot to 65,000 farmers across the country resulted in an estimated 4,000 replies and donations of about £750,000. The money is still rolling in at a rate of £20,000 a day.

The Farmers Union of Wales, which draws many of its members from upland sheep areas, has backed the idea. But the much larger National Farmers Union fears that the plan could set back its attempts to persuade regular channel ferry operators to resume live exports on a more low-key level. Even some farmers are reluctant to see their animals exported live.

“Im going to support it, but my heart isnt behind it,” said one Welsh sheep farmer who asked not be named. “We know were laying ourselves open to protesters if we start up live exports again, but what else can we do?”

Government ministers are also opposed to the idea of sending live sheep abroad. But they are powerless to call a halt to the trade.

“The British Government has a strong preference for exports to go as meat rather than as live animals for slaughter,” Elliot Morley, Minister for Farm Animal Welfare said earlier this year. “We very much regret – but must accept – that under European law we cannot impose a ban.”

Instead, Morley has embarked on tightening up the rules governing live exports. Earlier this month, he launched a consultation paper that will give Government-appointed veterinary inspectors wide-ranging powers to decide whether individual animals are fit to travel.

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