16 October 1998

Farmers Ferry hit by welfare hearing

By Johann Tasker

FARMERS Ferry bosses have been forced to backtrack on assurances that animal welfare is their top priority after their biggest customer was found guilty of mistreating livestock.

Northallerton magistrates last week found Yorks-based livestock transporter F Machin and Son guilty of 369 charges of breaching government regulations on animal welfare and transportation. Company director Richard Machin and transport manager Peter Howarth were fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2737.

Hauliers transporting livestock are required to rest animals every 14 hours and submit journey plans to MAFF.

But magistrates said the men had made false claims that sheep were fed and watered during 648-mile journeys to France. Sentence was passed on a specimen charge which took place between August and December last year.

F Machin and Son transports about 250,000 sheep annually. An estimated 100,000 of those sheep are exported, making Mr Machin the biggest customer of Farmers Ferry, the farmer-owned company which ships livestock between Dover and Dunkirk.

Farmers Ferry, which has repeatedly refused to deal with livestock transporters who breach welfare rules, this week distanced itself from the Machin case. But with so much business at stake, the ferry company has been unable to blackball Mr Machin completely.

"Anybody who breaks the rules has to suffer the consequences," said Farmers Ferry spokesman Mike Gooding. "Were not going to come to his defence."

But Mr Gooding added that Farmers Ferry would still transport Machin lorries so long as journey plans were authorised by MAFF.

But animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming accused Farmers Ferry of going back on its word.

"We expect immediate action from Farmers Ferry to ensure any exporter found guilty of flouting current regulations on transporting live animals will not be allowed to use its services," said CIWF spokesman Richard Hardy. "Based on their previous statements, anything less can only be seen as a U-turn."

Mr Machin said he was seriously considering giving up the live export trade anyway. He has invested more than £1m in an abattoir at Thirsk, which is planned to open in two months.

"The maximum fines (for breaching regulations) are just crippling," he said. "I am questioning whether to carry on."