26 May 2000
Live Scots sheep for Middle East?

By Shelley Wright

SHIPPING 10,000 live sheep at a time from Edinburgh to the Middle East could be one option to help Scottish farmers procure a brighter financial future.

Tim Harris, export consultant and long-time member of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, said the ideal scenario was to export the meat on the hook.

But before that “happy state” was reached, he said, the fact remained that there was a huge market for animals from Scottish farms to be exported live.

The Middle East is one of the biggest markets for sheepmeat. Shiploads of sheep are sent there every year from Australia, New Zealand and South America.

Many of the sheep are slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. But Mr Harris said he felt that criticism over live exports was largely immaterial.

“They have no humane killers, and never have, and they also have no refrigeration. So everything has to be kept alive until it is needed.”

He added: “Their demand is enormous and increasing. If we cannot supply them, someone else will, and not necessarily under the best welfare conditions.”

However, it was unacceptable to haul animals for miles to slaughter destinations in Europe where refrigeration was perfectly feasible, said Mr Harris.

Jim Walker, president of the Scottish NFU, said the idea of exporting sheep to the Middle East was worth considering, but only if animal welfare was high.

The RSPCA, however, was alarmed at the suggestion.

Julia Wrathall, deputy head of the societys farm animals department, said: “Experience has shown the devastating mortality that can occur on these ships.”

Jim Morris, chief executive of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, also voiced concern at the idea.

It could be seen as hypocritical if British farmers exported sheep while at the same time complaining about imports produced under low welfare conditions.

Farmers Ferry, currently exporting live sheep to mainland Europe, has not explored the Middle East market, said company chairman Terry Bayliss.