On the hook or on the hoof, sheep exports earn vital income for UK farming. They generated nearly £230m in export earnings in 2000. Live exports amount for 15% of the total export trade, earning about £31m.
That is the business animal rights campaigners wish to wreck. On what grounds? British standards of livestock transport and shipping are second to none. It can take longer for a south-coast sheep to reach the nearest export abattoir in Birmingham, than a Paris market. During their journey they are likely to enjoy greater comfort than London commuters.
Nevertheless, single-issue pressure groups such as Compassion in World Farming, are quick to dream up gimmicky petitions with the aim of fermenting opposition to this legitimate trade. If CIWF wants to improve welfare, it should lobby Brussels to ensure the top-class standards adopted in Britain are applied throughout the EU.
Why, according to the RSPCA, are there only two EU transport inspectors throughout Europe and no spot-checks planned before July?
Strict rules on journey times and rest periods respected here too often fall by the wayside on the Continent. Why do pressure groups rightly demand the highest standards from UK farmers, yet disregard dubious practices overseas?
Farmers responsibility for stock does not end after they leave the farm, some argue. So are car-makers whose customers caused accidents through mishandling their vehicles also to be held responsible?
The answer to genuine concerns about livestock transport is to insist that the rules formed in Brussels and adopted here, are enforced rigorously elsewhere.
If not the wreckers threaten to disrupt live exports which help to support some of the poorest upland farming communities. And they will help to promote sheep exports from Poland and Romania which involve far longer journeys and untold suffering.