14 October 1998
Farmers Ferry forced to backtrack on welfare
By Johann Tasker
FARMERS Ferry has been forced to backtrack on claims that animal welfare is at the top of its agenda after its biggest customer was found guilty of mistreating livestock.
The farmer-owned ferry company, which has repeatedly refused to deal with hauliers who breach animal welfare guidelines, will continue exporting sheep for Yorkshire-based livestock transporter F Machin and Son.
Northallerton magistrates last week found 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 £2,737 after falsifying claims that sheep were fed and watered during 648-mile journeys to France.
Mr Machin, who exports about 100,000 sheep annually, this week found himself distanced from Farmers Ferry, even though he is their biggest customer. But with so much business at stake, the ferry company has found itself 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 sheep for Mr Machin as long as MAFF continued to authorise the necessary journey plans.
“If the Ministry are still prepared to license him – which they are – then that must be our yardstick,” said Mr Gooding. “Hes been fined, he wont be doing it again and hes paid his dues.”
The National Sheep Association, which drew up the animal welfare code used by Farmers Ferry, said it was irrelevant that Mr Machin had been apprehended on a technicality rather than an actual cruelty charge.
“Its the technical issue which contributes to good welfare,” said NSAs Mr Thorley. “The fact that hes been pulled up on this is very, very good indeed.”
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 breaching current regulations… 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.”
Meanwhile, Mr Machin is seriously considering giving up the live export trade anyway. He has recently invested more than £1 million in an abattoir at Thirsk which is expected to open in two months time.
“The maximum fines [for breaching regulations] are just crippling,” Mr Machin said. “Im questioning whether to carry on.”
The Thirsk abattoir will be the first sheep-only slaughterhouse in the north of England. Mr Machin said he would prefer to send his sheep there rather than deal with the hassle of sending them abroad.