Opinion: Farming needs to unite on livestock transport

It’s been said that you should do one thing every day that scares you. So I read the Conservative party’s election manifesto.

The thing that scared me was a pledge that is tucked in at the end of a paragraph about animal welfare.

It says: “As we leave the European Union, we can take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter.”

The word “control” was a careful choice to use in this context. The export of live farm animals for slaughter is already very strictly controlled, and quite rightly so.

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Our industry must always ensure the highest standards of welfare for animals when they are in transit for any reason – be it for slaughter, further fattening or for breeding.

However, I fear the word “control” simply means they’ll try to stop the export of live farm animals for slaughter for animal welfare reasons.

Let there be no mistake; this line in the Conservative party’s manifesto is not really about animal welfare. It’s all about votes and animal rights campaigners in the south-east of England.

Neale McQuistinNeale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in south-west Scotland


It’s a tragedy that the Tory manifesto has turned the journey across the English Channel into an animal welfare issue.

I would hasten to add that I’m not fearful for the loss of this particular trade. I wouldn’t mind at all if it was stopped. 

Apart from being a customer relations disaster area, jobs are also being exported to another country – as livestock sent to an abattoir on mainland Europe is keeping people working and paying taxes on mainland Europe, not in the UK.

Stop the trade by all means, but not on animal welfare grounds as there is no justification for this.

Animal rights activists will not make a bonfire with their placards and go home after the trade in slaughter animals across the English Channel is stopped. Quite the reverse; they will be strengthened and invigorated.

A farm animal is completely unaware that it is crossing an international border while it is in transit.

Similarly, the animal is completely unaware if its journey will end in an overnight stay in an abattoir or a long and happy life spent having babies in the Loire Valley.   

Dangerous precedent

If the export trade in slaughter animals is stopped on welfare grounds, then animal rights campaigners will easily argue that the same rules should apply for moving farm animals for any reason. And who could argue with that once a precedent has been set?

The relatively short period of time it takes to transport a farm animal across the English Channel will effectively become the new benchmark of what is deemed to be unacceptable for the welfare of a farm animal.

The journey from Orkney and Shetland, as well as many other islands off our coast, will become a welfare issue. The journey from Larne to Cairnryan will also be unacceptable, as will a journey from Carlisle to Birmingham.

The NFU and the National Sheep Association actively support the trade in live animals across the English Channel. Both organisations need to get their acts together and get a grip on this issue very soon before it gets away from them.

The last time the Conservative party gave in to the wishes of a pressure group we ended up out of Europe. The transport of livestock could be the next big disaster that is heading our way.

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