| Live animal exports going via previously unknown routes|
|Farmers, lorry firms and shipping companies have been operating a hitherto unknown route for live exports of animals for slaughter or fattening abroad, as the controversy over the trade through Ramsgate intensifies.|
Cattle from farms in England and Scotland have been transported, unknown to welfare campaigners, via a Scottish port and Northern Ireland for export either to Ireland or to Spain. Although the numbers of sailings are relatively low, the government's Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), responsible for ensuring proper welfare arrangements, has revealed nine consignments totalling more than a thousand cattle were sent out of the UK in this way in the first half of 2012.
It is understood that the route is still being used, since the trade is legal under EU law. AHVLA inspectors check the animals at a centre near one of the ports but the agency has withheld information about which port or ports in Scotland are used, where ships dock in Northern Ireland, details of the final destinations or those involved in the trade. Doing so might jeopardise the health and safety of its staff, it says. But data released to Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) under freedom of information requests prompted the welfare charity to warn of a "furtive return" to the trade by other ports.
The figures were revealed as MPs prepared for a parliamentary debate on the live exports on Thursday. Ministers on Wednesday announced tougher rules to protect animal welfare by businesses using Ramsgate, where attempts by its owners, Thanet district council, to suspend exports have fallen foul of EU trade law. Ipswich was used for one shipment in September after Ramsgate briefly stopped operations.
Ministers insist they have to make sure Ramsgate stays open for the trade.
The AVHLA figures reveal more than 1,000 cattle, mostly unweaned calves, went to Ireland and Spain.
CIWF says in the 18 months between January 2011 and June 2012, more than 80,000 sheep and nearly 12,000 cattle were exported from Britain. Young calves, which could be just two to three weeks old when exported, were poorly equipped to withstand such trips.
Philip Lymbery, chief executive of CIWF, said: "Calves are being taken from England up to Scotland, via ferry to Northern Ireland, on through Ireland and over to Spain via another gruelling ferry journey. The only way we were able to find this out was through FOI requests. We've had to drag information out of Defra [responsible for live exports] and we think it's something people will want to know.
"I think many British people will be appalled that these young animals are being taken on these nonsensical journeys of almost 100 hours. For one journey totalling 94 hours in June, there is no evidence of any inspections having taken place. If this is the case, there are calves going on gruelling journeys, likely to take a terrible toll on them physically, without having their wellbeing monitored."
The charity said it had commissioned a YouGov online opinion poll of 2,059 adults which suggested just 6% of people thought animals should be exported live for food. Two-thirds (66%) would prefer the animals to be slaughtered in the UK, a preference shared by the government. The poll also said 62% felt companies involved in the trade should bear greater costs instead of British taxpayers subsidising it by funding policing and inspections of animals by government staff.
"We are in a ridiculous position in Britain, where we don't agree with live exports but are forced to subsidise it with our taxes," said Lymbery. "It's shocking that calves from this country are being transported over several days across Europe. Profit is clearly taking precedence over the welfare of our farm animals."