Heath announces tougher checks for Ramsgate live exports

FARMING Minister David Heath has announced that exports of live animals through Ramsgate port will face tougher welfare checks, in response to an incident at the port in September.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) has been asked to ensure that every consignment scheduled to pass through the port is ‘thoroughly inspected for any signs of distress or injury to the animals onboard’.

AHVLA inspectors have also been told to take a ‘zero tolerance approach to any breaches of the welfare regulations where unnecessary suffering to animals is caused’.

The agency has also been told to develop its own contingency plans in the event of an emergency if the transporter is ‘unwilling or unable’ to implement their own plans within two hours.

The announcement follows what Mr Heath described as a ‘shocking’ incident on September 12 when 47 sheep died at the port, including more than 40 shot by RSPCA officers and a handful that drowned.

Mr Heath, who made the announcement ahead of a Commons debate on the live export trade scheduled to take place on Thursday afternoon (December 13), said:

“Following the shocking events at Ramsgate on 12 September, we are tightening up our procedures to deal with breaches of welfare standards.  It is completely unacceptable that more than 40 sheep died unnecessarily and I am determined that this cannot happen again. I intend to visit the port at the next available opportunity and witness the loading and inspection process myself.”

“Our animal welfare laws must be followed to the letter so that no animal is made to suffer during transport. Until I am entirely satisfied that there is no longer a risk to the welfare of animals at Ramsgate, I have ordered AHVLA to check every consignment of live animals scheduled to pass through the port.  I want a zero tolerance approach – if we find any evidence of slipping welfare standards then we will not hesitate to take action.”

Mr Heath asked AHVLA to investigate the incident in October. However, despite his announcement on Wednesday, it is unclear when, or indeed if, Defra and AHVLA will publish what could be an explosive report, which will cover the parts played by the agency, the RSPCA and the exporters in the incident.  

Spokesmen for Defra and the agency said they could publish the report at present because of ongoing legal cases and were unable to confirm whether the report would ever be published.

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond called for the report to be published as soon as legal issues permit. “It is important that the findings of AHVLA’s report are shared with us and made public. This trade is important to the industry and all parties to comply with the rules so until we see the what’s in the report and the lessons to be learned, it is difficult to know what went wrong.”

Thanet District Council recently lifted its ban on live exports from the port, ahead of a High Court judicial review hearing on Tuesday (December 11) brought by Barco de Vapor, the company that runs the trade. However, the exporters have also been seeking damages from the council for the trade lost trade while the ban was in place.

The council imposed the ban after the September 12 incident but a judge lifted it on October 16 until the outcome of the judicial review was determined.

That RSPCA said that case ‘was effectively brought to an end’ at Tuesday’s hearing’ but signalled it was considering mounting its own legal challenge to the trade after Mr Justice Mailes indicated that he would consider a fresh judicial review application on this issue in the New Year.

RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “We will not step away from this - the battle to end live exports is far from over.”

Kent Trading Standards have confirmed it is ‘looking into’ the incident, although a spokesperson said this was not yet a formal investigation.

Readers' comments (1)

  • British farmers, who generally take good care of their animals, should recognise that live animal exports are inherently likely to cause unnecessary suffering. They should insit that their animals are slaughtered carefully and humanely close to the farm and are never subjected to live export, except as individual animals for breeding.

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