Transport top of the agenda - 4 February 2021

Common-sense and practicality must be factored into proposals and inquiries into animal transport writes Vice President Charlie Adam, after more than 300 members join NFU Scotland webinars on the subject.  He writes:

The deadline for submissions to DEFRA consultation on animal welfare in transport has been extended to 25 February and now the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry into how the proposed new rules will impact on animal welfare, disease control and business interests. The DEFRA proposals would apply to England and Wales only and the Scottish Government has launched its own consultation.

In practice, because many journeys are cross border and hauliers will require livestock transporters to operate across the whole of the UK, differences in requirements between home nations would be impractical and it is essential that appropriate standards, set by people familiar with farming practice in all parts of the country, are adopted countrywide.

The proposed changes have caused considerable consternation amongst farmers and others involved in the livestock industry across Scotland, particularly those in remote areas and the Northern and Western Isles where essential livestock movements inevitably involve longer journey times often including shipment of live animals by sea. This concern resulted in more than 300 people logging in to recent NFUS webinars to discuss the proposals – these, and details on the proposals are available to view on a dedicated section of our website at: .

The EFRA Committee inquiry, in addition to DEFRA and Scottish Government consultations, offers an opportunity to inject some much-needed practicality and common sense into regulations which, if adopted as proposed, could lead to huge disruption and cost to the industry. This could threaten the continuation of livestock production in island communities which are heavily dependent on it economically, socially and for maintaining the natural environment.

In Scotland, we are proud of our record on animal welfare and scrutiny of current standards is provided by APHA, local authorities, SSPCA, farm assurance assessors and others. In addition to the obvious need to ensure the welfare of our animals, it is not in the interests of buyers or sellers, nor of farmers moving their own livestock, to have them arrive in anything less than good condition. There have been very few incidents where current regulations have not been adhered to.

If changes are required, perhaps emphasis should be directed more towards compliance with existing standards than on some of the measures being proposed, considering the doubtful justification for them and the cost and disruption to the industry they would cause.

Basing the decision on whether a journey can take place on outside temperature or sea wind force are simplistic. The idea that all livestock movements stop in temperatures below 5 degrees C. is ridiculous. As I write, in Aberdeenshire, the outside temperature has not risen above that level for at least the past fortnight and is not forecast to do so in the coming week. Were no livestock sales or movements to abattoirs or elsewhere, unless in heated vehicles, to have taken place in that time, can you imagine the disruption and animal welfare issues that would have arisen?

Experienced ships’ masters taking account of multiple weather factors and knowledge of their vessel and the particular journey are better able to judge whether to sail with livestock aboard than application of a simple wind speed limit. Currently livestock sailings from the Northern Isles are often cancelled in poor weather while passenger sailings continue. I would also argue that a good stockperson is better equipped to decide appropriate stocking densities in a livestock transporter than someone using a one size fits all rule and a calculator!

NFUS will submit members views to both consultations and to the EFRA Committee and will be speaking directly to DEFRA Secretary of State George Eustice on this matter but, in addition to Union activity, it is essential that individual members respond to the consultations and lobby MSPs and MPs if we are to achieve a workable long-term outcome appropriate for both our businesses and our livestock.

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