I should like to sincerely thank Stuart Jaques, DEFA’s Chief Vetinary Officer, for now responding to the widespread concerns about live export of Manx farmstock (Examiner, April 2).
Mr Jacques’ reply is heartening in that it shows at least a glimpse of concern in acknowledging that it would be desirable for all animals to be killed as close to the point of production as possible.
He then goes on to say that it is not within the remit or legal powers of DEFA to constrain trade based on destination.
With due respect, I never imagined that it was, but it is within the legal powers of government itself to ban live export.
My hope was, and remains, that in his position as DEFA’s Chief Vetinary Officer, Mr Jacques could and would advise government to halt the live export trade. This could be on economic as well as animal welfare grounds.
It has already been acknowledged by Minister for Agriculture Phil Gawne that the trade is politically unacceptable. Government has many issues to deal with. It is already aware of widespread economic and animal welfare concerns involved in live export but obviously would look towards those with most knowledge of the facts for advice and guidance.
Mr Jacques could fill that role with regard to animal welfare and Mr Gawne could advise government on the economics of the situation.
Mr Gawne has already stated the need to halt the haemorrhage of cattle off the island and this is backed somewhat by a letter from B Quilliam in the Examiner, April 2, which highlights signs that we now have a shortage on the island.
Meanwhile, the future of our meat plant, which could be an enormous economic asset, still hangs in the balance. I understand that the meat plant now offers far better prices and less stringent margins on type of stock accepted. All it needs now is a guarenteed throughput of stock. Government could achieve this, and at the same time quieten animal welfare concerns, if it simply banned live export and introduced compulsory on-island slaughter of all finished stock and cull stock.
It rents the meat plant to the Fatstock Marketing Association, so it is within its rights to decree that all stock must be accepted. It is also perfectly within the FMA’s capacity and ability to market that stock of all types and grades, including in its strategy the export of ‘on the hook’ and frozen meat surplus to the island’s requirements. There is a thriving market for it in the UK and beyond. It is totally unnecessary to export our stock live for slaughter or for ‘rearing on’ and compulsory on-island slaughter would remove the risks of slughter without pre-stunning. This probably does occur in the UK, not only to satisfy the requirements of various religions but also imply for reasons of ‘convenience’.
Mr Jacques states that his department is not aware of any evidence to support that claim but, as stated in Janet Pilbeam’s letter (Examiner, March 19) over ten million farm animals every year are killed without pre-stunning in the UK alone. Since Mr Jacques does not know the final destinations of exported Manx farmstock, the glaring risk of their being slaughtered without pre-stunning cannot be dismissed. I sincerely wish it could.
Mr Jacques mentions that the Isle of Man and the UK have some of the highest welfare standards in the world. Exported Manx farmstock can probably be exported live further into Europe, where no such welfare standards are applied or even exist. Mr Jacques mentions that welfare standards are closely monitored.
The fact that such monitoring is needed makes clear the age-old saying ‘rules are made to be broken’. Documentation from animal welfare organisations makes clear that they are and, let’s be honest, no set of written rules can alter the reality of the animals’ physical and psychological suffering in transit crammed, suffocatingly tightly, in trucks which become increasingly soiled during the long hours of travelling.
The animals are unable to lie down or take even a few steps. A journey of eight hours is classed as ‘short’ and can be extended. Current ‘high’ welfare standards allow that!
Mr Jacques has told us what DEFA cannot do. In his role as Chief Vetinary Officer, please would he advise DEFA what it can do and thus further enhance Isle of Man animal welfare standards and, hopefully, since the requirements could be monitored here, at source, reduce the suffering involved for as long as live export does continue?
There could be three significant requirements, with immediate effect:-
Firstly, a rule that the animals’ section of cattle wagons must be air-conditioned (not just the driver’s).
Secondly, a rule that each animal must have an individual pen, with absorbent bedding and an unspillable water supply arrangement and adequate space to lie down.
Thirdly, a ruling that very nervous animals are not passed as fit to undertake the export journey for reasons of the psychological suffering involved.
Those are three totally reasonable welfare requirements. If exporters cannot meet them they should not be permitted to export Manx farmstock.
Farmers have a ready market for their stock, right here on their doorstep. Thank you, Mr Jacques and thank you, Mr Gawne, if you will advise government of the political, economic and welfare reasons for that market to be used without further delay. Keeping our stock on the island will benefit everyone, including our farmers and our farmstock.