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The BBC's Kriszta Fenyoe in Budapest
"Most animals which end up in slaughter houses in Italy, make an exhausting 90 hour journey"
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Wednesday, 14 March, 2001, 18:33 GMT
Analysis: Europe's live animal trade
British sheep are put on a lorry for France
British sheep are loaded up for export to France
By BBC News Online's Bernard Gabony

The spread of foot-and-mouth disease to France and the bans on European Union agricultural products imposed around the world are focusing attention on the exports of live animals.

Those who say exporting live animals is cruel and liable to spread disease hope some reforms will come out of the present crisis.

The numbers of live animals exported within the European Union are huge.

Critics paint a picture of lorries criss-crossing the continent bearing pigs from Holland to Spain, sheep from England to Greece, and cattle from Germany to Italy - with animals enduring cramped conditions for 50 hours or more.

Lorry transporting animals
Campaigners say animals are transported in cruel conditions
But why should France for example - a country with an abundant sheep population - import huge numbers from Britain?

The British pressure group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) says the answer lies in the wide regional variations of when sheep and lambs reach the best weight for slaughter.

A French abattoir could be running under capacity when the peak period for slaughter of French sheep has passed. They can maintain turnover by buying up many of the one million or so sheep exported from Britain each year.

Long journeys

French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany has acknowledged that some 20,000 sheep have arrived in the country from Britain in the last few weeks.

There are no official British figures for the destinations of exported sheep. Although most go to France, others make the far longer journeys to Italy and Greece.

CIWF's Peter Stevenson is dismissive of arguments put forward by British farmers that consumers on mainland Europe will only eat British meat if the animal has been exported and freshly slaughtered in the country of consumption.

"Eighty-five to 95% of Britain's sheep exports are in the form of meat, rather than live animals," he said.

For the Netherlands, the export of pigs and piglets is a major industry, with piglets sent to Italy and Spain for fattening in intensive farms.

Demonstrators against the live export of animals from Britain
British police confront those protesting against live animal exports
One reason for exporting piglets so young is because pig slurry is an environmental problem in the Netherlands. With strict regulations in place, it is simpler to export the piglets rather than rear them at home.

And while Ireland is an abundant producer of cattle, Peter Stevenson says it exports cows to Spain and Italy because of a shortage of good pasture.

There are powerful economic arguments in favour of live animal exports. Increased productivity means cheaper meat for consumers. And more jobs are created in the transport industry.

Welfare controversy

Moreover, say its supporters, the animals are protected in transport by stringent European Union regulations governing their welfare.

But CIWF says that even reports by the European Commission show that the regulations are widely flouted. It insists that animals must be slaughtered near to where they are born and reared.

The current foot-and-mouth epidemic has ignited a debate about animal farming at the highest levels of European agriculture.

Germany's Agriculture Minister, Renate Kunast, of the Green Party, is leading calls for a rethink of the controversial EU Common Agricultural Policy, with a greater emphasis on organic farming.

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See also:

28 Feb 01 | Europe
Germany's green revolution
14 Mar 01 | Americas
Argentina admits farm infection
13 Mar 01 | Europe
French foot-and-mouth measures
08 Mar 01 | Europe
Germany bans animal transport
07 Mar 01 | Europe
EU tightens animal controls
08 Apr 99 | UK Politics
New rules on live exports
09 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Italy urged to halt horse imports
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