Compassion has been campaigning against the live export trade from Ramsgate since it started up in May last year and against long distance live animal transport in general for decades.
So the news that 45 sheep died at the port yesterday was not only saddening, it was hugely frustrating.
Along with our colleagues at the RSPCA and local campaigners we have made it clear to the authorities that Ramsgate port is not fit for purpose as far as live exports are concerned. We are against this trade altogether, all farm animals should be slaughtered as close as possible to where they are reared, but whether the trade exists or not, Ramsgate should not be used.
This latest tragedy shines a spotlight on the grave shortcomings at Ramsgate and the terrible suffering that this causes animals when things, as they inevitably will, go wrong.
A lorry carrying sheep destined for slaughter on the continent was stopped due to faults with the vehicle. The animals were unloaded. Two sheep, one with a broken leg, were put down. Another 41 severely lame sheep have been or were due to be euthanized. In another stark reminder of the inadequacy of Ramsgate’s facilities for handling live animals, six sheep fell into water after they were loaded into an area where the floor collapsed. Four were rescued by RSPCA officers but two drowned.
A recent letter from Thanet District Council to the government goes into detail on what would need to be done for the port to be fit for purpose. Strikingly, one of the elements of this letter is there are no facilities for housing animals that may have been required to remain at the port. This has been borne out by yesterday’s terrible events.
While we are calling on the government to immediately suspend the trade, as it is quite clear animals will continue to suffer if it is allowed to continue without significant modification of the port, let’s not be fooled into thinking that all suffering would end if the animals were allowed through a port with all of the necessary facilities.
The live export trade is responsible for animal suffering on a regular basis. The long journeys are stressful for both sheep and calves. The stress factors involved in transport can include the mixing of unfamiliar animals, deprivation of food and water, lack of rest, extremes of temperature and humidity, handling by humans, exposure to a novel environment, overcrowding, insufficient headroom and noise and vibration.
British sheep should be slaughtered in this country as near as possible to the farm of rearing with our exports being in the form of meat. Our calves should be reared in the UK to high welfare standards for either beef or veal.
Ultimately, we want an end to live exports from the UK and an end to long distance animal transport across the world. Today the government must act to stop the suffering in Kent. I will be doing my utmost to press this message home in the coming days and weeks.