Last week, my team and I met with Defra Minister, David Heath. Although my lobbying team had met with Mr Heath previously, this was my first time. The meeting was in Smith Square, the venue of many a demonstration against live exports, quite a few organised by our own campaigns team. We went through security and were greeted by an official designated to show us up several floors, along seemingly never-ending corridors, to the office of the Minister.
I’ve met many government ministers throughout my career, in London and around the world. I always sit with my team well ahead of the meeting and prepare in detail what we’re going to cover. I’ve found that you very seldom get long to put your point across. Preparation and brevity are key to making points successfully. As we waited to go in, I felt my usual nervous tension; I’m always keenly aware of carrying the case for animals.
We were greeted warmly by the Minister and launched into our two-pointed agenda; better labelling and live animal exports. We were accompanied at the start of the meeting by 9-year old Ayrton Cable, grandson of the Minister’s cabinet colleague, Business Secretary, Vince Cable. Ayrton is youth ambassador for the Labelling Matters campaign, a joint initiative with the RSPCA, Soil Association and WSPA. He produced a film making the case for meat and milk to carry labels telling consumers how the food was produced. Ayrton’s presence helped diffuse the opening mood of the meeting, with the Minister suggesting he had sympathy for our case on labelling.
When it came to live exports, we had an open discussion. I pressed the Minister to do all he can to bring an end to a cruel and unnecessary trade. My team and I pointed out how the general public, the majority of whom are firmly opposed to live exports, are effectively forced to subsidise the trade through the costs incurred by Government in administering it. We drew attention to the horrendously long journeys – British calves travelling as long as 90 hours or more to veal farms in Spain. However, I think it’s fair to paraphrase the Minister’s response as saying he’s doing all he can on the subject and his hands are tied in taking it further by EU legal considerations.
If I wasn’t clear before, I am now; to win the battle against live exports, we will need to step things up. And that is exactly what we’ll be doing over the coming months and your support will be vital. Please stay tuned here for the latest ideas on how to take effective action. Together, we can consign this vile trade to history.