Of cattle and humaneness

Of cattle and humaneness IT looked like 2 successive success stories for the animal rights activists in Britain. But now the script has turned sketchy. Their struggle against export of livestock to France and the Netherlands won the first round when they successfully blocked shipments of lambs and calves from the West Sussex port of Shoreham in early February. Then the Swansea airport authorities dropped plans to take cargoes of livestock, signalling yet another victory for the activists, as air transport was the only other option left with the livestock farmers.

But the pitch queered when a 31 year-old campaigner was a run-over by a lorry loaded with veal calves speeding to catch a flight at the Coventry airport. Swords were crossed again. While the activists threatened to intensify their offensives, the farmers, represented by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) of England and Wales are busy chalking out new strategies to protect what they term as their "interests".

It all began with a farmer, Joyce D'Silva indoctrinating himself with Gandhian ideals and turning vegetarian. He went ahead a group to pursue these ideals. Recently, this frontline conservationists' group, Compassion in World Farming mobilised around 10,000 members and started demonstrating in British ports against exports. They were soon joined by environmentalist groups who saw the misuse of animals as the touchstone of human damage to environment.

The protestors have no quarrels with home authorities. They quite agree that Britain probably has the most humane standards of animal welfare in the whole of Europe. However, British veals and calves are shipped off to other countries where the standards of animal care are appalling, almost inhuman. Once the animals hit the Channel ports in the mainland, they are transported in trucks without food, water or rest for long hours. Most of them spend their final 5 weeks before slaughter being force-fed a special milk diet inside narrow wooden crates so that the flesh they yield would be tender. "Slaughter the animals humanely here rather than exporting them to places where they are subjected to inhuman treatment," demand the activists.

The British farmers, who have been badly hit by the movement, are the most unlikely candidates for sympathising with such sentiments. Why should they be penalised for a crime that is committed outside the country, they ask. According to Martin Burtt, a farmer from Northern England, at present 50,000 additional calves are being reared in Britain rater than exported. "This will have a fairly profound and dramatic effect on the market," he warns.

In any case, under the existing European trade laws, Britain cannot ban exports just because it finds the eventual fate of the animals obnoxious. The NFU holds that instead of targeting the farmers, the protesters should persuade other European countries to abide by the waldegrave, the British agriculture minister is endeavouring to do just that: getting other countries to review their animal protection laws.

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