Chapter 6 – The
Road to Victory
Animals are not usually killed on the farms where they’re
kept, so they have to be moved to slaughterhouses, called
abattoirs. As slaughterhouses get bigger and fewer in
number, animals are transported longer and longer distances
before being killed. As a result, hundreds of millions
of animals are trucked around Europe each year. Unfortunately,
some are transported even further afield, to different
countries in North Africa and the Middle East.
So why are animals exported? The answer is simple – money.
Most of the sheep that go to France and Spain and other
EU countries are not killed immediately, but are allowed
to graze for a week or two first. So they can recover
from the journey? Because people feel sorry for them?
No – so that the dealers can claim they are Spanish
or French sheep, label them ‘Home Produced’ and
sell the meat at a higher price.
The laws which govern how farm animals are treated differ
in every country. For example, some have no laws about
the way animals are killed while others, like Britain,
have slaughter regulations. Under British law, animals
must be made unconscious before they’re killed.
Frequently this doesn’t happen or the regulations
are simply ignored. However, the situation is no better
and may be even worse in other European countries where
there are virtually no controls. In Greece, animals may
be beaten to death with hammers, in Spain sheep often
have their spinal column severed with a screwdriver,
and in France animals’ throats are cut while they
are still fully conscious.
You’d think that if the British were really serious
about protecting animals we wouldn’t allow them
to go to countries where there are no abattoir controls
of where the controls are poorer than in Britain. Not
a bit of it. It’s perfectly okay for farmers to
export live animals to any country they choose, to be
killed in ways which are forbidden in their country or
In 1994 alone, about two million sheep and 450,000 calves
were exported from Britain for slaughter. About 70,000
pigs were also exported. However, pigs often die en route – generally
from heart attacks caused by fear, panic and stress.
Not surprisingly, all animals find being transported
stressful, whatever the distance travelled.
Just try and imagine what it must be like to be an animal
which has never known anything but the pen in which you
have been kept of the fields in which you graze. Suddenly,
you’re prodded and poked into a lorry and driven
for hours on end. Often you are separated from your own
herd and forced together with animals you don’t
know – unnatural behaviour for most animals, and
The conditions in the lorries are often disgusting too.
Most of the lorries used have metal trailers of two of
three tiers. The urine and droppings from the animals
at the top fall on those below. There is no water, no
food, no bedding, just a metal floor and tiny gaps in
the sides for ventilation.
When the lorry doors slam shut behind them, animals
are on the road to misery. They may travel for 50 hours
or more, be starved, driven crazy with thirst, be beaten,
kicked, punched, dragged by their tails or ears or prodded
with electric goads. Animal welfare organisations have
tracked many lorry loads of animals and in almost every
case, they found that the recommended journey times were
exceeded and the recommendations about rest periods,
feeding and watering were ignored. There have also been
numerous news reports of whole lorry loads of sheep and
lambs being left in the baking sun without water until
as many as a third of them died from thirst and heat
Animals are crammed together, bounced around and frequently
in pain. According to the RSPCA (Royal Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), more than two-thirds
of all sheep and lambs are bruised, some badly, by the
time they get to the abattoir, and up to one million
chickens are injured every year as a result of their
heads or legs becoming caught in the transport crates.
I have seen sheep and calves so crowded together that
their legs stuck out of the ventilators in the sides
of lorries, obviously causing great distress. Independent
organisations say that animals are sometimes crushed
For those animals exported abroad, this nightmare journey
may also include being transported by plane or shipped
by ferry or boat, sometimes on rough seas. Conditions
here can be particularly bad with lack of ventilation
leading to overheating and death from heat stroke or
lack of water.
It’s certainly no secret how exported animals
are treated. Many people have witnessed it and some have
even shot video as proof. But you don’t have to
search out ill-treatment with hidden cameras; it’s
everywhere for everyone to see.
I have watched sheep being punched in the face with
full force because they were too frightened to jump down
from a lorry. I have seen pigs kicked and stamped on
as they were forced to leap from the upper tier of a
truck to the ground two metres below, just because the
unloaders were too lazy to put up a ramp. And I have
seen them break their legs on landing and then watched
as they were dragged and kicked into the slaughterhouse.
I have witnessed boars having their snouts broken with
an iron bar because the fear and overcrowding had made
them bite each other. ‘It stops them thinking about
fighting,’ said the man who did it.
But perhaps the most horrible sight I have ever seen
was in a film made by the organisation Compassion in
World Farming, which showed what happened to a young,
fully-grown bull that had broken his pelvis on the transport
ship and was unable to stand. The handlers applied an
electric cattle prod to its testicles and delivered a
70,000 volt shock to try and force it to stand. When
humans do this to other humans it is called torture and
the world condemns it.
I made myself watch as for 30 minutes the men continued
to shock the crippled beast and each time they did it,
it bellowed in pain and scrambled at the deck, trying
to stand. Eventually, they shackled a chain to the bull’s
leg and hauled it up with a crane, dumping him on the
quayside. An argument between the ship’s captain
and the harbour master followed and eventually the bull
was hoisted back up and dumped on the deck of the ship,
still alive but barely conscious. As soon as the ship
left the harbour the poor creature was dumped in the
sea to drown.
British courts say it is quite legal to send animals
to face this kind of abuse and claim that there are regulations
in all European countries governing how animals are transported.
They claim that European inspectors check on their treatment.
But what is written on paper and what happens in reality
are very different things. The truth is that the people
who are supposed to do the checking admit that they have
never carried out a single check throughout the whole
of Europe. A European commissioner confirmed this in
answer to a question in the European parliament.
In 1995, many people in the UK were so disgusted by
the trade in live exports that they took to the streets.
They protested at British ports and airports such as
Shoreham, Brightlingsea, Dover and Coventry, where animals
were being shipped or flown to other countries. They
even tried to stop the lorries loaded with calves, sheep
and lambs from reaching the ports and airports by direct
action. Despite the fact that public opinion in support
of the protestors, the British government refused to
ban the trade.
Instead, it announced with a big fanfare that the European
Union had agreed regulations which would, for the first
time, control journey times of animals in Europe. In
fact, all that had been done was to give official approval
to what was already happening. For example, the journey
time for sheep was set so that they could still be transported
without a break for 28 hours – the time needed
to truck them from northern Europe to southern Europe.
There were no proposals to improve inspections so even
if transporters continued to break the new regulations,
there’d be no one to check on them.
But the fight against live exports hasn’t ended
there. Some protestors have decided to continue the struggle
by challenging the British government in the courts,
including the European Court. Others have continued to
protest at the ports and airports, as well as at the
farms where the animals are bred. Still more have tried
to make the world aware of the plight of exported animals.
As a result of these efforts, it is likely that live
exports from Britain to Europe will one day be stopped.
Ironically, a scandal about a deadly disease called BSE
(or mad cow disease) stopped the export of calves from
the UK in 1996. The British government had finally admitted
that people were at risk from eating beef infected with
BSE which was widespread amongst British herds, so not
surprisingly, other countries refused to buy British
cattle (for more on BSE, see pp. 94-96). It is unlikely,
though, that the trade between European counties will
end altogether in the foreseeable future. Pigs will still
be sent from Holland all the way to southern Italy, and
calves will be sent from Italy to veal crates in Holland.
Their meat will still be sold in Britain and around the
world. This trade in misery lies at the heart of eating