BARTERED LIVES - Introduction
Bartered Lives is Animal Aid's third major report on the treatment of animals at English livestock markets. There are more than 100 such sales around the country, through which around 14 million pigs, sheep and cattle pass every year - either directly en route to a slaughterhouse or to another farmer for further fattening. An additional 8 million animals pass through Scottish and Welsh sales.
Vet, David Coffey, from The Centre for Animal Studies, Esher:
"Anyone really concerned for the well-being of farm animals would campaign passionately for an end to livestock markets."
Our first report, published in March 1993 and called Auctioning Animal Flesh, was based on visits to five randomly selected markets. It revealed that animals were being routinely beaten, denied water, driven across dangerously slippery surfaces, kept in over-crowded pens, and that many were already sick or injured upon arrival.
Auctioning Animal Flesh caused a stir within industry and government circles, and gave birth to the Animal Aid network of voluntary monitors known as Marketwatch. Three of the five markets under scrutiny have since closed and another has announced it will soon finish trading.
In 1997 came our follow-up report, A Brutal Business. This used the evidence obtained over four years of MarketWatching - in 36 markets - to show that while there had been some improvements at the margins, animals were still being brought for sale emaciated, diseased and lame. The casual use of sticks, boots and electric goads persisted. Penning was typically old and inadequate, leading to sometimes severe injuries. Surfaces were too often dangerously slippery from a build-up of urine and faeces. The provision of water remained a rarity. For the animals passing through markets, little had changed.
With that report, Animal Aid called for an investigation of all UK markets by an independent, government-appointed body. We demanded the closure of establishments failing to meet a standard consistent with the welfare needs of animals.
Largely in response to A Brutal Business, the government launched, in September 1998, a new Strategy for the Protection of Animal Welfare at Livestock Markets.
While falling short of recognising the magnitude of the welfare problems, the Strategy did contain some positive features. Most usefully, it declared that vets from the State Veterinary Service (SVS) would in future be present on at least 25 per cent of all sale days at every market. This would be instead of leaving the job of welfare and health monitoring - when it is done at all - entirely to local commercial vets. These commercial practitioners cannot be relied on to provide an impartial service since many market users are likely to be their own clients, and they will not want to make themselves unpopular by declaring a client's animal diseased or lame and therefore unfit to go for slaughter. Such a ruling imposes a financial penalty upon the client.
As well as the 25 per cent attendance commitment, the SVS vets would also be required, under the Strategy, to complete a checklist of potential problems at every market at least twice a year. The information obtained would be collated centrally by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF), with a view to compiling some sort of league table and thereby putting pressure on the worst British sales.
Furthermore, the market operators themselves would have to keep an incident book that noted examples of poor droving, lack of water, injuries and sickness. This was to be made available to the State Veterinary Service and also to the local authority (typically the County Council's trading standards department), which has the legal duty of investigating and enforcing the welfare laws (1).
The general purpose of the incidents book, said the government's Strategy document, is 'to demonstrate that any incidents are dealt with promptly, systematically and efficiently'.
Other than these innovations, the 1998 Strategy document simply reiterated what the welfare laws already required, but which our observations showed were poorly enforced.
The main objective of this third Animal Aid markets report is to examine the impact of the 1998 Strategy, some 20 months after its introduction. Our MarketWatch monitors have visited 15 English markets - some once, others on several occasions.
A few real improvements have been found, such as the provision of straw in some auction rings and pens. Vicious instruments of coercion - including sticks with nails in the end - are far less evident. And a handful of our most resourceful and persistent MarketWatchers are now more often heeded by market users rather than harassed and threatened. In some instances they have established a working relationship with the market operators and/or with the relevant veterinary and local authority representatives.
But, depressingly, the broader picture remains as before. For the bartered animals - being driven and beaten on and off lorries, through the networks of pens and metal 'races' into and out of the sales rings - the market is a place of confusion and physical violence. Water is still unlikely to be within reach, even on the hottest days, a worrying percentage of animals arrive injured or diseased, or they suffer sometimes fatal injuries (e.g. a broken leg) during the course of the day. Many of these abuses constitute a breach of the market welfare laws and/or Codes of Practice. (See Current Legislation.)
Of course, our observations are made against a background of severe financial pressure afflicting the farming and associated industries - troubles brought about principally through over-breeding of animals and the self-inflicted BSE crisis.
The first to pay the price of these financial hard times are the 'livestock' themselves. Animals offering little or no commercial return suffer grievously. Some older cattle destined for incineration under the BSE emergency regulations are deprived of basic veterinary treatment. Baby calves are being destroyed, with who knows how much consideration, on farms. And older ewes are simply being left to starve to death on hills.
When such low value animals actually reach market, the signs of neglect are frequently all too apparent, as this report makes clear.
A number of our MarketWatch monitors have made the observation that farming's financial crisis is being used as a 'justification' for these incidents of neglect and abuse. Many market users, they report, are in a self- righteous mood, taking the attitude: 'Don't concern me with animal welfare. Don't you see we're suffering.'
Animal Aid's position remains unchanged. We seek to encourage people to adopt an animal-free diet. But as long as animals are raised and slaughtered for meat and dairy products, we believe they should be spared the wholly unnecessary additional hardships of a day at market.
Meanwhile, the animals' main lines of defence - the market operators, vets, local authority trading standards officers and MAFF itself - are simply not working as they should.
The Bartered Lives report examines the structural and strategic problems relating to the market system, and details some heart-breaking stories of animals betrayed and crushed by it.
Our central point is that markets are an unnecessary and cruel anachronism. While they remain, however, the laws and guidelines that do exist - inadequate as they are - must be properly deployed. That means extra resources from central government so that the costly business of official monitoring and enforcement can become a reality.
Only then can the government's Strategy for the Protection of Animal Welfare at Livestock Markets become more than a paper exercise.
Let us see - and soon - the mooted markets 'league table'. And let those markets that fail to meet a standard consistent with the welfare needs of animals either upgrade or close.
- The key legislation is the Welfare of Animals at Markets Order 1990 and the Welfare of Animals (Amendment) Order 1993. See Current Legislation.