I am writing on behalf of the Council of the Suffolk Sheep Society. The Suffolk Sheep Society currently represents 1200 pedigree breeding members in the UK (GB and Northern Ireland), the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Romania; with members in Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Brazil. It also has a social media connection with over 7,500 members of the sheep community and achieves a ‘Facebook Reach' of 1.5 million when Society sales are broadcast live. Our members sell breeding stock to fellow pedigree breeders; to improve their own pedigree Suffolk flocks and to commercial breeders to produce the lambs sold for meat to the general public. Because of the high quality of genetics here in the British Isles, there is also a growing demand from abroad for Suffolk sheep. While this is mainly into EU countries, it is not limited just to the EU; with recent orders for a large number being sent to the UAE.
While there may be a feeling that sheep going for meat should be slaughtered in the UK and the carcases transported to their final destination: there are meat buyers in France who wish to purchase lambs and slaughter them in France so they have a French stamp on them and they are sold as French. Closure of this avenue would certainly affect the price of lambs sold, especially in areas such as the Welsh hills that rely heavily on this trade. This would have a knock on effect on the whole sheep industry.
Just how far do you take this? If you are going to stop slaughter animals crossing the English Channel; what about animals moving to or from The Outer Hebrides or Shetland and Orkney Isles, which are much further?
An example that would have a big effect is that in September and October there are two special sales of rams held at Thainstone, Aberdeenshire and amongst the buyers are farmers from Shetland, who buy a large number. These rams have an 11hour trip on the ferry back. Without this facility to bring in new genetics, then commercial sheep farming would be at risk in the Shetlands.
Current legislation on exporting livestock means the vehicle has to be of a higher standard, with climate control and water available; together with GPS tracking. I know from personal experience, as an exporter with Type 2 Authorisation, that animals can travel for the maximum time without undue stress. EU legislation currently allows a maximum journey of 29 hours, 14 hours, 1 hour rest, 14 hours; before having to come off the transport and have 24 hours rest in an approved centre before continuing the journey. For journeys to and within the EU we must continue to abide by the same regulations as if we were still within the EU. For journeys within the UK, there should remain higher standards for journeys over eight hours, animal welfare will remain very important.
In recent months, Suffolk Sheep, for breeding, have been exported to a number of EU countries, including Holland, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain and Romania. These animals are all high value animals, so would be expected to be transported and delivered in good condition; which they were.
The UK has always prided themselves on having high standards of animal welfare, and we would all expect this to continue. Transporting animals for longer distances, over eight hours, or for export; is only allowed if even higher levels of welfare are followed. This has been in place for many years without a problem, so the Suffolk Sheep Society firmly opposes any changes in these regulations.
Michael Weaver, Vice Chairman, Suffolk Sheep Society