DAY 385 (nearly there!): THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT ON A REALLY, REALLY, REALLY LONG JOURNEY
‘Live export’ is a term that occasionally rears its bruised head into the ‘animal loving’ media.
Reports typically contain pictures of sheep crammed into trucks bound for countries outside of Britain where the rules for slaughter are less savoury than our own.
Since most people know what it’s like to be stuck on a tube in rush hour or a bus with no air conditioning the photos receive sympathy.
And those who’ve flown Ryan Air are appalled.
But what people don’t always understand is the enormity of the issue and why so many animals travel so far.
Why do pigs have to travel at all?
Why can’t pigs born in Holland stay in Holland?
What’s so good about Italy for slaughter?
And if Italians do insist on foreign meat can’t they get it sent over dead? After all you can get a lot more bacon into a truck than you can pigs and bacon doesn’t shit everywhere.
The answer has very little to do with freshness and everything to do with money.
Who cares about live export?
If you remember, we’re tracking the life of a typical EU pig: he gets born in Holland in a nice little metal crate, is transported to Spain at a few weeks old and after fattening for four months on slatted floors then goes on to Italy to be slaughtered.
And the point of this?
To know how much pain is involved in a standard plate of EU bacon (or any pork meat) and what choices we can make to avoid being part of that.
And if you think that Britain is above all this, you should think again. Later, I’ll be going into all the main British supermarkets and tracing their pork products and explaining what sort of life the pigs had. You’ll be surprised.
The problem with Europe
Whether you are pro-Europe or against it, the setting up of the free trade agreement was a catastrophic moment for farm animals.
Before that moment animals travelled to the nearest slaughterhouse within their country. Crossing the border was costly and complicated.
But as regional structures dissolved farmers were able to dispatch animals to whichever slaughterhouse was paying the best price that particular week. Animals became exposed to the often shrill winds of continent-wide market forces with little welfare protection.
Pigs, by EU law, are allowed to travel up to 29 hours before having to be unloaded. And once they’ve been unloaded for 24 hours they can go another 29 hours.
That’s a pig of a journey.
Especially for an animal that is typically 5 months old and is often standing in its own shit in crowded conditions sometimes in brutal summer heat. But it’s good news for the ‘middle men’ who set up the deals between the farmers, the transport companies and the slaughterhouses and who hold the real power as they preside over their map of Europe flickering on their computer screens.
The welfare problems are further entrenched by the fact that countries become specialized in production – Holland breeds a lot of pigs, Spain is cheap for fattening, Greece has it’s fair share of slaughter houses.
This means that efforts to change welfare laws are up against vast economic systems.
A recent and ongoing campaign to cap live-export journeys in the EU to 8 hours (which would effectively mean that no animal in Britain could be exported at all unless sheep from Dover had their heads chopped off in Calais …or flew concorde to NY) has struggled because it would mean winding down international supply chains. Although even the most hardened EU commissioner admits it would be nice for animals to get to their death quicker, in this economic climate no-one can justify giving the pigs a shorter ride.
How bad can a journey be?
In the next blog I’m meeting up with a charity called Animals-Asia and I’m going to travel from Spain to Italy, following trucks on their journey, stopping the drivers and seeing exactly what it’s like for the pigs. That should be rather lovely – along the french riviera and all that.
When I was 12 I went on a skiing trip with my school to Austria. It was a 23 hour journey and it was brilliant. I really fancied the girl sitting in front of me and stared at the strands of her hair falling over the seat without eating or drinking.
How bad can a ride be?