Defra is consulting on new rules that could require farmers in England and Wales to use temperature-controlled vehicles for transporting livestock when external temperatures drop below 5°C, warns SWFC’s Anna Heaton
On 3rd December, Defra launched an eight-week consultation on ‘Live animal exports: improvements to animal welfare in transport’ for England and Wales.
NOTE: The deadline has been extended until 25 February 2021
The headline-grabbing news was that this consultation would include a potential ban on live exports of farm animals for slaughter. As a farm consultancy concerned with promoting high-welfare livestock management, we would fully support a ban on the live export of animals for slaughter on welfare grounds.
But the devil is in the detail: this consultation concerns more than simply prohibiting live exports for slaughter and could significantly impact all livestock farmers in England and Wales.
More than live animal export for slaughter
We want to alert as many farmers as possible to the practical implications of a question in the consultation relating to the day-to-day transportation of any livestock in England and Wales.
As it reads, it appears Defra is considering rules that would prohibit farmers from transporting any livestock when “the external temperature is outside of a temperature range of 5-30°C, unless the vehicle is able to regulate the internal temperature within this range for the duration of the journey by means of a thermo-regulation system.”
Here is the exact wording of Questions 19 in the consultation:
19. Do you agree that we should prohibit both short and long livestock and horse journeys when the external temperature is outside of a temperature range of 5-30°C, unless the vehicle is able to regulate the internal temperature within this range for the duration of the journey by means of a thermo-regulation system, and that this temperature range should be 5-30°C? Please explain your views.
Of course, the key question is how Defra officials will define “a thermo-regulation system”. Does this simply mean standard venting found on trailers would be sufficient? Or are we talking about the requirement for temperature-controlled vehicles?
So far, our informal enquiries indicate that officials are indeed referring to temperature-controlled vehicles. While some specialists hauliers may have these vehicles, we cannot think of one farmer in the UK who currently owns – let alone uses – a temperature-controlled vehicle when transporting livestock.
A call for common sense
While we would agree that transporting livestock in temperatures above 30°C can cause serious challenges to maintaining animal welfare, a blanket ruling on banning the transporting animals if outside temperatures fall below 5°C (unless in a temperature-controlled vehicle) would prevent most farmers in certain parts of England and Wales from moving animals for many consecutive days – if not weeks – during the winter period.
Of course, transporting individual animals, youngstock or even a small number of animals in a draughty trailer on a very cold day with vents wide open and without sufficient bedding will undoubtedly lead to welfare concerns. But any farmer will recognise that a group of animals will give off significant body heat to maintain sufficient temperatures while on-board an appropriately vented and bedded trailer.
Experience in other countries
We note the specific concern noted in the consultation regarding poultry deaths during transport in low temperatures. However, we are not aware of the same problems being experienced with cattle, sheep and pigs. And having worked in many other countries on animal welfare standards — including the U.S.A. and Canada — I am well aware of livestock being transported in temperatures far below anything the UK experiences with no welfare concerns, as long as the vehicles are appropriately stocked, vented and bedded as necessary.
Policies should always be based on outcome and farming reality, as well as common sense. We know that when we’re moving stock in winter here in the UK, the temperature inside the trailer will be well in excess of 5°C – even when it’s freezing outside. If Defra has data on the temperatures inside the standard livestock trailer that contradict this experience we’d be very interested to see it.
If you’re reading this and thinking this all sounds crazy, please don’t just shrug your shoulders and move on. SWFC will be responding to the Defra consultation but we need every livestock farmer to get involved. If proposals to limit the transportation of stock when temperatures are below 5°C are agreed, the implications for the vast majority of livestock farmers in England and Wales could be significant—and extremely costly.
Click here to go to the Defra consultation on improvements to animal welfare in transport
The online consultation form is straightforward and while you have to go through the full questionnaire process to get to the thermal comfort questions, you can just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘not applicable’ to any question you don’t have an opinion on. You can also anonymise your response if that’s a concern.
Following a recent announcement, the consultation now closes on 25 February 2021 – but don’t put it off. Please get involved.