Eight Hour Focus Misses The Point

SNP member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee Alyn Smith has expressed his disappointment at the decision of his European Parliament colleagues to approve a resolution calling for a reconsideration of limiting animal transport journey times to eight hours.

The Wojciechowski Report on Animal Transport was approved by the full Parliament, with Alyn voting against.  An alternative resolution calling for a blanket ban on journeys over 8 hours was soundly defeated by 226 votes to 421, but the final report still calls for a reconsideration by the Commission of the issue.  The text undermined an otherwise sensible conclusion that the problems facing animal transport are largely down to patchy and occasionally poor enforcement of the current rules by the Member States, and calls for a greater focus on these issues by those States that are falling short.

Alyn said:

"I'm proud of Scotland's high animal welfare standards, and while I'm always up for being better, we need laws that work in the real world. Scotland's farmers will be disappointed to hear that the attempt to put in place an 8 hour limit has still not been entirely killed off, although to be honest I don't expect the Commission to take much notice of such a weak demand hedged by caveats about the need to put science first.  Commissioner Borg made it clear in the debate last night that 8 hours is not on his agenda.

"I also took some exception to suggestions from some MEPs that this was about putting money before welfare.  Twaddle.  An 8 hour limit is unscientific, bears no relation to the actual stress animals are under - as all the evidence points to the key issues being loading and unloading - the temperature and conditions of transport and, indeed, the conditions of the road and the temperature.  I can vouch for it myself - three hours on the road to Skye is a lot more picturesque but a lot more stressful than three hours on the M9!

"A blanket 8 hour limit would put big chunks of Scotland effectively off limits for livestock production - an outcome nobody wants - and I am confident that the new Commissioner will bear that in mind as we try to take forward the real and serious issues about enforcement of the current rules."

The text is as follows:

Alyn Smith (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, I would be no exception in extending heartfelt congratulations to our rapporteur. He has done a fantastic job coming to a workable compromise on this very emotional dossier where, even tonight, we have seen a number of emotional rather than factual speeches. Commissioner, I would likewise welcome you to your place in this House in our first debate. We look forward to working with you on this dossier and I would, at this point, declare an interest as vice-president of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

I think we agree that what we are trying to address with this report is to take stock of where we actually are. The problem is not that we need more rules; the problem is that we are not enforcing properly, via the Member States, the existing rules. The case for new legislation, as we say in Scotland, is simply not proven. Likewise the eight-hour limit is simply not backed by science and any assessment of animal stress and upset.

Commissioner, I would pick up on your comments about small abattoirs, where you say that you disagree with our point about the EU rules making them more expensive. It is of course complex. The economics are complex in different places, but I would undertake to bring you some information from Scotland where, particularly in relation to state aid, hygiene rules and the BSE regulations, we do have credible data that we are seeing fewer, bigger abattoirs whereas we want to go in the opposite direction. I do look forward to working with you to start pulling things back to a more positive place.