The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-13785, in the name of Colin Smyth, on a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s review into the transportation of live animals exports from the UK; understands that in 2017 3,073 sheep, 5,595 calves and 661 cattle were exported from Scotland for either slaughter or fattening; considers that Scotland’s reputation for high animal welfare standards is of huge value to the sector; is particularly concerned about the export of young male dairy calves on long journeys to Spain and Italy where they are fattened for beef or veal; recognises what it understands is widespread support for a ban on the exporting of animals for slaughter and for fattening, including in the South Scotland region, and the serious concerns raised by the export of live animals in relation to animal welfare, and notes calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter or fattening.
I thank all members from across the chamber who signed my motion so quickly to secure cross-party support and make today’s debate possible.
I am sure that, at some point during the debate, we will be told that the export of live animals is an emotive subject—good, because so it should be. Animals are not cargo; they breathe, they think and they suffer. Sadly, that can often be the case for animals that are subjected to live export. Unweaned calves that are just a few weeks old are taken from their mothers, not just from one end of the country to another, but on to a different country or countries where we have no say and no control over the conditions that they are kept in for their short existence before they are slaughtered.
I am sure that every member in the chamber shares the belief that livestock should be reared and ultimately slaughtered as close to the farm as possible, but the reality is that, in 2017 alone, hundreds of cattle, more than 3,000 sheep and almost 6,000 calves were exported from Scotland on journeys of up to 135 hours. That was not for breeding or for them to be reared elsewhere; it was for them to be kept for a few hours or days just to be slaughtered, or for fattening, which in effect is for slaughter.
The recent BBC “Disclosure” documentary on the issue revealed the role that Scotland plays in the trade, with P&O Ferries exporting thousands of calves, some of which were as young as three weeks old, out of Cairnryan port in my South Scotland region with the full support of the Scottish Government. In response to the documentary’s findings, P&O Ferries, to its credit, rightly made the decision to end its involvement in the trade, leaving the Scottish Government increasingly isolated in its continued defence of the practice.
Now, the calves that would, presumably, have been exported through Cairnryan are being transported to Ramsgate in Kent and shipped across the channel from there—again, it seems, with the support of the Scottish Government. Many members will remember that Ramsgate was the location of an appalling animal welfare incident in 2012. A single lorry carrying more than 500 sheep was declared unfit to travel. Forty-three sheep had to be euthanised due to injury, six fell into the water and two drowned. The local council put in place a temporary ban on exports but, following an injunction by the shippers, it had to be lifted on the grounds of European Union and United Kingdom legislation.
Since then, there have been growing calls for a change to the law to secure a permanent ban. A year ago, Theresa Villiers introduced in the UK Parliament a private member’s bill to secure a ban. Ultimately, it was withdrawn in February on the basis that the UK Government was considering such a ban. In April, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, declared that the UK Government was consulting on what it described as
“all options for future improvements of animal welfare during transport ... including the potential ban on the live export for slaughter.”
How serious the UK Government is on the matter remains to be seen. However, the Scottish Government’s immediate response was disappointing. The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, declared:
“The Scottish Government will ... not support the banning of live exports of livestock”.
He went on to say:
“Any such move would potentially do substantial harm to our quality livestock sector, not least farming in the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney, as well as trade with Northern Ireland.”
Let us nail that myth. A specific ban on the export of live animals from the UK would have no impact on the ability of farmers in our island communities to transport their livestock to the mainland, so the cabinet secretary’s view is not correct. Such a knee-jerk reaction undermines Scotland’s hard-earned reputation for always being at the forefront of the highest animal welfare standards, which is so important to the livestock sector.
Scotland does not and cannot compete on the basis of a race to the bottom on animal welfare. We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, but we should always aim to do better and continue to build our reputation.
Does Mr Smyth recognise that, quite rightly, the transportation of animals, whether it is for export outwith the UK or intra the UK—from the northern isles to Aberdeen, for example—must be done in accordance with the same high animal welfare standards, and therefore to suggest that, somehow, the two issues are entirely different is not factually correct?
What is not factually correct is to say that a specific ban on the export of live animals outwith the
UK would impact on the ability of farmers in our island communities to transport their livestock to the mainland. It is a fact that, as soon as an animal leaves these shores and is taken to another country, the Scottish Government loses all control over what happens to it. It is fine to talk about welfare standards in Scotland, but as soon as animals are outwith Scotland, we have no control. That is the point of this evening’s debate, and that is the point of banning the export of live animals.
We have some of the highest welfare standards—there is no question about that—and we need to continue to build our reputation as a producer of ethically sourced meat and not argue that, if we have a ban on exports from the UK, Scotland should opt out of that, as Fergus Ewing seems to imply. That would be a race to the bottom.
To be fair, I note that, since those comments were made, we have seen a more measured response from the Scottish Government, which has indicated that it will consider the outcome of the UK Government’s consultation. However, the Scottish Government argues that it has not yet found evidence that livestock that is exported from Scotland to other EU countries is then exported beyond them. Notwithstanding the fact that welfare standards are not as rigorously enforced in some other EU countries as they are in Scotland, once the animals leave Scotland, their future is entirely out of our hands. Any additional journeys, the conditions that they face and the circumstances in which they are killed are all out of our control.
If the Government believes that the transport of Scottish livestock across the world in poor conditions is unacceptable, it cannot continue to support a system that allows that to happen. Scotland should lead the way in making the case for an end to live exports and should set an example for others.
I fully understand that there are heartfelt concerns about the impact that a ban could have on the livestock sector. The lack of a market for veal in the UK has often been cited as a reason for the export of baby calves, but we should be working with the industry to find solutions, not finding excuses for inaction.
During the debate, others will argue for the development of ruby or red veal in Scotland as a high-value, high-welfare Scottish delicacy, instead of Scottish calves being treated as a waste product. We should also consider ways to better support ethical and environmentally friendly farming, in a way that ensures that no farmers are put at a disadvantage if they make positive animal welfare choices.
The UK is only 75 per cent self-sufficient in beef, so the export of young calves is by no means a necessity. There is scope to develop a new approach that supports greater cohesion between the dairy sector and the meat sector.
In my home region of Dumfries and Galloway, David and Wilma Finlay are leading the way in ethical farming and have rejected the premise that calves should be immediately taken away from their mothers. They let calves stay with their mothers for longer and have found that prioritising animal welfare in that way has not only resulted in healthier livestock but proved more financially viable than was first thought, because of the significant improvements that it makes to productivity and lifespan.
Alex Rowley makes a vital point. The
Government is considering what will replace the common agricultural policy, and we should put animal welfare and environmentally sustainable food production at the heart of the future policy.
I have great faith in Scotland’s agriculture sector. In the debate about post-Brexit support, we have seen that the sector is pragmatic and, if anything, it has led the way while us politicians have stumbled behind. The sector is also adaptable. If we set the framework and give the sector time and support, it will deliver.
However, we must show leadership, listen to our constituents and stop coming up with excuses not to do the right thing. That means that we must consign to the history books, where it belongs, the practice of exporting animals for slaughter and fattening and that we must continue to build Scotland’s fine reputation as a food producer of high quality and high animal welfare standards.
I will declare an interest. My family used to be involved in a dairy farm and, with my family, I have a herd of pedigree Simmental cattle, which we have had since 1972. I was an agricultural consultant for 12 years, and I have a degree in land management and a diploma in farm management. I have had hands-on experience of farming since I was about 16. I therefore like to think that I come to the debate with a degree of knowledge.
First, I will deal with some ground rules. I know of no farmer in Scotland or any other country who wants their stock to suffer; farmers will not allow that to happen. All farmers understand that brand Scotland is important to Scotland and that we all need to protect it. All farmers in Scotland believe that we have some of the highest welfare standards in the world, which we are—rightly—proud of. Our animal transport regulations are commendably strong, which I can say having passed the relevant tests to allow me to transport animals.
Why do we export animals from Scotland? We do so for breeding. I freely admit that some of my stock bulls have gone to Europe, Ireland and beyond. Some animals go abroad for fattening. However, there is no point in sending them abroad purely for slaughter because, to be brutally honest, it is cheaper to transport them on the hook than on the hoof.
What numbers are we talking about? We do not really know what each export licence does, because licences do not specify the exact use. For cattle, we are probably in most cases talking about breeding livestock or about calves for fattening. With calves, we are talking mainly about dairy calves.
Let us look at the dairy industry. Whether we like it or not, there is a 50 per cent chance that calves that are born naturally will be male and a 50 per cent chance that they will be female. Sadly, male calves are not required in the dairy industry and—let us be brutally honest—they are not suitable for the high-quality beef that we produce in Scotland. That beef industry is based on specific breeds including Aberdeen Angus, Charolais, Limousin, Simmental and, of course, native breeds including the shorthorn. They have been bred for generations for their high food-to-muscle conversion rates and because they are quick to mature. That is the high-quality meat production that we are so proud of in Scotland. They are the very traits that dairy calves, that are bred for milk and not meat production, do not have.
A sensible comparison would be that of a weightlifter with a sprinter. Beef cattle will take 12 to 18 months to slaughter. The margin on each animal varies between £100 and—if we are very lucky—£300 excluding subsidy, depending on the system, the timings and the price that is achieved. That is not much for the investment—the entire amount of money that farmers put into it—and it takes no account of the fixed costs that farmers must also face.
I have some concerns about white-veal production; it is not something that sits comfortably with me, as a farmer. If other countries want to do it, that is a decision for them to make. It is not something that a lot of farmers here want to do.
I was talking about dairy calves. We have got to the stage at which beef from Friesian and Holstein cattle will never compete with the quality or financial return from beef cattle. They are not hardy animals; they need to be kept in in the winter. The gross margin on a Friesian bull, if it is being fed, might be as little as £20, which is not very much.
We have to look for a solution: let us be honest—we have to have a solution because we will continue to use milk. We can reduce the risk of getting male calves by using sexed semen, which does not work every time, but I would encourage it. The other sad alternative would be to destroy male calves at birth. That is something that farmers find particularly difficult because they want to find a use for their animals. We could export the animals to units that have the same standards as us, which I believe we are doing in many cases of export to Europe. I say to Colin Smyth that there might be an argument for not allowing those units then to export them on to countries that do not have the same abattoir standards as we have in the United Kingdom. That might be worth looking at.
However, before we decide what we think is morally right, let us look at what is possible and then work out what we are going to do. I am afraid that moral indignation about exporting calves does not sit right with me, because I know that it is done in the most humane way possible. There are many people making unfeasible demands on the industry, which will have huge unintended consequences. We must be wary of that before we act further.
Animal welfare is an emotive topic; it is an important topic that provokes strong opinions on both sides of the debate, and it is one on which my Cunninghame South constituents regularly make their views known to me. They tell me of their concern about puppy smuggling. They write to express their opposition to snares, stink pits, mountain-hare culls and raptor persecution. They tell me about their disgust that there are adults in this day and age who think that watching a pack of dogs tear a fox to shreds is sport, and they express their shock that fox hunting is still not banned. Many have written to me because they are distressed by the images that they have seen of the worldwide phenomenon of animals having to endure long journeys only to be slaughtered at the journey’s end.
I therefore thank Colin Smyth for securing the debate on banning export of live animals for slaughter or fattening. I say at the outset that I am sympathetic to calls from OneKind, Compassion in World Farming and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to end all long-distance live transport of animals for slaughter. Animals are sentient beings that feel pain and stress in the same way as we do. There is no escaping the fact that animals that are transported in cramped conditions with insufficient water supplies, uncontrolled temperatures and inadequate rest periods will suffer.
As I mentioned, transportation of animals for slaughter is a worldwide phenomenon; it is not unique to Scotland. Compassion in World Farming reports that each year millions of live farm animals are transported thousands of miles for slaughter, or to places where they will be fattened for slaughter. The Scottish Government has stated that no one is comfortable with the issue of male dairy calves being exported. The commercial pressures on the dairy industry are huge and require maximum lactation and production from dairy cows. Male calves have no value in the process, so the majority are exported for fattening in Spain and then moved on for slaughter in north Africa. We simply cannot guarantee that that will be done in compliance with the welfare standards that apply in Scotland.
I am glad that the Scottish Government is supporting ethical dairy farming, as Colin Smyth mentioned. I hope that the Government will support other farmers to transition to a more ethical model of farming. I acknowledge that animals are transported for a variety of reasons and that those journeys are an essential part of business for livestock owners and crofters; I accept that livestock production is an important part of the rural community in Scotland. Jobs and the economy are important, but that does not diminish the fact that the long-distance transportation of live animals is a serious animal welfare issue, and that the people whom we represent continue to raise concerns about it.
The minister, Mairi Gougeon, has inherited many of the animal welfare issues that I mentioned at the start of my speech. I have watched her respond to questions on them with sensitivity, care and professionalism. I have promised my constituents that I will keep a keen eye on those matters and do whatever I can to find solutions to their concerns. I trust that the minister will ensure that our Scottish National Party Government will show, by its actions as well as its words, just how committed it is to welfare of all animals.
I thank Colin Smyth for bringing the issue to Parliament for debate. He is strongly committed to bettering animal welfare standards in Scotland, and a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter or fattening would be an important step forward. It is Scottish Labour policy.
As my colleagues have described, the reality of live exporting for those purposes is that it often involves very young unweaned calves that face journeys of significant length and often in conditions that, as farm animals, they are not built for and should not be subjected to. As my colleague Ruth Maguire said, they are sentient beings. Members mostly agree that it is a distressing thought, so surely we should agree that there must be a positive solution.
In answer to a topical question on 11 September, the minister stated that the scenes in the BBC documentary on the issue “shocked” her. She went on to say that everything that the documentary showed was in line with animal welfare standards. In my view, if Scotland’s legal standards allow for practice that is shocking, the Government cannot in good faith claim a commitment to animal welfare.
Cows that are bred for maximum milk production are of course less useful for beef production, but there are pioneering systems that use herds for both purposes. As Colin Smyth described, using larger cows for dairy and breeding them with beef bulls produces calves that can be reared for meat, thereby addressing the difficulties that force farmers to export live calves.
Breeding dairy cows with bull beef produces a completely different animal. It has been tried with Simmentals and Friesians, but it does not really work. Surely the best approach is to produce an animal that is designated for what it is supposed to do, which is to produce milk.
I am not a farmer and Edward Mountain is, but I will go on to develop the arguments that I have seen in certain places, and I hope that he will listen to them with care.
As that approach develops, it would address the difficulties that force farmers to export live calves, and it would also be a solution to the greenhouse gas emissions that are produced by suckler beef—an advantage that the Government would be foolish to disregard.
Two examples of the ethical farming of cows can be found in my region of South Scotland, which is fantastic. The sight of the calves at David and Wilma Finlay’s farm in Dumfries and Galloway warmed the cockles of my heart. The Finlays describe their system as “deliberate deintensification” that approaches the farm as an integrated food system. Above all, they treat their land, animals and workers with respect. Peelham farm in the Borders rears organic produce and has an on-site butchery. It operates successfully under the simple philosophy of “sustainable self-reliance”. Scotland’s agricultural policy could learn a lot from those inspiring examples.
Let us be positive tonight, even about Brexit for once. Brexit is an opportunity to rethink our farming system for the benefit of farmers, our climate change ambitions and our animal welfare standards. If we change practices in farming, we will need to enable farmers to adapt. I would welcome comment from the minister on the suggestion of funding to support beef and dairy farmers to transition to farming systems that do not require live export as an uncomfortable truth and to develop suitable herd-breeding programmes.
Just as the ethical dairy project in South Scotland has done, we need to reimagine agriculture as a whole system that combines the needs of production with ecosystems, social systems and animal welfare standards. An agroecological approach would mean that newborn calves would not be considered a useless by-product; instead, we could develop a system that would maintain the highest standards of animal welfare. Such a shift would truly be in the best interests of farmers. I understand that agroecology could mean that the productive life of the cow could be doubled, cutting the need for antibiotics by 90 per cent and bringing more people into jobs on the farm.
Some members may laugh, but there is clear evidence, which they might like to go to see.
Clearer provenance could also help to repopularise veal in public opinion. Beyond that, the approach would bring a much-needed reduction in the agricultural sector’s greenhouse gases, as beef and dairy herds would become one herd. It is vital that the Government works with the industry on those issues to hear the concerns and support the sector to shift to more environmentally friendly farming, and that it bans the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter.
I thank Colin Smyth for this timely topic for debate. My views on the inhumane transport of live calves on six-day journeys to their slaughter in Spain and beyond are well known. I have raised the issue repeatedly in the chamber and directly with the Scottish Government since the start of this year, when the cabinet secretary felt the need to express his opposition to a ban to the BBC, rather than to Parliament.
P&O Ferries’ announcement that it would finally enforce its policy on stopping the shipping to Ireland of animals that are intended for fattening or slaughter was very welcome, though long overdue. However, we should not kid ourselves into thinking that the trade is over—live exports of young calves from Scottish farms continue as we speak. Earlier this month, footage was released that showed about 200 young calves heading for the port of Ramsgate in Kent, where they boarded a Latvia-registered private ferry that headed for Spain. Identity tags on the calves showed that they had originated in Scotland and some were as young as two weeks old. We are shipping lorry loads of unweaned animals to their deaths.
I have not been able to establish how much of Scotland’s live export trade has been diverted via Ramsgate, and I would welcome any update that the minister is able to provide tonight. Without a commitment from the Scottish Government to at least consider a ban, it is clear that this cruel trade—and the suffering that goes with it—will continue under the radar. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ran a UK-wide consultation over the summer on a live export ban, which I hope my Conservative colleagues welcomed at the time.
The UK Government has made it clear that a ban could still be the outcome of the consultation. Therefore, instead of pressurising a ferry company to circumvent its own policies and begin accepting live exports again, the Scottish Government should be spending its time working with its Westminster counterparts to address the glaring and urgent concerns about animal welfare.
We have a rare opportunity to update welfare standards that the European Commission itself has admitted show poor performance and in relation to which there is poor compliance. The current standards were set more than 12 years ago, before the sentience of animals was legally recognised and, since then, the scientific and veterinary evidence has repeatedly stated that we should avoid transporting young calves as much as possible. We should be embracing with both hands this opportunity to consider a live export ban, not picking political arguments for the sake of it.
The cabinet secretary says that he does not want to do anything that creates further challenges or difficulty for the farming sector. I suggest that having the poorest animal welfare standards in the whole of the UK when it comes to live export transportation would be a significant disadvantage in terms of the reputation of our farming sector.
If we are going to promote and support a dairy industry in Scotland, we have to be prepared to deal with the male offspring in an ethical and humane way. That means channelling resources into calf-at-hoof dairying, making it standard practice that calves stay with their mothers until weaning. It means investing in a network of local and mobile abattoirs, and it means investing just a fraction of the millions that we spend each year on food marketing schemes into creating a sustainable market for rosé veal and beef. We could start right here in Parliament by switching our milk supply to an ethical calf-at-hoof dairy and putting rose veal on our restaurant menus. I am pleased that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body is investigating that suggestion at present, which might mean that Edward Mountain will have an opportunity to taste those items for himself.
Leadership needs to come not just from the bottom but from the top. It is time for the Scottish Government to clearly state its position. Will it get behind the 73 per cent of voters who support an export ban, the ethical dairy sector and the scientific evidence that says that the current practice has to stop? Alternatively, will it continue to resist change at all costs, painting Scotland as a nation that puts cheap high-volume production ahead of sustainability, ethics and animal welfare?
When Christine Grahame asked a parliamentary question on the issue earlier in the year, I was heartened to hear Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, confirm that there are no live animal exports for slaughter from Scotland. The minister confirmed that again to me during a later meeting that I had with him.
Following that meeting, I had a meeting with representatives of Compassion in World Farming, who told me, contrary to what the minister had led me to believe, that 5000 calves were exported from Scotland to Spain, via Northern Ireland, for fattening and slaughter, and that some of those animals had been taken to countries outside the EU, where slaughter facilities and methods are not of the highest standard.
I wrote to Fergus Ewing about that, and, on 7 June, I received a letter from him, which said:
“I am disappointed that you were surprised to learn that around 5,000 calves are exported annually to Spain for fattening and production”.
No doubt “production” is the euphemistic term for “slaughter”. I suddenly realised how naive I had been, even after 14 years in this Parliament: I had actually taken Fergus Ewing’s response to me at face value.
It is clear that Fergus Ewing did not say anything that was not true. He had just been clever with his statements. In this context, I am not being particularly complimentary when I use the word, “clever”. I have to ask whether that is really the best way for a cabinet secretary to respond to MSPs who raise this important issue. I will be very wary about what Fergus Ewing says in the chamber in the future.
As others who have spoken tonight do, I firmly believe that we must move to ending export of live animals for slaughter. That move should be industry-led. Our agriculture industry relies on public support. If we lose that public support, we risk damaging the quality of brand Scotland.
I might have misunderstood Edward Mountain, but I got the idea that, as a farmer, he is somewhat sceptical about tackling the issue, which is quite disappointing. On a previous occasion in the chamber, I said that public perception is important. At that time, I was surprised that some members felt that that was not the case, and seemed instead to be more concerned about pointing out what they felt were inconsistencies in a recent BBC television programme on the subject.
It is really important that we promote a commercial market for young calves in order that we can end export of those animals. That is the way forward; simply calling for a ban is not. The industry must come up with a solution, with help from the Scottish Government. If we are to move forward and satisfy everyone, that is what will be successful.
We want a situation in which new markets are developed, farmers make profits and animal welfare issues are properly addressed. The answer lies in encouraging development of the veal market. All our efforts and those of the industry should be focused on that. That is where the Scottish Government could help. I hope that the minister, in summing up, appeals to the industry and indicates that the Scottish Government will support it in finding a market for young calves. That would be the most comprehensive solution.
I thank Colin Smyth for securing the debate, which gives us an opportunity to discuss an important subject. He used the word “emotive”. In my notes for the debate, I have written that this is an extremely emotive subject, and one that we should approach in a measured, educated and evidence-based way.
Although I do not have Edward Mountain’s knowledge or credentials, I grew up on two dairy farms, so I am familiar with the issue of male bull calves, which is important to people in Scotland. My dad used to say, “They werenae worth that much.” Nevertheless, we should look seriously at the economic aspects of keeping bull calves or sending them elsewhere.
I wanted to amend the motion, because the Government has expressed its preference that animals be killed as close to their farm of origin as possible. The motion says that in 2017,
“3,073 sheep, 5,595 calves and 661 cattle were exported from Scotland”, but I was told yesterday by my contact at NFU Scotland that 2,700 of the 38,700 male dairy calves that were registered in Scotland were transported, so there are some interesting numbers that might not reflect reality. Many dairy farmers whom I have spoken to locally move their bull calves to other farms in Scotland to be reared, so I would like to see some figures that accurately reflect what is happening.
In the past two decades, there has been a 34 per cent reduction in the number of abattoirs across the UK. I would be interested to hear about any work that the Government has been engaged in on mobile abattoirs. I have been doing some research on that and, in the past two years as parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, I have engaged with many dairy farmers on that issue, among others. I have visited many dairy farms across the south-west of Scotland and the issue of transportation of animals over long distances has been raised. The welfare of animals in transit is a key issue, irrespective of whether that journey takes place over land or sea. I would be interested in further discussion about the model of mobile abattoirs, which are currently in use in Sweden, Norway, France and Germany—our European neighbours—and the United States.
I am aware that research is currently being conducted by the Scottish Government on the evidence and science. Decisions will be made based on evidence, rather than being snap judgments. We should always look at the science and evidence so that we can make informed decisions.
I return to the mobile abattoir issue. Some members have commented that abattoirs are more ethical. They operate in accordance with strict animal welfare rules and regulations, and reducing stress on animals might be a factor to consider. There is much more detail on that issue, which would require another debate. Time is short today.
Yesterday, I spoke to Gary Mitchell, who is the vice-president of NFU Scotland, which is absolutely committed to engaging on the issue. He will attend a meeting tomorrow to discuss the issues and, following that, I will seek to learn about the discussion at that meeting from Gary. I take the opportunity to support NFU Scotland’s call for any decision on transportation of animals being made on the basis of evidence and science. I urge the Scottish Government to explore the possibility of mobile abattoirs, which might benefit everybody, including with regard to the issue of transporting live animals.
Before I call Peter Chapman to speak, I note that there are still two other members who wish to speak, so I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[
Motion agreed to.
I note my entry in the register of members’ interests as a partner in a farming business and as a member of NFU Scotland. In my farming business, we had a dairy herd for a long number of years. We do not have it now; we have a suckler cow herd.
I echo the sentiments of my colleague Edward Mountain, and support Emma Harper’s amendment; I hope that all members in the chamber also support it. It is important that we back the continuation of live animal exports when necessary. We must back the Scottish livestock industry and our farmers, the vast majority of whom see live animal exports as an important option, which must always be done to the highest standards.
The transportation of live animals for export from Scotland should not be used as a political pawn. We all agree that we want the best animal welfare standards for our stock from birth to slaughter, and the animal welfare regulations are there to ensure that we maintain those standards for the small number of stock that require to be exported.
Every farmer wants their animals to be slaughtered as close as possible to where they were born, but that is not possible in some of Scotland’s most remote rural areas and, in particular, on our islands. The recent closure of Orkney’s slaughterhouse is a prime example of the difficulties that farmers face in remote locations. With no local slaughterhouses, transferring livestock to the mainland for fattening or slaughter is the only option. If we ban exports to the EU—26 miles across the Channel—how can we argue that farmers in Shetland can continue to export livestock to Aberdeen, which is 10 times further in distance? We cannot close that door—it would be the end for livestock farming in our island communities.
Does Peter Chapman accept that the point of the ban on the export of live animals outwith the UK is that, once they leave the UK and reach another country, we no longer have control over their welfare or what happens to them? In the UK, we have control over welfare standards, so nobody is proposing that we ban the transport of animals from the islands to the UK mainland. It is just a ban on taking live animals outwith the UK, where we no longer have control. If the UK Government, which is carrying out a consultation on the issue, proposes a ban for the rest of the UK, is Peter Chapman seriously saying that Scotland should exempt itself and have a different policy?
Scotland could have a different policy. It is okay for Mr Smyth to say that nobody is suggesting that we should not shift livestock off the islands, but some people would suggest that, if we ban exporting live animals across the Channel, that would be the next logical step.
The NFUS has stated that, although live exports are a
“very small part of the Scottish trade, the option of well managed and regulated exports should be retained”.
Excuse me, Mr Chapman. I ask members who are intent on shouting at each other across the chamber to press their buttons; I will give them a short time to speak if they wish.
What NFU Scotland said is particularly important as we move closer to Brexit. At this crucial time, the last thing that we need is to close down potential export opportunities to mainland Europe. Many Scottish farmers are already struggling, and the latest farming income figures show just how poor returns are for the farming industry. The last thing that we need is to put in place another economic disadvantage.
There are many ways in which Scotland can continue to improve our reputation as one of the best countries in the world for animal welfare standards, without placing a ban on live animal exports; we can continue to back farm assurance schemes and link farms, transporters, markets and abattoirs in order to ensure the highest animal welfare standards right along the chain. Ensuring the rigorous enforcement of the legislation is the way forward.
For many, this is an emotive debate that was prompted by the BBC Panorama programme, which chose to sensationalise and try to show the trade in the worst possible light. It was, in fact, a disgraceful programme that lacked balance and even the most basic objectivity. Its sole intention was to damage our reputation for high animal welfare standards.
I am closing.
Ruth Maguire’s assertion that calves are exported to north Africa for slaughter is an absolute nonsense. There is absolutely no evidence of that.
Let me finish by making clear that Scotland’s farmers work hard to maintain the highest level of animal welfare. They care passionately about their animals’ welfare during any necessary journey—that is always taken very seriously.
I declare an interest as convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare. I congratulate Colin Smyth on securing the debate. I exclude animals that are exported for breeding from anything that I will say.
It is appropriate for meat eaters certainly and, indeed, for people such as me who consume dairy produce, to accept that animals including dairy cows, pigs, sheep and so on are raised to be killed and, in the main, eaten by us. If we are to eat such animals, the least that we can do is to ensure their welfare from field to fork. I agree with Colin Smyth on our changing view of animals and our seeing them as sentient beings.
The key word—although it is not mine—is “production”. As it stands, like it or not, animals are products, so when bull calves are born to a dairy cow, they are by-products to be shot or shipped.
A ban on live exports for slaughter or fattening for slaughter needs to be planned. All that the ban by P&O Ferries did was to simply shift the animals to ports in England or lead to more of them being shot.
In reply to my topical question on 11 September, the Scottish Government said that it wants animals to be killed as close to the farm of origin as possible. As the farmers on the Conservative benches have said, that is commendable but, if we look at the statistics, we can see that that is not happening. For example—I do not know where Emma Harper got her figures—more than 5,000 cattle were exported to Spain for rearing as veal, and more than 17,000 pigs were sent to Northern Ireland for slaughter.
I do not have time.
I want to keep to the idea of exporting as being transport beyond the UK’s shores. I am interested in what the Scottish Government is doing to achieve the commendable aim of there being the least amount of travel between field and slaughter for the animals involved. We know that the long-distance transport across Europe of live animals that are destined for slaughter has long been recognised as one of the most serious and intractable problems for farm animal welfare. Neither the Scottish Government nor the UK Government can monitor the welfare of animals once they leave the UK’s shores.
Please let me make a bit of progress. I have only four minutes.
I accept that there is no simple solution. I hope that the Government, the farming community, Quality Meat Scotland and others can find some way of bringing quality of life to the animals, specifically bull dairy calves, before they are slaughtered and eaten.
I am not an expert, and I do not pretend to be an expert, on some of the issues that the farmers in the chamber have raised. That is why they must take part in the discussion.
One of the discussions is about whether there can be any financial support for farmers who are required to keep bull calves for a period of time for consumption. Edward Mountain has raised that issue. Those matters are to be explored.
Collaboration is the key. Taking the heat out of the debate would be something, but I want to do that and to take party politics out of it. To that end—Finlay Carson knows this—Mark Ruskell, Mike Rumbles, Finlay Carson and Colin Smyth and I are trying to work together in collaboration to find a way to resolve the situation, which nobody is happy with, including the farmers. That was why Mark Ruskell wrote to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body on our behalf to see whether we could get rose veal put on the menu and why Finlay Carson has written to Quality Meat Scotland so that the five of us could meet it and see whether there is some way of doing that.
I want to see a time come—I am sure that we all do—when slaughter or fattening for slaughter takes place in Scotland. I say to Emma Harper that I have long campaigned for more local abattoirs as they have become more centralised. Ensuring that slaughtering from lairing to dispatch adheres to the highest welfare standards is not just for the animals’ sake. It is important that that can be monitored by the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Government said:
“No one is ... comfortable with that situation”.—[
, 11 September 2018; c 7.]
It should take a lead and fulfil its commitment to ensuring that animals that we raise for consumption are killed as close to the field as possible and are exported on the hook, not the hoof.
Christine Grahame’s contribution is the perfect note for me to follow on from: it is the note that I hoped to strike. I have felt that I was agreeing with members whom I normally would not agree with and disagreeing with others.
As Peter Chapman said, however, the issue should not be a political pawn. I hope that there will not be too much of a political situation.
I genuinely thank Colin Smyth for lodging the motion for debate and everyone for their contributions so far. As Colin Smyth said at the start of the debate, we are all aware of how emotive the issue is. I have said in the chamber before that I care about it and take it extremely seriously. That is why I am glad to have the opportunity to respond to the debate and to talk about not just the issues that have been raised, but some of the work that has been going on since the issue was previously raised in Parliament. I genuinely believe that, across the chamber, we are all trying to do exactly the same thing, and I hope that that is where we end up. I hope that we get to a point at which we can work together to move forward and take positive action.
In my relatively short time in this role, I have learned that nothing is ever as clear-cut and straightforward as it can sometimes be made out to be. There are a lot of issues that we will have to consider around a very complex part of our farming industry. I thank the wider stakeholders in the animal welfare sector and the farming industry for all their constructive contributions on the issue, and I look forward to engaging with them in continued dialogue as we move forward.
There are a few things that I want to make clear before I get into the main body of my response.
In my role as the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment and representing the Scottish Government, I am absolutely committed to implementing and upholding the highest animal welfare standards. That is the case now and that will continue to be the case, regardless of what happens post-Brexit.
It is important to recognise that we have to be able to transport animals by road and sea. I completely understand the point that Colin Smyth made about that earlier. However, we have to ensure that, during all those journeys, regardless of what they are for, the highest animal welfare standards that are currently in place are adhered to at all times. I am confident that we do that.
We do not currently export any animals directly to Europe for slaughter. There is no point in that, as Edward Mountain said in his contribution.
We will always support the principle that, ideally, animals should be slaughtered as close to their farms of origin as practical. Colin Smyth, Peter Chapman and Christine Grahame talked about that. However, we must recognise that other factors are also at play.
Colin Smyth, Ruth Maguire and many other members talked about the potential for our cattle to journey beyond the EU. I want to talk about the Scottish Government’s research project that is being undertaken on exactly that aspect. As Emma Harper said, we want to make policy based on evidence and supported by science; it would be irresponsible as a Government if we did otherwise.
We have been aware of concerns about the trade for a number of years, so we initiated an international monitoring project to gather evidence. I do not think that the project has had the recognition that it deserves, because it is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. It is being undertaken by two of the top animal welfare scientists in Europe and will provide valuable up-to-date scientific evidence about the conditions for calves on export journeys. The findings could make best practice recommendations for the journeys and other recommendations that will be of great interest in Europe and more widely.
The UK Government has also recently undertaken work that a number of members have mentioned. The Scottish Government supports DEFRA undertaking a call for evidence on the transport of live animals to continental Europe for slaughter, and on animal transport legislation in general. As well as the public call for evidence, DEFRA has commissioned a systematic review of the scientific evidence on all livestock transport, which has recently reported. I understand that the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, which is the UK-wide expert advisory body, is considering that evidence. We very much look forward to the outcome, once the committee has reviewed all the evidence.
The projects that the Scottish Government has undertaken and the work that the UK Government has undertaken are just two strands of the work that is being done on the issue.
As I mentioned, the issue of surplus male dairy calves is complex, but the Scottish Government is working with the sector to look at all the options available to find a sustainable way forward. We support initiatives such as the ethical dairy model, which was mentioned in the BBC documentary, and the pioneering approach—
The research that the minister mentions is very interesting. Will it look at the requirements under the animal health regulations on vehicle inspections in relation to drinking, ventilation systems, temperature monitoring and the monitoring of journey times to make sure that those are complied with? Those are Europe-wide standards. Looking at that aspect would greatly help to inform the debate.
I confirm that the research will take all those matters into consideration.
I was talking about the ethical dairy model and the approach to keeping dairy cows and their calves together. I will be visiting the Ethical Dairy shortly to find out more about that. The Ethical Dairy’s innovative work has been recognised by a recent food processing, marketing and co-operation grant scheme, which Mark Ruskell mentioned. The dairy was awarded £160,000 to expand its cheese production.
I confirm to the chamber that no stone will be left unturned when it comes to this issue. We are looking at the matter from all angles.
I have undertaken a number of visits to dairy farms in different parts of the country and I have many more planned. I am visiting a range of dairy farms—the big, the small, the organic and the non-organic—to find out more about how they operate as a business and what happens to their bull calves. If I have learned one thing so far, it is that there is no simple, single solution that can easily be applied across the whole dairy sector.
Mr Chapman has kindly covered a point that I was just about to come to, if I ever manage to make progress—although I thank members for their points.
There is no single, simple solution to all this. Every farm that I have visited so far has been different. Some farmers sell their calves, some wean their calves at 12 months and others cannot sell calves on because of the contracts that they have with supermarkets.
However, a universal problem that I have encountered is the increase in costs and the impact of that on businesses. For example, the cost of feed has almost doubled. That and other costs deter some people from holding on to their calves. Other farms have space restrictions and would need capital spend to be able to provide the infrastructure that could house extra calves, should they keep them.
I completely agree with Mike Rumbles on this vital point: we could ban the export of animals for further production, but if we are to be a responsible Government there is no way that we can do that without first considering the wider impact that such an approach would have on the dairy sector, where many farms are under extreme pressure. The approach might simply lead to more bull calves being killed.
There are many positive initiatives and developments. I mentioned the Ethical Dairy’s approach. I have also met a farmer who is not a dairy farmer but who is purchasing dairy bull calves for the first time, to see what he can do with them, in the context of further production.
There is also scientific progress in relation to breeding. I commend the good progress that the wider dairy industry is making in developing strategies to reduce the number of surplus dairy bull calves. Key to that is the use of sexed semen for breeding dairy cows, which Peter Chapman and Edward Mountain mentioned. The approach has drawbacks—it is considered to be more expensive and it is not available for all bulls—but it is an option.
A number of other innovative projects are coming forward, through the rural innovation support service.
I am keen to get out and meet as many dairy farmers as possible, so that I can hear their concerns and their views on the future of the industry. I am not for one minute going to stand here and pretend that I am a farmer. I want to get out as much as possible so that I can understand as best I can the operation of the industry and where the pressures are.
I mentioned that I have started making visits. I have a programme of visits over the coming weeks, including a visit to the Ethical Dairy. I have met NFUS and Quality Meat Scotland to discuss the issue and will soon meet OneKind and Compassion in World Farming to discuss it.
As I have said before in the chamber, this is a situation with which no one is happy. In this chamber, many issues come up on which political parties have fundamentally different and opposing points of view, but I genuinely do not see this as one of those issues. I genuinely believe that we are all trying to do the same thing, and I hope that we can take the politics out of the situation.
I, for one, am willing to work across the Parliament on the issue, as I hope that I have shown in the work that I have undertaken so far and in the commitments that I have made tonight. I want us to find a way forward, working with our farmers in the dairy industry while upholding the highest standards of animal welfare.
Meeting closed at 18:02.