Ferry firm ‘breaching own company policy’ with live animal exports

P&O Ferries has continually breached its own animal welfare policy by aiding the export of Scottish animals abroad for fattening, according to records seen by The Ferret.

Data from the Animal and Plant Health Association (APHA) shows that 2,381 Scottish sheep destined for Ireland for fattening were shipped between 16 April and 29 August 2020. The animals travelled via the P&O-run route of Cairnryan in Dumfries and Galloway, to Larne in Northern Ireland.

However, the ferry firm’s live exports policy states that it will not import or export any livestock intended for fattening or slaughter. The only exception is its Cairnryan to Larne route, providing the livestock remains within the UK.

Welfare group Eyes on Animals claimed that the Republic of Ireland has “a significant number” of abattoirs where animals are not stunned before being slaughtered. The Scottish Greens urged P&O to “get their house in order” and prevent any further animal welfare policy breaches.

Livestock exporters must complete animal health certificates, including the purpose of each export. Journey logs to accompany the certificates are issued by APHA, which is sponsored by the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), as well as the Scottish Government.

P&O’s policy states that health certificates must “clearly show that the animals are being shipped for breeding purposes”. However, certificates obtained under Freedom of Information law by Eyes on Animals show that some sheep were recorded as being shipped for fattening. This involves the intensified feeding of livestock so they can yield more meat and be sold for a higher price.

The welfare group also highlighted a discrepancy between two nearly identical certificates detailing the shipment of 75 sheep, of which both APHA and P&O hold copies. While APHA’s certificate states that the animals were exported to Ireland for fattening, P&O’s version states that the animals were exported for breeding.

An address of “DG12, Annan” is given for the animal exporter, as well as the locations of where the animals originated and were handled. The only Scottish address in the European Commission’s list of approved control posts – where animals are rested during long journeys – belongs to A.J. Ewing, an animal haulier firm based at Dumbretton Farm, near Annan, Dumfriesshire.

The Ferret asked A.J. Ewing why the certificates did not match, but the firm did not respond to our requests to comment. Defra confirmed that it was aware of the discrepancies and was speaking with other regulatory bodies to decide a course of action.

“The Government is committed to the welfare of all animals”, said a Defra spokesperson. “We have a commitment to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening, and we intend to consult on how we deliver on that manifesto commitment later this year.”

animal exports
Albert Bridge / The P&O “Express” at Larne / CC BY-SA 2.0

In 2018, P&O decided to no longer allow the import or export of livestock for fattening or slaughter after a BBC Scotland investigation revealed that Scottish calves were sent on 70-hour journeys to Spain for fattening and slaughter.

In July, The Sunday Times reported warnings from Eyes on Animals that P&O had been “hoodwinked” by exporters. The welfare group obtained APHA records of sheep being shipped to Ireland for fattening and slaughter between January and April 2020. P&O said they had opened an investigation into the matter. But data spanning from April to August shows that the policy breach continued to occur.

The Scottish Greens food and farming spokesperson Mark Ruskell MSP said that P&O “must explain why its certificates differ from the ones held by APHA, especially since it promised to investigate breaches earlier in the year.”

He added: “It’s clear we face a regulatory mire as the UK crashes out of Europe, with the prospect of even more cruel practices when it comes to the treatment of animals. It’s time for firms such as P&O to get their house in order, and for governments to set clear protections for animals.”

A P&O spokesperson told The Ferret that it places “the highest priority on animal welfare across all of our routes and will not hesitate to act decisively and close the account of any customer in breach of our policy”. When sailing between Larne and Cairnryan, “every animal travelling is subject to health certification and inspection”, said a spokesperson.

However, the ferry operator must “rely on the truthfulness and accuracy of the certification which customers are legally obliged to present to us”, they stressed. P&O is currently investigating a set of shipments and has also raised concerns on the effectiveness of livestock shipment regulation with APHA, the spokesperson said.

They added: “We co-operate fully with animal welfare groups that have accurate and reliable evidence of our policy being breached and will do everything we can to investigate any information we receive”.

But Eyes on Animals claimed that the ferry operator had not been willing to work with them in recent months.

“P&O reacted decisively when Eyes on Animals raised concerns over the shipments of unweaned calves back in 2018, as they immediately stopped the shipments”, said Nicola Glen, the group’s UK and Ireland spokesperson. “But sadly, their cooperation has been extremely lacking in any response regarding the sheep exports.”

The Republic of Ireland “has a significant number of non-stun slaughter abattoirs which raises further concerns for the welfare of these animals”, claimed Glen. “We also fear that some are then being re-exported to the continent for non-stun slaughter. This is currently being investigated.”

Glen added: “I have many years experience in this trade and I have suggested to P&O that I am more than willing to share my knowledge and assist them in ensuring their policy is enforced, but to date, I have been ignored.”

Header image thanks to Eyes on Animals.

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