Sir, – Re 'Driving into dead ends on animal welfare' in The Scottish Farmer, October 9. This is a cause for concern throughout UK, but particularly worrying for the areas furthest away from the markets.

The article was written by one of the most experienced and practical individuals in livestock transport, Hamish Waugh, and is accurate, clear and reflects my own thinking on the matter as concisely as possible.

In a sense, of course, it’s none of my business as I no longer represent a producers’ organisation. I am, however, chairman of the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers and that allows me to express some thoughts which I believe to reflect reality.

It is worth saying that there is no benefit from transporting livestock in poor conditions, whether that involves animals for further fattening, or for slaughter and a very sharp eye has to be kept on practicality.

During the last 30-40 years, huge strides have been made in the way stock is carried. Vehicle design has had the close attention of many practical and scientific experts, including on the practical side people from the industry such as your correspondent, Mr Waugh.

The positive outcome has seen a massive change of transporting stock in the trailers bringing stock off farms and taking them to market. These are matched only by the high-quality vehicles taking stock longer distances from markets.

These have seen improvements in suspension, better scientifically controlled airflows, ramp angles, to say nothing of the huge improvements in our roads and the road network.

Welfare of stock has been at the heart of all these changes, guided by the advice of scientific and practical experts. The former Farm Animal Welfare Council, now the Animal Welfare Committee, has remained an active body throughout this time, it being clear that no matter what improvements are made there will always be need for understanding between ambition and reality.

There is, however, a clear shared ambition of everyone involved either practically, or in the sense of 'wanting to do things better', for the most effective high standards to be deployed for the good of the animal.

I get the feeling that further improvements will happen once proper research has taken place, become accepted and then put into practice. I would contend that there is a limit to the practical improvement to animal welfare in transit without proper research at all levels.

In all the discussion, there should be recognition that the ultimate objective of producing food animals from the time of conception to the time they are slaughtered is to provide quality healthy food for people to eat.

A sharp eye must always be kept on animal welfare and humanity. That is the focus of all conscientious sensible producers and transporters at all stages.

It is generally well-understood within the food chain, but not always recognised and understood by our naturally interested public.

John Thorley OBE, FRAgS

Chairman AIMS.