SCOTTISH FARMERS are being strongly encouraged to respond to DEFRA's proposals on livestock transport – and try to avert the 'huge disruption' that they would bring.

Concerned individuals and organisations have until the deadline of February 25 (this Thursday) to reply to a Westminster consultation on new restrictions and conditions that would have serious implications for livestock production in remote areas. NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy this week urged farmers and crofters to respond directly to DEFRA's 'deeply flawed' thinking.

The proposed changes have already caused considerable anger and consternation amongst all involved in the livestock industry across Scotland, particularly those in remote areas and the Northern and Western Isles where essential livestock movements inevitably involve longer journey times often including shipment of live animals by sea. This concern saw more than 300 people logging in to NFUS webinars in January to discuss the Defra proposals and a separate Scottish Government consultation – which closes on February 26 – on animal transport.

A recording of the webinar and links to the two different animal transport consultations are available to view on a dedicated section of the NFUS website at:

Despite these two separate policy reviews for England and Scotland, the union pointed out that in practice, because many journeys are cross border and hauliers will require livestock transporters to operate across the whole of the UK, differences in requirements between home nations would be impractical. It was therefore essential that appropriate standards, set by people familiar with farming practice in all parts of the country, be adopted countrywide, said the union.

Mr Kennedy said: “The DEFRA proposals, if adopted, would lead to huge disruption and cost to the industry. It would threaten the continuation of livestock production in island and remote communities which are heavily dependent on it economically, socially and for maintaining the natural environment."
According to Scottish Government regional census data for June 2020, there were nearly 825,000 sheep and 125,000 cattle on Scotland’s islands which could be impacted by the proposed change.

“Basing the decision on whether a journey can take place on outside temperature or sea wind force are simplistic and impractical and fail to recognise the disruption and animal welfare issues that would arise from such an overly simplistic approach," said Mr Kennedy.

“NFUS will submit members views to both consultations but, in addition to union activity, it is essential that individual members respond to the consultations if we are to achieve a workable long-term outcome appropriate for both our businesses and our livestock. We need your assistance to ensure that decision-makers fully understand the deep flaws and errors in these proposals.”

The Scottish Red Meat Resilience Group has also responded in strong opposition to the recommendations in both the DEFRA and Scottish Government consultations.

Chaired by Quality Meat Scotland’s chair Kate Rowell, the group consists of representatives from across the supply chain including Scottish Beef Association, NFU Scotland, National Sheep Association Scotland, Scottish Association of Young Farmers’ Clubs, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, Pig Industry Leadership Group, Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Association, and The Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland.

“From prohibiting transport when external temperature is below five degrees – effectively ruling out transport from November to March in Scotland – to limiting journey times to nine hours for nine-month-old calves, the proposals do not reflect and recognise the already robust systems and safeguards the Scottish livestock industry has in place to ensure that animal welfare is the number one concern when transporting livestock around the country,” said Ms Rowell.

In Scotland, another specific consideration is the lack of slaughtering capacity.

“More than half of the sheep and pigs born in Scotland are slaughtered outside the country each year,” she added.

“Regarding beef cattle, Scotland’s abattoirs tend to specialise in processing prime cattle, resulting in a significant proportion of the cows being slaughtered elsewhere in Britain.  In 2019 more than 42% of the female cattle aged over 30 months - which had been born in Scotland and went to slaughter - were processed in England and Wales.”

This trade in store livestock is a vital component of Scotland’s traditional farming systems, based around the flow of calves and lambs from upland areas to specialist beef and lamb finishing on the better ground, often via auction marts as the intermediary.

“In Scotland we operate under some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world," said Ms Rowell. "Our whole-of-life whole-chain assurance schemes, which are supported and approved by the SPCA, Scotland’s independent animal welfare charity, means that farmers, hauliers, auction marts, processors and feed merchants must adhere to standards to ensure the best quality of life for animals throughout the supply chain.

“The QMS Haulage Assurance Scheme is an essential element in our whole chain consumer assurance programme and haulage drivers are specially trained to handle and transport livestock to a high standard with animal welfare of paramount importance."