Northern Isles Parliamentarians have called for ‘extreme caution’ in the development of any proposed future changes by the UK and Scottish Governments to live animal transport arrangements.
Both governments are currently consulting on proposals to amend rules relating to live animal transport to improve animal welfare. However, the changes being considered, including limits on maximum wind speeds and/or minimum temperatures during which animals can be transported, could severely restrict livestock shipments from the islands, thereby potentially decimating a key component of the local economy.
Liam McArthur MSP, Beatrice Wishart MSP and Alistair Carmichael MP have therefore made a joint submission to both consultations outlining the serious threat these new regulations pose to the future of livestock farming in the Northern Isles. NFUS branches in Orkney and Shetland as well as Orkney Mart have also made clear their concerns, along with a range of local stakeholders, from vets to farmers themselves.
Commenting on the issue, and the joint submission, Mr McArthur said:
“Orkney’s farming sector enjoys a reputation for quality. This is built, in part, on ensuring high standards of animal welfare, including in the way livestock is transported.
“That is why the local farming community pressed so hard to see improvements made to livestock shipment arrangements and why there will always be a willingness to look at what more can be done.
“However, the proposals set out in the Scottish and UK Government consultations appear detached from reality and devoid of evidence. This is all the more worrying as some of the changes being considered would effectively end livestock transport between Orkney and the Scottish mainland.
“No island impact assessment has been carried out on these proposals, despite the obvious threat they pose to a crucial sector of our island economy. It’s all the more important, therefore, that Scottish Ministers and their UK counterparts hear loud and clear the concerns of those who understand the industry and the damage such misguided restrictions would cause to farming in Orkney and the wider community.
“That is why we have made this joint submission and I would encourage anyone with an interest in the future of farming in Orkney to consider making their views known.”
Ms Wishart said:
“The proposals in the consultation threaten the viability of livestock production in Shetland. There’s no arguing that Scotland should have the highest standards of animal welfare. But regulations to achieve that must be practical. Serious concerns have been raised by the local industry that the recommendations around wind speed and temperature restrictions would make livestock transport impossible at crucial times of the year.
“Shetland’s crofters and farmers already put animal welfare at the heart of their work. It’s clear that there has been little attempt by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee to understand the realities of industry in the Northern Isles. There must be a serious re-think of the proposals to make sure any changes to regulations are fully island proofed.”
Mr Carmichael added:
“Isles farmers must not be the unintended victims of well-intended policy. We have to ensure that any change in policy takes into account the specific challenges for island communities.
“Improving welfare standards is laudable but we have to remember that livestock transport out of the isles already follows the gold standard – farmers and crofters here know that it is in their own interest to transport animals safely, and they have taken proactive steps in that regard in recent years.”