A new agreement between the United Kingdom's (UK) National Beef Association (NBA) and its main ferry service crossing the English Channel to Europe, P&O Ferries, is restarting live transports of breeding and dairy cattle. However, UK animals destined for slaughter or finishing on the continent, such as veal calves, are still off limits to water crossing, due to activist concerns.

When the UK government lifted the ban on the export of UK cattle and beef last September, after getting the green light from the European Union's phytosanitary experts that BSE was finally at reasonable risk levels, getting live cattle to Europe posed something of a problem.

To ensure the health of the animals making the crossing, producers in the past had to charter expensive ferries to get their animals across, something the average breeder couldn't afford for only a handful of head. On the part of the ferry company, the question of animal rights came into play because of the bad press over the years surrounding the stress on live cattle destined for slaughter and transported into Europe. The question arose especially in terms of veal calves for export.

But a deal between the UK's P&O Ferries and the NBA last September set the stage to begin live-cattle transports not destined for slaughter, which next week ought to reach a full truckload crossing to Europe every day, according to NBA chief exec Robert Forster.

"Our long-standing policy has been to decline the highly contentious livestock destined for slaughter, or fattening prior to slaughter," said Brian Rees, P&O public relations manager "But that's a very different trade to the transport of high-value pedigree animals for breeding. The difficulty for a ferry company is how to make the distinction."

Rees said that to remove ambiguity, NBA agreed in September to provide documentary evidence of the genuine breeding status of animals intended for travel.

According to Forster, a major issue had been that if a ferry wasn't chartered solely for the transport of high health status animals, that status was at risk when in close proximity to others animals being transported. In the past, it wasn't uncommon for 400 veal calves to travel on a single ferry, he said.

As part of the P&O agreement, only one truckload of live cattle will be allowed on each of the company's five daily crossings from Dover to Calais, France, ensuring the health status of the animals and at a rate 1/10th of the price of chartering an entire ferry.

"The NBA stepped in to act as third-party agents as a reassurance to P&O that only pedigreed breeding and milking animals will be transported," Forster said.
-- Meghan Sapp, Brussels, Belgium