Lamb in a lorry at the collection centre in Dalmally. CREDIT: GETTY
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Why Michael Gove’s proposed ban on exporting live animals won’t “take back control” of animal rights

The debate around live animal exports suggests the government’s post-Brexit vision of animal welfare is driven as much by self-interest as compassion.

The phrase “take back control” has a forceful, almost bullish ring to it. But its appeal also lies in a promise of replacing present EU regulations with kinder, more humane practices. Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated, perhaps, than in the debate around the export of live farm animals for slaughter abroad.

Last year, 20,000 sheep are reported to have left the country for slaughter in the EU. The National Farmers Union says that present EU rules mean these journeys need not be considered a health and welfare issue “if properly controlled” – and that it is working to “further enhance and regulate” the existing standards in the event of Brexit.

Yet animal welfare groups disagree. To them, only an outright ban  (something currently prevented by EU single market ruleswill fully safeguard animal welfare. 

“It’s unacceptable and completely unnecessary that live animals are exported and transported over long distances for slaughter or further fattening,” says Dr Marc Cooper, head of the RSPCA’s Farm Animals Department, which has been calling for a ban “for decades”.

Furthermore, many animals end up in countries where protections are far less well developed than our own. “Once they leave the UK, we have no control over the conditions in which they are kept or slaughtered. We cannot allow this to continue,” warns Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

In this light it is surprising that the Environment Secretary Michael Gove has issued a call for evidence on "a potential ban on the live export of animals for slaughter" – but not for a ban on export for both slaughter and fattening.

Such a compromise risks pleasing neither farmers nor welfare groups. According to CIWF, the proposed ban “does not go far enough”, while the National Farmer’s Union would like to see the government deliver the “full” new live export scheme they’ve proposed, and thus avoid a ban altogether.

So why has Gove gone to the effort of picking his way, like a wild mountain goat, through this thorny subject?

His official statement stresses the government’s recent turn towards animal-friendly policies; “All animals deserve to get the respect and care they deserve at every stage of their lives.”

But if animal welfare his is aim, why not go the whole hog with the ban?

One reason suggested by Conservative MP Steve Double in the recent debate, is that animals exported for fattening or breeding have a higher value than those sold for immediate slaughter, and so “are usually far more cared for”. But this argument hardly guarantees control of animal welfare at all stages of farm to fork.

The appeal of a half-ban on live animal exports becomes clearer, however, in the context of managing the logistical chaos that could descend on the export industry post-Brexit.

The need for new border checks and certifications if Britain leaves the customs union could create long delays at ports and borders, according to a recent parliamentary report on the post-Brexit trade in food.

The British Meat Processors Association told the report’s authors that Dover and Holyhead may be unable to cope with the likely amount of border clearances involved without new investment and support. Meanwhile the RSPCA raised concerns that leaving the EU could mean loss of access to the web-based veterinarian certification tool used exchange information and to aid enforcement.

These problems will, of course, remain in the case of a partial ban. But if more animals are “transported on the hook, as meat, not on the hoof,” as the British Veterinary Association President has so bluntly put it, then there will be less live animals to process, which could help reduce delays.

In this context, Gove’s decision to take back control of animal welfare after Brexit exposes the fault lines in the government’s wider Brexit project: its terms will be better defined by compromise and necessity than by compassion and consistent argument.

Whatever Gove decides, this is a debate that matters greatly to the rest of the world. So far, only New Zealand has implemented any kind of live export ban, yet the welfare abuses are widespread and harrowing in the extreme. Just this week, Guardian analysis showed Australian regulators have let multiple mass animal deaths during transport go unpunished or opposed.

“This issue is being considered in a number of other countries, and at an EU level, so the UK taking a lead on this could provide a much welcome stimulus to those discussions,” says CIWF’s Philip Lymbery. In this respect, any ban on live exports is to be welcomed. In terms of maintaining the rhetoric of “control”, however, only a full ban will do.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

Tracey Thorn. CRedit: Getty
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“Not technically beautiful, she has an engaging laugh”: 35 years of being described by men

For women in music, being described most of the time by men is just par for the course.

I am sure you all saw the Twitter challenge that took off the other day – a request to women to “describe yourself like a male author would”, started by the writer Whitney Reynolds. There were thousands of hilarious replies, with women imagining how a bad male author would describe them. I thought about posting an example, but then realised, I didn’t have to imagine this. I’ve been being described by male journalists for more than 35 years.

Katy Waldman in the New Yorker wrote about the challenge, and how it highlighted clichés in men’s writing: “…prose that takes conspicuous notice of a female character’s physical imperfections. This is done with an aura of self-satisfaction, as if the protagonist deserves credit simply for bestowing his descriptive prowess upon a person of less than conventional loveliness.”

And oh boy, that hit home. Yes, I thought, that is precisely how I’ve been described, too many times to recall, so many times that I’ve actually sort of stopped noticing. The following aren’t direct quotes, but near enough.

“Not conventionally pretty, Thorn nevertheless somehow manages to be curiously attractive.” “Her face may not be technically beautiful but she has an engaging laugh.” “Her intelligence shines through the quirky features.” Often what’s irritating isn’t the hint of an insult, but just being wide of the mark. “She isn’t wearing any make-up” (oh my god, of course she is). “She’s wearing some kind of shapeless shift” (it’s Comme des Garçons FFS).

I’m not trying to arouse sympathy. I’m much thicker-skinned than you may imagine, hence surviving in this business for so long. But the point is, for women in music, being described most of the time by men is just par for the course.

A few weeks ago, when I was in Brussels and Paris doing interviews, I was taken aback all over again by the absence of female journalists interviewing me about my album – an album that is being described everywhere as “nine feminist bangers”. As the 14th man walked through the door, my heart slightly sank. I feel like a bore banging on about this sometimes, but it astonishes me that certain aspects of this business remain so male-dominated.

Even the journalists sometimes have the good grace to notice the anomaly. One youngish man, (though not that young) told me I was only the third woman he had ever interviewed, which took my breath away. I look at my playlists of favourite tracks over the last year or so, and they are utterly dominated by SZA, Angel Olsen, Lorde, St Vincent, Mabel, Shura, Warpaint, Savages, Solange, Kate Tempest, Tove Lo, Susanne Sundfør, Janelle Monáe, Jessie Ware and Haim, so there certainly isn’t any shortage of great women. I’ve been asked to speak at a music event, and when I was sent the possible line-up I couldn’t help noticing that over three days there were 56 men and seven women speaking. The final bill might be an improvement on that, but still. Any number of music festivals still operate with this kind of mad imbalance.

Is it down to the organisers not asking? Or, in the case of this kind of discussion event, women often feeling they don’t “know” enough? It’s a vicious circle, the way that men and their music can be so intimidating. The more you’re always in the minority, the more you feel like you don’t belong. Record shops seemed that way to me when I was a teen, places where guys hung out and looked at you like you didn’t know your Pink Floyd from your Pink Flag.

I also have to watch songs of mine being described by male writers, and sometimes misinterpreted. I’ve got one called “Guitar” on my new record. There’s a boy in the lyrics, but he’s incidental – it’s a love song to my first Les Paul copy. That fact has sailed over the heads of a couple of male reviewers who’ve seen it as a song all about a boy.

That’s the trouble, isn’t it? You miss things when you leave women out, or view female characters through the prism of their attractiveness, or when you take for granted that you’re at the centre of every story, every lyric. I bet you think this piece is about you. 

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge