The Independent
Thursday, 18 May 2006

After a 10-year break, the barbaric live export of Britain's unwanted male dairy calves has started again. Up to 500,000 newborn male calves, the unwanted by-products of milk production, are currently shot every year in the UK, but Europe's ban on British beef and calf imports is to be lifted and these calves will again be transported to veal producers in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Many transporters are still using crates, in which calves are kept in solitary confinement in a space so small that they can't even turn around. It is a system considered so cruel that it has been banned within Britain, as a result of constant campaigning.

In a bid to register our opposition, Hugo, my squeeze and I took the train to Dover to take part in a protest at the docks. It was a dismal, dank day but that hadn't put off a vast, well-mannered crowd that stretched for miles along the seafront, plus a small group of polite 16-year-old policemen who, for reasons best known to themselves, had turned off the pedestrian crossing so that protesters had to make a dash across the bypass to reach the docks.

Animal-rights activists are now usually portrayed as rabid grave-robbers, but despite attending many such demos, I've never found this to be the case - I see far more aggression in Peter Jones.

After we had listened to some excellent speakers, cold and hunger drove us to the nearest pub, but there was nothing remotely edible on the menu except mushy peas. Thank heavens I had brought a Greek yoghurt that, for once, hadn't exploded in my handbag. Hugo and I then had a row when I banned him and my squeeze from ordering a vile chicken concoction. "I'm sure it's a free-range English chicken and wasn't exported live," he boomed, crossly. "Anyway, you're eating a live yoghurt that's come all the way from Greece - don't live yogurts have rights, too? Besides, think of all the carbon emissions."

I don't often win these arguments as he's a barrister, but I persevere in case one day I have to be interviewed by John Humphrys. He hates it when I describe him as the Alan B'Stard of the Green Party as he thinks he's far more like the late Alan Clark, who was also an anti-export campaigner, but he's not nearly priapic enough. Besides, Clark was a vegetarian, except for the occasional peacock that dropped dead at his castle.

After the row it was a relief to rejoin the demo, which, although good-humoured, was desperately sad. Over 75 per cent of the public are against live exports and demos have already closed export ports such as Brightlingsea, Shoreham and Plymouth and ended transportation from Coventry airport. But sheep, pigs, horses and ostriches are routinely shipped from Hull, a hidden back door into, and out of, the country for farm animals.

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