Stephen Balfour: Journey to Hell – The Agony of Live Export

Stephen Balfour talks about bearing witness to animal transporters on his commute and the distress of live export.


stephen balfour live export


A few months ago I had to change my commute patterns due to a ‘small’ bridge in Scotland experiencing some technical issues. The bridge in question was the iconic Forth Road Bridge near Edinburgh. Apparently some bits of it were falling off. As reasons go for closing down a bridge for repairs, I appreciate that’s as good as any.


One result of this closure was to divert all traffic onto the bridge I cross to travel to my work thereby doubling the duration of commute time. My solution was earth shattering. I decided to, wait for it, leave earlier. Genius eh! Instead of leaving the house at 7.20am I left at 6.40am. As well as making me more tired, this change however was to have another far more distressing impact.


When I left my house at the ‘normal’ time I would pass two or three animal transporters on my commute. Leaving at the earlier time I passed two to three times that amount. On one particularly bad morning I ended up travelling alongside a transporter carrying sheep for ten minutes. It was grim. I have a ritual of always muting my radio when I pass a transporter. It got to stage when I felt like my radio was silent more often than it was emitting sound.


I know other vegans find these lorries as distressing as I do as I’ve discussed this subject online. One friend told me she always makes the point of looking into the eyes of the animals that she passes as she feels like it is the least she can do. Another who lives round the corner from a slaughterhouse regularly bursts in tears when she sees the animals in these vehicles.


Not everyone notices these trucks.  I’ve been in cars with family members and friends who are voicing concern about the latest bit of mass hysteria regarding the latest human injustice or tragedy, you know the one where everyone is meant to be equally shocked, but when you draw parallels with animal suffering you are then accused of being insensitive or worse still, offensive. The irony is these same people don’t notice the traumatic scene occurring a few feet away when these trucks full of the innocents are being taken to slaughter.


I’ve always hated these trailers and don’t understand how others are not as disturbed by their presence as I am. I wish it were different. I think that is why I loved Banksy’s Sirens of the Lambs so much. If you’ve never heard of it, the Siren of the Lambs was an art installation of a ‘livestock’ trailer complete with stuffed animals hanging out of the air slots accompanied by audio of animal ‘shrieking’ sounds. The installation was ‘installed’ at Glastonbury and driven round the streets of New York and is an almost perfect example of how art can be used in advocacy work. If only we could have a trailer like that rolling around the UK permanently. There again, somehow I don’t think our saintly farmers (they love their animals don’t you know) would neither appreciate or allow for this to happen without a fight.


With all of this mind I kept on seeing small vehicles from a company based just outside of Cumbernauld. I was brought up in the new town and I had seen these vehicles before. Their vehicles are noticeable as they are smaller than most ‘livestock’ trailers. The vehicles are about the size of a box van with air slots at the very top of the van – this alone suggested to me that the operators didn’t want you to see what’s in the vehicles. The truth is I have always seen these vehicles. I see them on the road all the time.


One night when I returned home I decided to do some online research. It turns out rather than taking live beings to the slaughterhouse, these vehicles and their ‘disposal’ facility deal with ‘fallen stock’ i.e. animals that are already deceased.


I forced myself to look at the pictures on their website. Their website describes the various exotic animals they collect as well as farm animals. Being no speciesist I found the pictures of the dead cows being moved unceremoniously by fork lift truck to be just as upsetting as those of a dead zebra being dragged into one of their trucks.


As distressing as all of this was, the most disturbing part of the website took the form of a cartoon gallery. Yes you read it correctly, they have a section of their website that makes light of all of this. One cartoon stood out and depicted a cow waiting to enter a slaughterhouse. The cartoon shows an aerial view of a building with two entrances. One entrance says slaughter. The other freedom. The joke is that the whilst the doors lead to separate corridors these both then merge together and with the cow ultimately ending in the slaughterhouse regardless. The tagline that accompanies this lovely cartoon is ‘It’s just a matter of perspective’. No I didn’t find it funny either. I get that humour can be a coping mechanism for people who find themselves in distressing environments but I did find it strange to post this on a public commercial website.


Perhaps this isn’t the issue we should concern ourselves with. These animals are already dead. The important, pertinent issue is what can we do for those that are still alive? Compassion in World farming obviously carries out campaign work around such issues as transportation times for animals. Whilst I realise this is a real concern I am more interested in solutions that provoke and stimulate a reaction to get people thinking about the distress we are causing these poor creatures. Could the answer take the shape of direct action such as with the Toronto Pig Save, or closer to home the Manchester Pig Save campaign? These campaigns involve bearing witness and capturing on film the distress these animals clearly display as they are transported to the slaughterhouse. A few weeks ago I shared a Toronto Pig Save video clip which showed distressed pigs being sick on one another. You then hear a passenger laugh and shout, ‘BACON!’ at them. I shared the video and my partner did likewise. I’ll be honest I wasn’t expecting any feedback however within minutes one of Seonad’s friends commented that he had watched the video and was becoming increasingly concerned about the suffering involved in meat production. Over the next 10 minutes we entered into an exchange with him to explain the flawed concept of humane meat and why veganism is the only true path to take. Did he turn vegan there and then, no he didn’t. That’s not the point. The point is that the filming of this action and the recent threat of court action against activists for committing the cardinal crime of giving the pigs some water, have got (some) people’s attention. In their current peaceful format these actions are also not easy to dismiss.


In addition to the outcomes above, perhaps there is another arguably more important outcome to this work. Does it matter to these pigs that someone is showing them just a little bit of kindness even in the simple gesture of offering them water? It’s got to hasn’t it? Surely the least we can do is show them some compassion. Should these actions though include blockades which prolong their suffering or become violent we may be looking at a different scenario. What do you think? What are you going to do to make a difference? We have to do something. Something has to change.


Stephen lives with his family of waifs and strays in Fife. He has just recently started using Twitter and has a pathetic number of friends (both on Twitter and in real life). His Twitter handle is @StephenBalfour3. He looks forward to hearing from you.




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