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Protesters turned out as live animal exports resumed at the Port of Dover amid renewed calls for an end to the controversial trade.
Up to 50 campaigners carrying placards emblazoned with "Greed over compassion'' and "Cruel trade run by cruel people'' met a lorry as it arrived at the Kent port loaded with sheep this morning.
Yesterday the Dover Harbour Board (DHB) announced that it had given the go-ahead for Barco de Vapor to start a cross-Channel service using its ship, MV Joline, following two berthing trials.
The MV Joline has a capacity of seven lorries and it will make one shipment of live animals a week to begin with from Dover to Calais in around three hours.
But Emma Slawinski, head of campaigns and advocacy at Compassion in World Farming, said the resumption of such exports represented a "dark day'' for animal welfare.
She said: "We are hugely disappointed and concerned about what this means for UK live exports. We want to see it reduced but the move to Dover allows it to increase.
NFU chief livestock adviser Peter Garbutt said: "Anyone transporting livestock has a duty to choose the shortest route to the destination.
"Dover is the shortest crossing to the continent. It's already used to move animals on breeding papers which use faster, more stable and larger mainstream freight ferry services.
"Now all animals that are being moved to the continent are being taken from Dover. What is the justification the animal welfare campaigners give for animals which are being taken for rearing or slaughter using slower, less stable boats than those taken for breeding?
"They should be campaigning for all animals crossing the Channel to be allowed to use the fastest routes available on the best ships.''
"This type of trade has no place in modern farming. We know that live animal transportation is incredibly stressful and there are concerns about what happens to the animals once they arrive at their destinations.
"They may be raised in conditions that are illegal in the UK. It's not good and there is no benefit to it.''
The decision to allow live animal exports from Dover has also been condemned by local Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke who said it marked ``a step backwards for animal welfare and the port''.
But the DHB said it is "duty bound'' to facilitate the legal trade through its port and that any change to the legality of it can only be addressed by politicians.
Harbour board officials said they respected people's views but they hoped the comparatively shorter sea crossing from Dover would bring "some relative benefit'' to the animals' welfare.
In recent months, small-scale protests have been held at the Port of Ramsgate over live animal exports there, reviving memories of clashes in the 1990s when Britain was one of Europe's biggest live exporters.
Actress Joanna Lumley joined calls for an end to the "abhorrent'' trade, saying it was "unbelievable'' that Britain was still sending young animals on exhausting journeys to the Continent.
But in defence of the controls in place, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) has said that the protection of animals during transport has improved considerably in recent years and current regulations do not compromise animal welfare.