Last week, investigators from Animals' Angels and ANDA were threatened at knife point whilst investigating a livestock market point in Portugal.
This extremely serious incident took place on Tuesday, the 21st April 2009 at the San Pedro de Rates Livestock Market, near Porto in the north of Portugal, when visited by Julia Havenstein an investigator from Animals' Angels and Alberto Diez of the Asociacion Nacional Para la Defensa de los Animales (ANDA). The market operator is Associacao de Produto de Leite e Carne do Baixo Minho (Baixo Minho Region Milk and Meat Producers). This market has a reputation as being one of the worst markets in the EU for animal welfare. Although the Portuguese authorities as a Member State have been well aware for many years of the constant violations at this market in relation to EU legislation, they have failed to take appropriate action to rectify the situation.
When Animals' Angels arrived at the market, the market employees immediately closed the gate and side doors of the market. As it is the firm policy of both Animals' Angels and ANDA to avoid any confrontation, the two investigators parked their car on the public road close to the market and from where they could observe the activities that were taking place around the loading ramps of the market. At all times the investigators remained seated inside their car, but the windows had to be left open as the temperature was in the region of 25 Degrees Centigrade.
They observed the loading ramps for approximately 30 minutes, during which time they detected several infringements of the legislation relating the protection of animals. These included animals being tied and pulled by the horns both inside and outside of the vehicles; animals being hit excessively, often in sensitive parts of their bodies; the tails of animals being twisted; transport vehicles with poor ventilation and ramps inadequate for safe unloading and loading.
As they were making these observations, a small truck left the market premises with cattle on board that were tethered by the horns. The truck stopped beside the investigators car and the driver got out. He was joined by a second man from another truck and they both came over to the car. They demanded that the notebook be given to them and that the investigators leave. One of the men then produced a knife and threatened that they would kill the investigators and throw their bodies into the forest. Both men were very excited and were shouting and making insults. The man with the knife then brought it up close to the face of Alberto Diez. In real fear for their safety, the two investigators managed to drive away leaving the men still shouting and making threats of violence.
Approximately two hours later, the investigators returned to the market in the afternoon in order to monitor transport vehicles that take animals to Spain. The car was parked in the same position as before and the loading ramps were again observed. The men with the knife it seemed had left.
Several men were observed pulling on a rope, the end of which went inside the market hall so it was impossible to see what was being pulled. These men were soon warned to stop what they were doing as they were in full view of the investigators car. The investigators believed that a downer cow was about to be loaded. Trucks began to be positioned blocking the view of the investigators who as a result, moved their car in order to continue their observation. Immediately, five men came out of the market and began to run towards the investigators car, shouting and making threats with wooden prods. The investigators once again had to leave to protect their safety.
As a result of all these actions, the investigators went to the police station at Povoa do Varzim and reported what had taken place. The police were very concerned. However, they explained that legal proceedings would have no success as the aggressors could not be identified and that those at the market would simply cover for each other. The police suggested that a short summary of what happened together with a request for their collaboration during future visits to the market, be sent to them.
I am sure you will agree with me that it is completely unacceptable for individuals from any animal protection organisation to be threatened with violence of the kind described above. In addition, it is also intolerable that the authorities in Portugal a Member State of the EU and which has been well aware for many years of the constant violations at this market in relation to EU legislation, have for many years failed to take appropriate action to rectify the situation, despite falsely claiming in a letter to the Commission dated 21 December 2006 that "corrective actions had been taken".
Due to the seriousness of this matter, we would be grateful if you would urgently take the following action:
Write formally to the Portuguese Embassy in your country, demanding that they contact their Government and that this matter is immediately and thoroughly investigated. That they immediately halt all activities at the San Pedro de Rates Livestock Market until the operators can prove beyond doubt, that their practices are in compliance with EU legislation and the market users warned over their future conduct. (For the UK - The Ambassador, Portuguese Embassy, 11 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8PP. Fax: 0207 245 1287).
Write to the veterinary authorities in Portugal, demanding that the incidents at San Pedro de Rates Livestock Market be investigated and calling again, for all activities at this market to be halted until the operators can prove beyond doubt, that their practices are in compliance with EU legislation and the market users warned over their future conduct. (Director Geral Carlos Agrela Pinheiro, Direcção Geral de Veterinaria, Largo da Academia Nacional de Belas Artes, 2 PT - 1249 - 105, Portugal. Fax: 00351 21 346 3518).
Write to the European Commission, requesting that they also investigate this matter and that they too send their officials to this market, in order to ensure that the EU legislation is being complied with and enforced. (Mr Demetris Vryonides, Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection, European Commission, B-1049 Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Write to sympathetic MEP's that you know, urging them to raise this matter with the European Commission and within the European Parliament.
Your anticipated and much needed support is appreciated. We have already written to all of the above.