Sheep farmer Ganni Attard loses appeal as court says harsh conditions are justified and necessary
Gozitan sheep farmer Ganni Attard has lost an appeal against a judgement handed down in April in which a court spared his herd from being culled but imposed several conditions, which he claimed were disproportionate and unnecessary.
In the April decree, Madam Justice Anna Felice had imposed a number of conditions, which included ear tagging of all animals, the sterilisation of the male sheep (tup), the collection of any milk to be destroyed and an electronic control of the herd every month.
Any sheep that die must be disposed of by the Veterinary Services Department and any sick animals must be put down under the supervision of the department. All the conditions are at the expense of the farmer. The court also ruled that Mr Attard must provide a bank guarantee of €10,000.
Mr Attard filed an appeal before a constitutional court arguing that the conditions were unnecessarily harsh. He said that if the rams are sterilised they will be good for nothing and claimed that the herd is actually getting smaller. He also claimed that in other cases where untagged sheep had been found, the animals had been tested for brucellosis and tagged once they were cleared. Yet the authorities were acting differently in his case.
He is also contesting the forced collection and destruction of all the milk. Mr Attard said that the milk produced was only used to feed the lambs, which would die without it. This amounted to animal cruelty.
Mr Attard also said it is common practice for animal herders to transport carcasses to the disposal facilities themselves. Yet in his case the authorities were made to pick up the carcasses and he was, as a result, incurring higher expenses. Another claim was that he could not get Planning Authority approval for his farm because veterinary doctors were making things difficult for him and were giving banal excuses.
Mr Attard said ear-tagging and electronic control of herds was always done at the expense of the department and making him pay for it was another form of abuse.
The defendants - the Attorney General, the Police Commissioner and the Director General of Veterinary Services - said Mr Attard had missed his six-day deadline and filed his appeal too late. They said Mr Attard was not a registered farmer and was keeping an unregistered herd at an unlicensed farm. His state of illegality, they said, made it necessary for the male animals to be sterilized because there was a risk to public health. It was necessary to avoid the breeding of more animals that cannot be registered and with a risk that these ended up in the food chain.
They also argued that the Planning Authority could issue a license without the veterinary director's approval and the only reason why it had not issued such a license was because Mr Attard had not followed proper planning procedure.
They also rejected claims that the department had acted differently in the case of other farmers and said the imposition of a bank guarantee was justified.
The court, presided over by Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri and also including Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo and Mr Justice Noel Cuschieri, said Mr Attard had a right to appeal. But it also noted that this situation was of Mr Attard's own doing - it was his choice not to register his herd. It was also his choice not to register as a livestock farmer and not to seek the approval of the planning authority. In light of this, the activity at the Gharb farm is illegal.
Furthermore, the lack of registration of the herd leads to suspicion that the animals are sick or are carrying sickness. The need to protect public health and ensure that these unregistered animals do not breed with other herds or enter the food chain is manifestly high, the court said.
The court agreed that the conditions were harsh in light of the large number of animals but did not agree that they were unnecessary. The sterilisation of rams did not only ensure that no breeding with other herds took place but also to ensure that Mr Attard's herd did not get any bigger. It also said the destruction of the milk was necessary to ensure that none of it got into the food chain. This was intended not to kill the lambs but to protect public health.
The judges also ruled that the need for department officials to pick up dead carcasses had arisen from the fact that Mr Attard's operation was illegal and was, as such, justified. They also found that the €10,000 guarantee was reasonable and proportional.
For these reasons the court rejected Mr Attard's appeal and confirmed the original decree.
The Gozo sheep saga has been ongoing for a number of years and intensified this year when veterinary officials moved in to cull the herd. That process was stopped and the sheep were eventually saved.
In September of this year Mr Attard was slapped with a €651,175 bill for a fixed police guard. He is contesting the bill and argues that the police guard was unnecessary.
He has also filed an urgent application calling on the authorities to carry out brucellosis testing on his animals.
Mr Attard has also taken the case to the European Court of Justice.