Sheep farmer Ganni At­tard loses ap­peal as court says harsh con­di­tions are jus­ti­fied and nec­es­sary

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Neil Camil­leri

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.

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