Industry leaders are taking joint action to ensure livestock exports can continue after the government unveiled plans to ban the trade.
Proposals to ban the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening were published by Defra last month. The government said it marked the start of a renewed push to strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader on animal welfare.
The proposals form part of an eight-week consultation seeking views on how to better protect animal welfare during transport. Defra said livestock commonly endured excessively long journeys during exports, causing distress and injury.
Defra secretary George Eustice said: “Now that we have left the EU, we have an opportunity to end this unnecessary practice. We want to ensure that animals are spared stress prior to slaughter.”
Some 6,400 animals are transported from the UK directly to slaughter in continental Europe annually, according to Defra figures. Animal welfare campaigners have long called for the trade the be outlawed.
But farm leaders are fighting back. The National Sheep Association is one of 29 organisations who signed a joint industry letter to government, highlighting the major disruption that could be on the cards for animal exports.
Association chief executive Phil Stocker said: “We really need clarity and support from government to ensure that high welfare animal exports continue. Unfortunately, whether we reach a [Brexit] deal or not, we are not out of the woods.”
Sheep producers have already faced years of uncertainty due to Brexit. Proposed changes to legislation and the bureaucracy would no doubt cause further interruption for animal exports, added Mr Stocker.
“We hope that by combining forces as an industry, Defra will respond to the positive suggestions in this letter and make some further policy changes even at this late stage that could at least reduce some of the disruption.”
The RSPCA said sheep and dairy calves were among the livestock most commonly exported from the UK on gruelling journeys that could last tens of hours, exhausting the animals and causing suffering and even death.
Long journeys could cause fear, exhaustion and dehydration. Animals were sometimes exposed to temperature extremes and lack of food, water or rest. Once they had left the country, heir welfare was also no longer protected by UK standards.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said the charity shared the government’s goal to ban live exports. There is absolutely no reasonable justification to subject an animal to an unnecessarily stressful journey abroad simply for them to be fattened for slaughter.
“Banning live exports for slaughter and further fattening would be a landmark achievement for animal welfare. We’re also encouraged to see that the government will also consult on reduced maximum journey times for all transported animal.”
Mr Sherwood said the RSPCA had received overwhelming public support for a ban. “It’s clear that bringing a complete end to live animal exports would be very well received, and of course make an enormous difference to the welfare of the animals.”