The UK will be the first European country to ban the export of live fattening and slaughter animals, British Environment Minister George Eustice will announce.
According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the announcement is part of a wider strategy to improve Britain’s position on animal welfare and consolidate its global leadership. Around 6,400 animals were exported to Europe for slaughter in 2018, according to the latest data available.
Around two billion live animals are exported worldwide, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, with live pigs from Poland to Denmark, chickens from the Netherlands to Thailand and sheep from Australia to Qatar among the largest exports in terms of volume.
In 2018, according to the Farm Journal, the United States exported live animals of all species valued at about $872 million, mainly to Mexico and Canada, but Brazil, South Korea and China were also among the top five countries. This includes animals for slaughter, breeding and any other purpose.
The European Union (EU) has a number of animal health requirements, but a statement by the European Commission states that “live animals are traded or imported in the European Union on a daily basis”. Now that Britain has left the EU and is nearing the end of a transitional agreement, officials are trying to differentiate policy between them. The ban, if and when it comes into force, would be seen by animal welfare activists as a success for brexite.
“Live animals are usually subjected to excessively long transports during exports, which causes fear and injury,” the DEFRA said. “In the past, EU regulations prevented any changes to these transports, but leaving the EU has allowed the British government to pursue these plans,” the DEFRA said.
This announcement marks the start of an eight-week consultation in England and Wales and, according to Eustice, “a major step forward in fulfilling our manifesto commitment to end the export of live cattle for slaughter. Now that we have left the EU, we have the opportunity to end this unnecessary practice. We want to ensure that animals are spared stress before slaughter”.
It is expected that this process will then lead to discussions in Scotland.
“The [Scottish] Government is committed to the highest possible standards of animal welfare and wants to ensure that, where necessary, livestock in Scotland is transported humanely and with respect and dignity”, said Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2019, “We recognise that there are complexities and we are well aware of the concerns associated with transport; our position is that ideally the process of producing quality meat should take place close to where the animals are born and reared. We are also working with the agricultural sector to find ways to raise more male dairy calves productively and profitably rather than exporting them.
Northern Ireland is likely to comply with EU legislation on live animals due to the well documented difficulties with the border on the island of Ireland.
The export of poultry in England and Wales will also continue, according to DEFRA, with tens of millions of chicks exported annually for breeding purposes. In 2018, it was worth 139 million pounds to the British economy.
Chris Sherwood, CEO of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), said: “We welcome the plans to end the export of live animals and look forward to this happening as the RSPCA has been campaigning on this issue for over 50 years.
“There is absolutely no reasonable justification for subjecting an animal to an unnecessarily stressful journey abroad just to be fattened up for slaughter. Stopping the export of live animals for slaughter and further fattening would be a milestone for animal welfare.
There are signs that other countries could follow if the policy of Great Britain is successful. There have been cases in Germany where breeding heifers were not allowed to be exported to Morocco, and officials in the Netherlands have asked the Agriculture and Fisheries Council to review animal welfare regulations.