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Live animal exports banned at last

Britain takes lead in Europe with legislation to curb cruel transportation of livestock

Posted : 24 May 2024

After half a century of campaigning, activism, protest and pain, the export of live animals from Britain has been banned.

Having passed its final stage in the parliamentary process, the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Act entered the statute book this week, meaning it will be illegal for cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses to be transported from Wales, Scotland or England for slaughter or fattening overseas.

Organisations such as the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, Animal Aid and World Horse Welfare welcomed the new legislation, which was a manifesto promise of the Conservative government. The findings of an eight-week consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were put before parliament in 2020 and had been due to be enacted the following year.

Philip Lymbery, global chief executive of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), called it “a huge day to celebrate”, adding: “For decades, farmed animals have endured these senseless and arduous exports to the continent – but no longer! It has been a very difficult journey to get this policy over the line with many stumbling blocks along the way. It’s a relief to see this horrific practice now end once and for all.”

CIWF’s patron and Meat Free Monday supporter Dame Joanna Lumley said: “Finally, finally, finally, we can celebrate the news that live farm animals will never again be exported on long, horrendous journeys from our shores only to be fattened or slaughtered.”

The practice meant animals spent days or weeks in transit in inhumane conditions only to land in a country whose welfare laws may be a shadow of those in Britain, where they exist at all. The new law means no calves will end up in veal crates and no pigs in farrowing crates, barbaric devices designed to render the animals immobile to protect their meat or offspring. As many as 40 million animals have been exported from Britain since the 1960s – 13,888 a week – according to Defra figures.

Britain is likely to remain an outlier on the continent, however, given Europe’s dependence on the meat trade. The European Union is the biggest exporter of live animals in the world, moving more than 1.6 billion animals in 2019. France routinely tops the chart for the biggest individual country, exporting $2.5 billion worth of live animals in 2022, ahead of Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and the US.

While the environment secretary, Steve Barclay, said that the new law “makes use of post-Brexit freedoms to deliver one of our manifesto commitments and [prevent] the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening”, the UK’s departure from the EU is precisely what prevents the act extending to Northern Ireland, which has a land border with Ireland, an EU country, and would require the introduction of extra regulatory checks.

Other countries to have committed to phasing out or banning the trade in live animals include AustraliaBrazil and New Zealand, although a change in government in Wellington last year has led to threats to repeal that pledge.

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