Wales and England are set to become the first countries in Europe to ban the export of live animals for slaughter.
The move – a Conservative manifesto pledge that the government is trumpeting as a “Brexit win” – is intended to bring to an end the unnecessary suffering of cattle, sheep and pigs transported hundreds or thousands of miles into Europe, in cramped and distressing conditions, to be slaughtered.
As part of an eight-week consultation, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will also look at protecting animals that are transported within the UK. The findings will be put before parliament in the summer, with a view to being enacted by the end of 2021, and will put pressure on Scotland to take up the ban.
George Eustice, the UK’s environment secretary, said the consultation marked “a major step forward in delivering on our manifesto commitment to end live exports for slaughter”, adding: “We want to ensure that animals are spared stress prior to slaughter.”
More than 6,000 live animals were exported to Europe in 2018, according to Defra, which says the UK’s departure from the EU has allowed it to move away from current EU laws, which allow for animals to be transported to any bloc member state to be killed. The practice will continue in Northern Ireland, however, because the province is still bound by a protocol designed to avoid a hard border with its neighbour – and EU member – the Republic of Ireland.It remains to be seen whether Europe will be inspired to change its ways, or dig its heels in and resist the UK’s first post-Brexit deviation from its rules. Whether you were a leave voter or a remainer, however, it’s hard to disagree that the ban is a win for the welfare of British livestock.
A better solution would be to ban slaughter entirely, of course, at home and abroad, not only for the sake of the animals but for our own health and that of the planet. Let’s see if Brexit can help with that one.