Industry bodies have called for heavy investment in a local abattoir network after the Government launched a consultation on banning live exports.
Defra Secretary George Eustice said the move would ‘strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader on animal welfare’, but the proposal has been criticised in the past for failing to take into account livestock movements between the mainland and Scottish islands and Northern Ireland.
The eight-week consultation will also seek views on how to improve animal welfare in transport more generally, looking at reduced maximum journey times, animals being given more space, stricter rules on movement in extreme temperatures and stronger regulation on transporting animals by sea.
Mr Eustice said: “We are committed to improving the welfare of animals at all stages of life. Today marks a major step forward in delivering on our manifesto commitment to end live exports for slaughter.
“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.”
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, told Farmers Guardian he was not sure there was any point ‘wasting ink’ on responding to a consultation on an issue which the Government had already taken a decision on.
“Although the consultation is broader than live exports alone, it is live exports that Government is headlining its press release with, underpinned by supporting statements from two animal welfare campaigning organisations with no balancing comments,” he said.
“It ignores the fact that the industry has offered to work with Government on an assured routes export scheme, based on the fact that for animals in the South East of England, journeys can be shorter going across the Channel than to our own domestic abattoirs, and chooses not to talk about internal UK trade between mainland and Northern Ireland (NI) now NI controls are the same as for trading with the EU.
“With this ‘consultation’, along with tighter restrictions on foreign labour to work in our abattoirs, the Government must be gearing up to invest heavily in hundreds of small and local abattoirs, with localised domestic labour and a restructuring of our supply chains.
“I look forward to seeing the plans.”
Christopher Price, chief executive of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, echoed these remarks, saying the proposal to ban live exports ‘highlights the need to address the crisis in the abattoir network’.
“If we have 6,400 animals being transported to the EU each year, that is 6,400 which will now need to be slaughtered in the UK,” he said.
“We desperately need a comprehensive network of local abattoirs which can cater for the full extent and diversity of our livestock sector.”