But vets suggest animals should be transported ‘on the hook, as meat, not on the hoof, as live animals’.
Unions have spoken out after a move which appeared to show the government pressing ahead with plans to ban live exports.
Defra announced its decision on Tuesday (April 10) in a six-week call for evidence on what it said was ‘early steps’ to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter as the UK prepares to leave the European Union (EU).
It complements proposals from Environment Minister Michael Gove to deliver a Green Brexit but industry leaders warned a ban would be ‘remarkably short-sighted’ and a ‘massive own-goal’.
Glyn Roberts, president of the Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) said: “We will naturally be consulting with members over this issue, but our current position is that it would be remarkably short-sighted to introduce a ban on live exports at the same time as massive tariffs on meat exports to the EU might be introduced.
“We fully appreciate people’s concerns about live exports but we must bear in mind that the EU has legal welfare standards which are the highest in the world, and these apply both here and in mainland Europe.”
Concerns have already been raised for the post-Brexit sheep sector which could be up against tariffs of about 50 per cent of product value on meat.
Mr Roberts said it would likely ‘collapse the trade’ in sheep meat exports which currently represents about one third of Welsh lamb sales.
NFU livestock board chairman Richard Findlay added: “The live export of animals operates under stringent EU transport regulations which limits journey times and if necessary builds in frequent rest stops.
“It provides a legitimate and secure way to move livestock and is not a health and welfare issue if properly controlled.”
The announcement builds on a wide range of animal welfare reforms announced by the government, including making CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, increasing the maximum prison sentence for animal abuse from six months to five years and updating a number of animal welfare codes.
Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing made clear he would not support ‘anything that creates further challenges of difficulty for our farming sector or puts Scottish agriculture at a disadvantage’ whereas Welsh Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths said her department was backing the call for evidence.
British Veterinary Association (BVA) president John Fishwick said animals should be transported ‘on the hook, as meat, not on the hoof, as live animals’.
Defra said it will discuss the evidence and any future proposals with the devolved administrations.