Farming minister George Eustice has refused to rule out banning live animal exports after the UK leaves the EU.
Answering a written parliamentary question, he said the Government had ‘not yet reached a position on the nature of future arrangements once we leave the EU’.
NFU chief livestock adviser John Royle said: “The EU principle of the free movement of goods is something we support and that would include the live export of animals under strict controls.
“We do not yet know whether the UK will need to continue to comply with this principle when we leave the EU as we know this will depend on the outcome of the Government’s trade negotiations with the EU.”
Since 45 sheep due to be exported to the continent died at Ramsgate in 2012, campaign groups such as Compassion in World Farming have lobbied MPs for a change to the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act which would allow port authorities to refuse consignments of live animals.
But Mr Royle said UK trade had evolved since then and most meat is now exported as carcasses and cuts, so the trade in live animals for breeding and further fattening is ‘very small’ when compared to other countries in Europe.
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA) agreed, saying: “It is preferable for sheep to be slaughtered within the UK, as selling carcases instead of live animals brings a number of economic benefits.
“However, where live exports are appropriate, they are governed by the same regulations as any other journey type. Transport vehicles are regulated by EU law and coupled with additional rules for longer distance journeys. This ensures high welfare standards and will continue to do so while the UK goes through the exit process from the EU.”
Mr Royle said the NFU would continue to work with colleagues in Europe to develop best practice for animal transport, which should be available to hauliers from 2018.