Government plans to ban live exports could hit farmers hard if the EU applies tariffs to agricultural goods after Brexit, according to the National Sheep Association.
The Conservatives promised to ‘control’ the trade in their general election manifesto, and Defra Secretary Michael Gove said he was ‘very attracted to the idea’ of a ban in an interview with The Times last weekend.
But NSA chief executive Phil Stocker told Farmers Guardian a failure to get the right Brexit agreements on trade and migrant labour would force farmers to consider exporting live animals to stay in business.
“There is a higher level of tariff when products are more processed”, he said.
“Live animals could be tariff-free, and there could be a raising of interest in transporting them.
“If abattoirs and meat processing plants cannot find workers, rather than cutting up carcasses, we will export whole carcasses, or – worst case scenario – live lambs to Ireland or France.”
Mr Stocker also said there was a ‘good, acceptable trade’ in exporting live breeding animals and nothing to demonstrate it should stop.
“Water does not cause welfare problems,” he added.
“If this was the case, there would be an issue transporting animals from the islands to the British mainland.
“The real concern is about adherence to regulations in other parts of Europe. It is an enforcement issue. The further south you get, the worse it gets.”
Chief livestock adviser at the NFU John Royle said live exports could in theory replace some of the fresh meat trade, but he was more sceptical about a big increase.
“Trade has evolved as we started to process and add value here, so we will probably not get back to the point where animals are exported in huge volumes”, he added.
The union is calling for live exports to be ‘properly controlled’, with traders and exporters having to seek formal approval to continue with the practice.