Ministers are reconsidering their support for a ’nice sounding’ ban on live exports, according to a key Defra adviser.
Tim Morris, who sits on the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England (AHWBE), made the comments at a Euractiv Brexit event in London this week.
National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive Phil Stocker had warned outlawing the trade, which helps lift prices across the board, would have a detrimental effect on the sheep industry.
“It is only a small part of the trade, there are probably no more than 5-6,000 lambs which would go live across the English Channel for slaughter and further finishing, but when this trade cuts in, it is really helpful”, Mr Stocker said.
“It helps keep the competition going in the marketplace, so whilst we would not necessarily want it to get any bigger or stronger than it is, it is still valuable and it can be done very well.”
Defra Secretary Michael Gove sparked fears in the industry when he said he was ’very attracted’ to the idea of a ban last year.
And he reiterated his intention to move forward with the ban when he met Mr Stocker before Christmas.
But Mr Morris suggested a u-turn was in the offing.
He said: “A ban on live exports might sound very nice, but actually the message has got through that it is a very blunt instrument and licensed trade might be something where actually there is mutual interest with certain parts of northern France.
“If you stand on a soap box and say ’it is terrible when you move a sheep across the sea’, what happens to everywhere from the Scottish islands to the Scilly Isles?”
Despite Mr Morris’ claim ‘the message has got through’, Defra denied any change in the Government’s position.
A spokesman said: “It is wrong to claim we have changed our position on live exports.
“Our manifesto commits to controlling live exports and the Secretary of State has been clear we are considering all options, including a possible ban. We will set out our proposals in due course.
“Members of the Animal Health and Welfare Board provide helpful advice but do not speak on behalf of ministers or the government.”