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The Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill 2023-24 was introduced to the House of Commons on 4 December 2023. It would make provisions to prohibit the live export of certain animals, such as cattle, sheep and pigs, from Great Britain for slaughter. The Bill’s second reading was on 18 December 2023. Committee stage and third reading were held on 15 January 2023 when the Bill passed unamended. The Lords will now consider the Bill and a date for second reading is awaited. 

The government has said that the UK’s departure from the EU gives it the freedom to implement such a ban. The 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto included a commitment to control live animal exports.

What would the Bill do?

The provisions in this Bill would progress those included in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, by ending the export of livestock for fattening and slaughter. Responding to criticism from animal welfare organisations, the government said in May 2023 that it would not pursue the Kept Animals Bill but would implement various measures separately. Those organisations have welcomed the new bill but urged the government to deliver its proposals quickly.

Live animals can be exported to EU countries from the UK for breeding, fattening, and slaughter. Long running campaigns, such as the RSPCA’s Stop Live Exports campaign, have highlighted concerns that animals transported to Europe suffer from unnecessarily long journeys, experiencing stress, exhaustion, thirst and rough handling.

Although the last exports for fattening or slaughter were in December 2020, the Bill would ban them permanently. It would make it an offence to send, transport or organise transport (or attempt to do so) for livestock exports. This would apply to transport of livestock from or though Great Britain for fattening and slaughter outside the British Islands. The ban would apply to a range of animals including cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and wild boar, but not poultry. Live exports, including of racehorses, would still be permitted for breeding, competitions and races.

The provisions would not apply to Northern Ireland and journeys within the island of Ireland are not covered. However, they would apply to journeys transiting through Great Britain to a destination outside the British Islands, for example to those that begin in Northern Ireland or EU Member States such as the Republic of Ireland, transit through Great Britain and are destined for a country or territory outside the British Islands.

Response to the bill

The Opposition welcomed previous provisions in the Kept Animals Bill, which it said had included many Labour Party policies on animal welfare. Whilst supporting the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill at Second Reading, Shadow Ministers criticised the delay in introducing a ban on livestock exports for slaughter and the lack of progress on other animal welfare measures such as trophy hunting.

The ban on exports may need to be defended against World Trade Organisation rules which require countries to apply non-discriminatory rules (so-called ‘most favoured nation’ rules) to trade. Case precedents indicate that exceptions under WTO rules may apply to ethical and animal welfare provisions, however this issue is not clear cut. Challenges can only be bought by other signatory countries. There has been no indication as to whether other countries may wish to challenge the government over the Bill’s measures.

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