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Live animals are exported to EU countries from the UK for breeding, fattening, and slaughter. EU rules to protect the welfare of live animals during transport and related operations were agreed in 2004, and implemented in the UK in 2007. However, there are a number of ongoing campaigns calling for a ban on live exports for slaughter, on welfare grounds. The UK vote to leave the EU has prompted renewed calls for such a ban.

EU Regulations: protection of animals during transport

The transport and export of live animals within the European Union is regulated by Council Regulation (EC) 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport. This sets out a series of measures, including requirements for transporters to be authorised, vehicle and container requirements, limits to time in transit and requirements for authorised rest stops. These rules do not allow unfit animals to travel and set minimum age of travel for different animals. Different rules apply to journeys under and over 65km, and those under and over eight hours.

The Commission reviewed the regulations in 2011. This review found that the regulations had had a positive impact, but acknowledged that severe animal welfare problems persisted. The main concern related to a lack of effective enforcement of the regulations.

UK implementation

The Council Regulation was implemented in the England by the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006, and by parallel legislation in Scotland, Wales[1] and Northern Ireland. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) is responsible for carrying out inspections of animals at point of loading and at ports. Trading Standards also has powers to inspect animals during transport, and is responsible for carrying out any prosecutions under the regulations.

Is the vote to leave the EU an opportunity to ban live animal exports?

There have been a number of campaigns against live animal exports for slaughter on welfare grounds; and concern about cases such as that of 40 sheep that were euthanised in 2012 at the Port of Ramsgate following transport problems. In the case that followed the High Court ruled that the Port could not ban live animal exports, on the grounds of freedom of movement within the EU and existing UK legislation.

There has been speculation that once the UK leaves the EU, it could ban live exports. In November 2016, the then Minister explained that the Government had not reached a position on the nature of future arrangements concerning live animal exports after Brexit. Some, including the RSPCA, have questioned whether it will be legally possible to ban such trade under World Trade Organisation rules. The 2017 Conservative Manifesto stated the UK could take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter once it left the EU. Since then, Defra has stated that a ban is one of the options being considered. Concerns have been raised on the impact of a ban on the export of live animals from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland. There is a Private Members Bill in the current session, aimed at a live export ban with exemption for the Northern Ireland border as soon as the UK leaves the EU. The Labour Party has also proposed a ban, with a similar exemption for the Northern Ireland border

For further information, see the Commons Library Briefing Paper Live Animal Exports

[1]     The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Wales) Order 2007


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