Live farm animal exports to mainland EU at a standstill post-Brexit
Lucrative live shellfish trade also hit hard, with consultation over further restrictions on live animal exports ending soon
Livestock and live shellfish exports from the UK to mainland Europe are at a standstill as producers struggle with post-Brexit transport conditions.
In 2019, excluding lamb and cattle traded between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a combined 31,000 cattle, sheep and goats were exported from the UK to the EU mainland. About 5% would have been exported for fattening for slaughter and the rest for breeding, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) estimates.
National Pig Association (NPA) data shows about 12,000 breeding pigs were shipped from the UK to the EU in 2020. The UK does not export pigs for slaughter, the NPA said, although 1,000 to 2,000 pigs are sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland each year when extra slaughter capacity is needed.
Since 1 January, no cattle, sheep or goats have left the UK for mainland EU markets, the NFU and NPA said.
“There have been no live exports of any [cattle, sheep or goats] since 1 January,” said John Royle, the NFU’s chief livestock adviser. “That’s because there are no border control posts [BCPs] for them at EU mainland ports.” Royle put the value of UK live food animal exports at between £20m and £30m in 2019.
Border control posts are where live animal paperwork and welfare is checked on arrival in the EU. Now that the UK is a third country for EU trade purposes, BCP checks are required.
Breeding pigs face the same problem. Up to 1 January, most UK breeding pig exports went from Dover to Calais on the P&O ferry, said Zoe Davies, NPA chief executive.
Now, post-Brexit, Davies said Calais would continue to take in UK horses, pets and chicks, “because they have a small BCP there that can cope with those. But they don’t feel its big enough to cope with pigs which come in groups of 200.”
“We flagged [the BCP issue] with Defra [the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] last year in June or July. But they basically said it was our problem,” Davies said. Since then, the NPA and NFU have been working together on finding EU ports willing to set up the control posts.
News of the live export standstill comes in the midst of a UK government consultation aimed at banning the export of live animals from England and Wales for slaughter and fattening. Areas outside the consultation’s remit include livestock for breeding, poultry and transport between England and Wales and Northern Ireland.
Live mollusc exports from the UK have been hit equally hard. “Up to 31 December there was a trade in live mussels and other live bivalves like oysters, cockles and clams that was worth £20m to £30m,” said James Wilson, who farms mussels on the Menai Strait in north Wales, Britain’s largest mussel-growing area.
Since 1 January, bivalve exports have been suspended indefinitely, Wilson said, owing to EU water quality rules for third countries that now apply to the UK.
In Scotland, exports of male calves, which are of little value to dairy farmers, have also halted for a range of reasons unrelated to Brexit. The last shipment left in November 2019.
A Scottish government spokesperson said the trade had stopped because of a number of factors. Fewer male dairy calves were being born, owing to the greater use of sexed semen, for example, and more male dairy calves were being kept for rearing in the UK.
The Scottish government’s own consultation on restricting the live animal export trade is due to conclude on 26 February.
Responding to concerns about the collapse of live farm animal exports, Defra stated in an email that since 1 January consignments of cattle and equines have in fact been exported to the EU. Although the number of livestock exported was not given, Defra said the animals went from the UK to the Irish port of Rosslare, which has a BCP.
But Royle said that live export of farm animals to mainland Europe had “effectively been stopped because of Brexit, and can only resume if we establish BCPs on the EU mainland”.
Animal welfare can be severely compromised by live transportation, and the longer the journey the greater the risks. Compassion in World Farming’s chief policy adviser, Peter Stevenson, said he was “delighted” that the “inhumane” live export trade had “at least for now largely come to a halt”.
There have not, as yet, been any reported disruptions to the trade in day-old chicks, exported from Dover to Calais for breeding, a spokesperson for the British Poultry Council said. The UK exports tens of millions of chicks a year in an industry that was worth £139m in 2018.
Asked about live bivalve exports, Defra said it was in consultation with producers and the EU to ensure the trade could “continue securely”.
Defra added that molluscs such as oysters, mussels, clams, cockles and scallops could continue to be exported to the EU if they were harvested from class A waters. Wilson said less than 1.5% of English and Welsh waters were currently classified as class A for live molluscs.
Earlier this week, Defra confirmed it was putting in place a £23m compensation package for firms exporting fish and shellfish to the EU that can show they have suffered “genuine loss”.
England and Wales to ban live animal exports in European first
Environment secretary hails ‘Brexit success’ for animal welfare, but poultry to be excluded and Northern Ireland exempted
• This article was corrected on 7 December 2020 because it referred to a UK ban. The planned live exports ban will only apply in England and Wales.
WAV Comment – Start February 21 – we have now submitted our comments to DEFRA (in January 2021) as part of the live export consultation. When the consultation closes; all submissions will be reviewed and a final decision associated with live animal transport issues will be made over the coming months.
Plans to ban the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening from England and Wales are to be unveiled by the UK’s environment secretary, George Eustice, on Thursday.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the plans were part of a renewed push to strengthen Britain’s position as a world leader on animal welfare.
An estimated 6,400 animals were sent to Europe for slaughter in 2018, according to Defra. Many of those left through the port of Ramsgate in Kent.
“Live animals commonly have to endure excessively long journeys during exports, causing distress and injury. Previously, EU rules prevented any changes to these journeys, but leaving the EU has enabled the UK government to pursue these plans,” Defra said.
The eventual ban would be considered a Brexit success, seeing England and Wales become the first countries in Europe to end this practice.
The beginning of a joint eight-week consultation in England and Wales would mark “a major step forward in delivering on our manifesto commitment to end live exports for slaughter”, said Eustice. “Now that we have left the EU, we have an opportunity to end this unnecessary practice. We want to ensure that animals are spared stress prior to slaughter.”
It is understood from a UK government source that the joint consultation will be used as the basis for discussions with Scotland. Those discussions, and the consultation findings, will then be used to examine ways of harmonising the ban.
However, live exports look set to continue in Northern Ireland which “will continue to follow EU legislation on animal welfare in transport for as long as the Northern Ireland protocol is in place”, according to Defra.
Poultry exports also appear set to continue, Defra added: “The measure on live exports will not impact on poultry exports or exports for breeding purposes.” The UK exports tens of millions of chicks a year in an industry that was worth £139m in 2018.
Above – A Positive Person to Have on Your Side – UK Prime Minister (Boris) Partner Carrie Symonds – Animal Rights Campaigner.
Asked if the eventual ban might be an achievement that could be credited to the prime minister Boris Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds, the source would not comment. Symonds is a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF) which has long lobbied for an end to live exports.
“We are hoping this consultation will lead to an end to live exports for slaughter and fattening, which has caused such enormous suffering, by 2022 or even next year,” said CAWF’s founder, Lorraine Platt. The foundation sent its latest research report on ending live exports to the UK government several weeks ago.
Compassion in World Farming’s chief policy adviser, Peter Stevenson, said the organisation was “delighted that Defra plans to ban live exports for slaughter and fattening. We have campaigned for over 50 years against the massive suffering caused by this inhumane, archaic trade, so this unambiguous proposal is very welcome.”
The RSPCA’s CEO, Chris Sherwood, was equally welcoming and said he looked “forward to seeing this happen as the RSPCA has campaigned on this issue for more than 50 years”.
In other parts of Europe, news of a planned British ban on live exports was welcomed by animal welfare groups. “This is great news, it is far too stressful to export live animals for slaughter,” said Iris Baumgaertner from Germany’s Animal Welfare Foundation, who added that the news followed a recent decision by the authorities in one of Germany’s largest cattle exporting regions not to approve the logs for 132 breeding heifers due to be exported to Morocco for slaughter, meaning the journey could not proceed. An appeal by the exporter was denied by the courts because, according to Baumgaertner, the judge said “whether it was today or in the future, the slaughter would still be inhumane.”
In September, the Dutch had already suggested the EU should begin to limit live animal exports. At an informal Agriculture and Fishery Council meeting, Dutch minister of agriculture, nature and food quality, Carola Schouten, asked the council to adjust animal welfare regulations and limit the transport of livestock for slaughter.
A special EU committee on animal transport has kept live export discussions in the spotlight this year. The European parliamentary committee on the protection of animals during transport began its hearings in October. MEPs critical of live exports have repeatedly asked the committee to consider bans on exports outside the EU, and suggested limiting transport times within the EU. The committee is due to sit again Wednesday afternoon.