‘Barbaric’ live sheep exports must stop – and Brexit may actually help speed up ban
The animals, stuffed into three-storey trailers, had just endured a journey all the way from the north of England

By Andrew Penman
08:16, 11 OCT 2018

Sheep look out from inside a truck at the port (Image: JIM BENNETT)

 

Thankfully unaware of the fate awaiting them, the sheep in three trucks were loaded onto a ferry at Ramsgate, Kent, then shipped overseas.

The animals, stuffed into three-storey trailers, had just endured a journey all the way from the north of England.

There’s no knowing how long their journey lasted when they left on the open-decked converted Russian tank transporter the MV Joline, registered in Riga, Latvia.

And there’s no knowing how good or bad the conditions at their destination might be.

The live export of animals like these sheep at Ramsgate last Wednesday is a scandal that welfare campaigners have been trying to stop for years.

Latest figures show that more than 4,000 live sheep were shipped out of the UK in 2016 in a trade that the RSPCA has branded “unacceptable and completely unnecessary”, saying: “These animals can suffer from exhaustion and dehydration, extreme temperatures and lack of food, water or rest.”

Compassion In World Farming says: “Some of these animals may die during their dreadful journey.

“We believe that farm animals should be reared and slaughtered as close as possible to the farm where they are born.”

Ian Birchall of the local group Kent Action Against Live Exports watched the latest consignment of sheep leave Ramsgate, saying: “This is a totally barbaric practice and it needs to end.”

Another protestor, Kristie Williams, said: “No creatures should suffer like this, there is no need for this to happen, they don’t need to make this journey alive.”

The National Union of Farmers insists: “The ability to export live animals provides an important option for livestock producers in selling their high value product,” adding “The welfare of the livestock is paramount.”

 

Whatever the NFU might say, a petition to ban the trade attracted more than 100,000 signatures earlier this year, resulting in a debate in Parliament and Environment Secretary Michael Gove saying he wanted the cruel practice to end as soon as possible.

He’ll have cross-party support if he does bring a proposed ban before Parliament.

When Labour launched its animal welfare plan in February, a ban on exporting live animals for fattening and slaughter was the first issue it cited.

At the Tory party conference earlier this month MP Theresa Villiers told a fringe meeting of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation : “We have a moral obligation to the animals we rear in this country that they are not sent overseas to be potentially slaughtered in brutual conditions.”

With so much support for a ban, why hasn’t it already been introduced?

The problem is that European Union rules on the free movement of goods make a ban impossible until the UK leaves.

 

Lorraine Platt of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation

“Brexit presents us with a unique opportunity to help end the misery for many farm animals and end live exports for slaughter and fattening outright,” said Lorraine Platt, co-founder of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation.

“The UK was the first country in the EU to ban cruel veal crates, yet we continue to export farm animals for fattening to systems on the continent which are illegal here.

“We urge the Government to introduce a Bill in Parliament to ban live exports so that the ban is ready to come into force on the day that the UK leaves the EU.”

 

But even leaving the EU is no guarantee that a ban will be introduced.

Rather than being asked to look at a ban, the Government’s Farm Animal Welfare Committee has been asked for recommendations on merely improving transport conditions.

That has left animal welfare campaigners fearing that the Government is backsliding on the previous hopeful noises it was making.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We will control the export of live farm animals for slaughter once we leave the European Union.

“Earlier this year we sought evidence on how we could achieve this, including through a possible ban. All options on live animal exports are on the table and a ban remains a possibility.”