The Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill will prohibit the export of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and horses from the UK for fattening and slaughter (although the ban does not apply to Northern Ireland). The bill follows on from a pledge made in the ruling Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto, which stated that the Government would end ‘excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening'.
While no livestock has been exported for such purposes since 2020, this is largely for logistical reasons. Previous to this, in 2020 around 44,300 sheep were exported to the EU for fattening and slaughter, and in 2018 40,000 cattle and sheep were exported to the EU for this purpose.
“As the highest ranked G7 nation when it comes to World Animal Protection's Animal Protection Index, the UK is a world leader on animal welfare and we are fully committed to maintaining and enhancing our strong track record,” said a spokesperson for the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
“We recognise the long-standing public concern with livestock and horses being exported for slaughter and fattening. We are introducing the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill to deliver our manifesto commitment to end this trade.”
The legislation was announced in a document released alongside the UK’s official opening of Parliament, where King Charles III gave a speech in the House of Lords outlining the government’s agenda for the year ahead.
Affect on animal welfare and farming
Many animal welfare organisations have welcomed the news, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) and the charity Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).
It will have a significant positive effect on animal welfare, according to CIWF. “Live exports see animals crammed into vehicles on long, stressful journeys, causing them to suffer from exhaustion, dehydration and even death,” CIWF told FoodNavigator. “This Bill will deliver on a longstanding Government commitment to finally end the live exports of animals from Great Britain for slaughter or fattening.”
The bill will, CIWF told us, “ensure that animals are slaughtered domestically, in UK slaughterhouses - preventing the export to unknown and/or possibly lower welfare slaughterhouse conditions.”
According to CIWF, “any impact on the UK agriculture sector is likely to be negligible. Even when live exports for slaughter or fattening were taking place the proportion of animals exported, rather than slaughtered or fattened in the UK, was low.
“The absence of calf exports means these animals will now be reared in the UK, with benefits for UK farmers rearing calves. With the increased use of sexed semen, which results in a smaller number of lower value male dairy calves and a larger number of higher value beef crosses born, this also means the rearing of calves from the dairy industry is likely to be worth more than before.” According to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), sexed semen is increasingly being used by UK farmers as a breeding method.
Furthermore, the National Farming Union (NFU) of England and Wales stressed the importance of keeping farmers’ interests at the heart of government policy.
“It’s clear that the government has ambitions to be a global leader in animal welfare, an objective we support,” said NFU Chief Livestock Advisor John Royle. “It’s important, however, that when government is pursuing trade negotiations with countries that export large numbers of animals for fattening and slaughter, we ensure British livestock farmers are not undercut in trade deals by imports that do not meet the same high standards adhered to here.”
The bill will now be put before Parliament and will become law if it is successfully voted through.