May 23. 2024. 8:43

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After UK ban on live animal exports, NGOs step up pressure on the European Commission


Following the UK Parliament’s approval of a ban on the export of live animals on Tuesday (14 May), European NGOs are welcoming this “historic” move and urging the EU to follow suit.

The bill ends the export of live cattle, goats, pigs and horses for slaughter or fattening, which represents a historic step forward for environmental associations.

“This is a huge day to celebrate and one that has been long-awaited,” Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

“May this historic milestone serve as an example for the EU”, said the NGO Eurogroup For Animals, addressing the European Commission.

Although the UK animal exports to the EU have fallen since 2020, due to customs constraints linked to Brexit, this activity could, according to MPs, adversely impact 10% of sheep farming, particularly in the south-east of the UK.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1.6 million animals were exported from the UK each year before 2020.

“For decades, farmed animals have endured these senseless and arduous exports to the continent – but no longer!” added Lymbery.

The associations underline that these journeys are a source of stress, physical suffering due to overcrowding and extreme temperatures, as well as disease.

On 11 May, Australia also pledged to end the export of live sheep by 2028. Other countries such as New Zealand and Brazil already banned the practice in 2023.

We are witnessing a “growing momentum” around the world to end live exports, the CIWF explained in a press release.

The Farmers Union Wales (FUW) supported the British government in its desire to become a “global leader in animal welfare”. However, it is calling for farmers to be protected from unfair competition from abroad by demanding equivalent standards for imports.

The main UK farmers organisation, the National Farmers Union, is even more cautious. In the past months, NFU made public its doubts over legislation that might cut the export of British sheep for fattening in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, which will turn to suppliers further afield, namely in eastern Europe.

A groundswell of support… all the way to Europe?

“The European Union cannot continue to make empty promises on animal welfare and claim to be a leader in this field. It must take concrete measures to put an end to this cruel trade”, said Olga Kikou, Director of Policy at the European Institute for Animal Law and Policy.

More than 1.6 billion animals are transported every year within the EU and across its borders.

In December 2023, the European Commission proposed tightening legislation on animal welfare during transport, by shortening journey times, increasing space allowances and limiting transport in extreme temperatures.

Among the measures, the bloc’s executive proposed stricter export rules, including better controls in third countries to meet equivalent standards to those found in the EU. However, no live animal export ban was proposed.

Some EU countries are pushing for tougher rules, such as Germany, which has announced a legislative initiative, even though it will not end exports to third countries.

Other member states such as France and Spain, urged on by their export industries, united to keep live exports, preferring to focus on improving transport conditions.

The bans in place outside Europe bring added pressure to the European Commission which is expected to present proposals on a comprehensive review of animal welfare legislation, initially scheduled for 2023.

EU ministers step up fight against animal transport ban

A coalition of EU agriculture ministers have joined forces to push back against a potential ban on live animal transport to third countries, but the Commission stressed the need to be ambitious on animal welfare.

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