Europe’s Greens have grave concern about the welfare of billions of farm animals, including chickens, sheep, cattle and pigs. One million farm animals are transported every day across Europe, most of them for slaughter. Live transport, especially on long distances, is a major animal welfare concern. Animals can suffer stress from hunger, thirst, exhaustion, lack of space and lack of rest. In the UK, over 10,000 sheep are exported from our shores every year and we believe urgent action is needed to end this needless suffering.
Keith explains why leaving the EU isn’t a solution to end this cruel trade:
“The issue of live animal exports is one about which I care deeply. In fact, I have joined campaigners at demonstrations and public meetings in Kent, and across the South East, on many occasions. As an animal welfare advocate, I have and continue to be a vocal supporter of completely abolishing the trade.
Unfortunately, leaving the EU is not the way to achieve this goal. To claim otherwise is, I’m afraid, at best, misguided, and, at worst, cynical. It is true that to ban the trade in live animals for slaughter, directly, would undermine the European Union’s principle of the free movement of goods. However, it is not the case that by voting to leave the UK will be afforded the freedom to ban the trade outright. The issue is not that black and white.
Whether in or out of the EU, the UK is bound by the rules and regulations that come with being a member of the World Trade Organisation. These rules, as the RSPCA have pointed out, also enshrine the principle of free movement of trade. Should the UK attempt to ban live exports, it is likely that such a trade restriction would be overruled by the WTO. The WTO already prohibit the EU from banning imports of eggs from barren battery cages, despite that farming practice being banned within the EU.
We have a government that has a manifesto commitment to free trade at all costs. Ministers have also signaled their apathy on this issue even when opportunities to act have arisen. For example, Defra refuses to insist that all lorries carrying animals are checked by Animal Health Officials are the port, despite the transporting company being convicted of animal welfare offences. We can only speculate about what the Conservatives would do in the event of a vote to Leave, but I doubt that a party that has already tried to weaken our animal welfare laws would put banning live exports at the top of its agenda.
Furthermore, not one post-EU scenario has produced a credible trade plan for Britain that would not include allowing access to the European Union’s 500-million-strong single markets Abiding by EU trade rules, including the respecting the principle of the free movement of trade, would be the cost of that access.
As an animal welfare advocate, I have grave concerns about Britain’s ability to ban live exports. Banning the trade outright looks, at best, unlikely, at worst, impossible, outside the EU. However, as a part of the EU, we have, at least, been able to push for tougher welfare protections for exported animals. The recently launched Stop The Trucks campaigns is calling on the EU Commission to review and update transport regulations and Austria, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands have all submitted an official request for such.
As Greens, we know the EU is far from perfect, but I am part of a campaign to achieve change. The introduction of stronger regulations that impose maximum journey times and better conditions that align with animal welfare science could bring about an end to live exports from the UK, as the majority of journeys would fall outside the maximum permitted time. For example, Compassion trailed a journey from Northern England to France which took 23 hours (630 miles), a maximum journey time such as eight hours would help end such journeys to our neighbouring member state.
We also mustn’t forget that this issue involves the welfare of animals farmed for food and EU legislation has significantly improved on-farm conditions for millions of animals such as banning veal crates, sow stalls, and barren battery cages. We can’t risk losing this type of protection for the millions of farm animals reared in the UK.“
Keith Taylor MEP
Keith has written to the Defra Secretary of State urging that the UK Government join the call for the EU transport regulations to be reviewed and updated.