Live animal pledge ain’t what it seems

by Nick Kent | 27.11.2019

Claim: “Abolishing the cruel live shipment of animals” is an example of how “where we choose, we will be able to do things differently” if we leave the EU.

Boris Johnson, Conservative manifesto, p. 3

“We will end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening – one of the many benefits of leaving the European Union.”

Conservative manifesto, p.54

InFact: The EU sets minimum conditions on the live export of animals. But there is nothing to stop the UK going further – although it’s true that we can’t actually ban the practice. On the other hand, if you read the manifesto’s words carefully, there’s no commitment to abolish live shipments post Brexit either.

In 2016 over half a million live animals were exported from the UK , two-thirds of them to the EU (see table on p.4). The largest number by far were sheep (483,859). But the trade also involves cattle and horses, the latter in some cases for breeding. The value of this trade was over £530 million in 2016 (Commons’ briefing, p.5).   

The live export of animals is governed by EU regulations which require transporters to be authorised, limit time in transit, require rest breaks, ban the transport of unfit animals and lay down additional rules where the journey is over eight hours. But these are just a minimum set of requirements.

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    Interestingly, for all Johnson’s rhetoric about the live shipment of animals, he doesn’t make an explicit pledge to ban it. The manifesto just says “we will be able to” do so if “we choose” and that “excessively” long journeys will be ended. This is designed to sound tough while leaving ample wiggle room.

    There are at least three reasons why the Prime Minister may have put in these weasel words.

    • A ban may be contrary to World Trade Organisation rules, as the RSPCA has noted. 
    • Live exports are an important source of income for UK farmers, who would probably oppose a ban vigorously. 
    • Abolition would create particular problems in Northern Ireland, partly because of the regular movement of livestock across the border with Ireland but also because of live animal exports to the EU via Irish ports. Given that Northern Ireland would be effectively in the EU’s customs union, it would probably not be possible to ban live exports between it and the EU.

    Even if we did ban live exports, that would not make up for the loss of EU animal welfare standards after Brexit. The EU has strict farm animal welfare standards, in contrast, for example, to the US which has no such national laws. While the Conservatives promise not to compromise on animal welfare standards in trade negotiations [manifesto, p.57], this pledge may have to be dropped in order to get trade deals at all with countries such as the US.

    The headline was updated on December 4

    2 Responses to “Live animal pledge ain’t what it seems”

    • I can see quite a few breeder heads on the Continent and in Australia and New Zealand nod vigorously in agreement. Get rid of serious British competition, their production in all likelihood cannot fulfill the total demand, their earnings go well up. Well, Johnson promised to fuck business and at least he’s sticking to that one!

    • This was the very first campaign that I got involved with: I think it may have been the RSPCA who we’re campaigning to Stop the Export of Live Food Animals. That was when I was 7 years old. I’m now 57, and despair that nothing has been achieved in this regard for the last fifty years.