join donate discuss

What does Brexit mean for live animal exports?

Written by Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP, Autumn 2017

Live exports are barbaric; treating beautiful and sentient animals as ‘goods’ no different from a bottle of whiskey or bar of chocolate. Greens want to see it banned outright.

“Animals exported live for slaughter and breeding often travel great distances, for days at a time, in confined spaces, and suffer great distress, dehydration, disease, fatigue, and injury.”

Live transportation and the suffering it wreaks is entirely unnecessary. Current European Union legislation provides protections for animals in transit. But they become problematic when the destination is outside of the European Union.

EU regulations, for example, make it illegal for pigs to be kept in confined sow stalls when travelling within Europe, but not once they cross EU borders.

Recently, there has been a buzz of excitement amongst some British animal welfare activists who believe leaving the EU might finally offer an opportunity to ban live exports outright. Greens are the first to acknowledge that the rules of the Single Market are a barrier to banning the industry outright.

In theory, therefore, the argument is that leaving the Single Market would mean the UK is free to ban live animal exports. The Government, proponents say, would then have to listen to the overwhelming majority of British people who support such a ban.

It’s a tempting scenario, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Ignoring the disastrous economic consequences and the loss of vital environmental, workers’ rights and even animal welfare protections — if Theresa May pursues an extreme Brexit — Britain will become an independent member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

As a member of the WTO, it is as likely — if not more likely — that live animal exports will increase rather than decrease. The WTO governs the conditions, rules, and regulation of trade between countries.

There is currently no means by which WTO members can restrict trade on animal welfare grounds.”

Much like the EU’s Single Market, WTO membership enshrines the principles of free
movement of trade — including live animals. Any attempts to ban live exports, therefore,
can be swept aside.

Other WTO member states, particularly those that profit from live exports, can also challenge any proposed ban if they see it as a barrier to trade. It is the WTO that stops the EU from banning the import of eggs from barren battery cages, despite the cruel farming practice being banned across the EU.

The best thing that we, as passionate, animal-loving Brits, can do is to continue fighting
to strengthen animal welfare standards as members of the EU. We already have the necessary legislative tools at our disposal to help us in the fight — they were a gift from the EU, afforded to us by virtue of our membership.

The EU-wide #StopTheTrucks campaign is calling on the EU Commission to review and update transport regulations. Ultimately, the campaign demands that the trade in live animals be replaced with a trade in meat.

Until that happens, they are calling for the duration of any live transports to be
capped at eight hours — an effective ban on live exports from the UK. Austria, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands have all submitted an official request in support of the campaign and, so far, the campaign’s online petition has garnered the signatures of over a million EU citizens.

EU legislation has significantly improved on-farm conditions for millions of animals, from banning veal crates and sow stalls to stopping the use of barren battery cages; we can’t afford to lose these protections.

We are stronger working with our friends and neighbours, and we can — and should — continue to fight as part of the EU with the strength that our membership brings.

Sign the UK petition now: the issue will be debated in parliament on 28 February 2018.