Export subsidies on live cattle shipped from the EU to slaughterhouses in the Middle East have been scrapped, as Brussels moves to discourage what it sees as a cruel and unnecessary trade.

The decision was taken by beef market managers just before Christmas, implementing a proposal drawn up by EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.

She had previously told EU agriculture ministers that the time was now right to put an end to these refunds on the basis that the beef market was much improved, while evidence showed that EU welfare rules on live exports were not fully respected.

The decision to end export subsidies was far from unanimous, however, with 11 member states, including Spain, France and Ireland, voting against and four more abstaining.

But they were not able to muster sufficient votes to overrule the commission’s proposal.

The move was welcomed by animal welfare lobby group Compassion in World Farming, which last year released a film exposing the abuse of Irish and German cattle in Lebanese slaughterhouses.

“The ending of these subsidies is a real victory for animal welfare,” said CIWF chief executive Philip Lymbery.

“Live exports are inherently cruel and all too often expose animals to stressful journeys and appalling slaughter methods.”

But the Irish, main beneficiaries of the refunds, opposed their withdrawal.

“I cannot see the point in the EU setting welfare standards for the transport of animals by sea and then, by terminating export refunds, behaving as if these standards do not exist,” said Irish agriculture minister Mary Coughlan.

She said incidents of non-compliance should be dealt with by enforcing the rule of law.

British farmers are unlikely to be directly affected in the short run as exports of all beef, dead or alive, are still restricted by the Date Based Export Scheme.

But an end to the subsidies could still hit domestic prices if displaced Irish beef is diverted to the UK market.

philip.clarke@rbi.co.uk