Dover Harbour Board has confirmed that exporters have held discussions about resuming live animal exports from the port.

“As in previous years and on their initiative, we have been approached and had discussions with potential animal exporters about a resumption of that trade from Dover,” said a Port of Dover spokesman.

“The port is legally obliged to seriously consider any application for this or any other legal trade from the port, in a open-minded way, consistent with the potential operator meeting all of the operational requirements laid down by the port and those laid down by government through DEFRA and other agencies.”

But the spokesman added: “To date, no sailings are planned for this trade from the Port of Dover.”

Dover Harbour Board stopped the trade in live exports from Dover port in April 2011, with trade moved to Ramsgate port, which is subject to a legal challenge by the RSPCA.

Farm animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) said more than 70,000 animals were exported live through Ramsgate last year after trade moved from Dover. Following one incident at the port in September, more than 40 sheep were put down.

The NFU has previously called for live animal exports, which is a legal trade, to be moved from Ramsgate and back to Dover.

The union said the shorter cross-Channel route from Dover would improve animal welfare and boost business for farmers.

However, an EU investigation in 2008 found that welfare standards of farm animals being shipped from Dover port fell short of EU regulations.

Inspectors from the EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) who visited and inspected Dover port found a number of breaches of EU Regulation 1/2005 on “the protection of animals during transport and related operations”.

“The lack of a facility to unload animals in the vicinity of Dover Port is a major limitation on the options available to transporters and the Competent Authority for dealing with emergencies or delays at this important point of transfer,” the report found.

Currently, Ramsgate port in Kent is the only port in the UK used by transporters to export live animals to mainland Europe for slaughter or fattening.

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