Lawyers reject call for UK export ban
By Peter Bullen
GOVERNMENT lawyers have rejected an independent QCs opinion that the UK can ban veal exports unilaterally.
But it has given farm minister William Waldegrave useful ammunition to use in his fight to get veal crates banned throughout the EU.
The opinion by Gerald Barling QC was submitted to MAFF by the RSPCA on Mar 30. It took more than seven weeks of scrutiny before MAFFs lawyers gave Mr Waldegrave their verdict.
"My legal advice in the light of that opinion remains," he told the Commons on Monday. "Namely that a ban on calf exports – whether a blanket ban or a selective ban on exports to certain countries or to rearing units using veal crates – would be at serious risk of successful challenge under European law."
By far the best outcome would be for the EU to ban the use of veal crates across Europe, he maintained. "That, I am sure all would agree, would be the best way of achieving a real increase in the sum of animal welfare," he said.
Even if the UK could make a unilateral export ban stick it would only be a gesture in terms of animal welfare. Continental rearers would carry on using veal crates and would obtain calves from alternative, more distant sources from which they would probably be transported in conditions less humane than those imposed by the UK.
"There would be no net gain across Europe in animal welfare terms," he argued. Any attempt to introduce a unilateral ban might also give other countries a pretext for delaying the introduction of general welfare in transit measures and could hinder the chances of getting an EU-wide ban on veal crates.
But he said Mr Barlings opinion raised an interesting new point in highlighting differences between the EU directive 91/629 and a Council of Europe convention the EU had adopted.
Mr Waldegrave said he would draw the European Commissions attention to Mr Barlings arguments. He hoped they would recognise them as a powerful reason for proposing changes to bring all the rules into line.
The RSPCA said it was disappointed that the minister had not been more positive and it was consulting its legal advisers to see what further steps it could take in its campaign for a UK ban on veal calf exports. It would certainly take up Mr Waldegraves invitation to meet him for discussions. *