Farming and meat trade organisations have expressed their dismay at government plans to tighten live animal transport rules and ban live exports other than for breeding purposes.
Responding to a government consultation, the NFU said it would have a significant impact on the livestock and poultry sectors, while failing to deliver any meaningful benefit in terms of animal welfare.
The consultation, which closes on Thursday (25 February), has proposed a reduction in maximum journey times for each species and a ban on all movements when outside temperatures fall below 5C or rise above 30C (or 25C in the case of poultry).
But the NFU said that, in order to ensure the best possible welfare outcomes, the main priorities should be the animal’s fitness to travel, loading and unloading, and driver training, rather than the length of journey or the external temperature.
“The suggested changes to journeys based on duration and weather conditions would cause serious delays and disruption, potentially damaging welfare outcomes,” said NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts. “And changes to vehicle requirements would add significant costs and lead to many more journeys being made, increasing greenhouse gas emissions.”
The NFU estimates that imposing the temperature restrictions would result in 56 days of lost trade each winter.
It is also strongly opposed to the inclusion of time spent in an auction mart or collection centre when calculating journey times.
And when it comes to live exports, the NFU suggests Defra should give greater consideration to its proposed assurance scheme which would deliver welfare outcomes while maintaining trade.
Other organisations have similar reservations. The Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) said a ban on live exports would be “discriminatory” and was hypocritical when the government was looking to secure free-trade deals with countries with far lower animal welfare standards.
FUW livestock chairman Morgan Jones-Parry also pointed to comments made by Defra minister George Eustice at this week’s NFU Live conference which implied that sheep, cattle and pigs could be excluded from the temperature range measures.
“If that’s the case, why is it in the consultation?” he asked. “Is it there to divert attention away from a proposal to place restrictions on live exports that will not be in place for the people we have trade deals with? Or is it that the authors are disconnected with the reality of outside weather conditions in England and Wales?”
The pan-industry Scottish Red Meat Resilience Group (which includes representatives from Quality Meat Scotland, NFU Scotland, the Scottish Beef Association and the National Sheep Association of Scotland) has warned of a “devastating impact on Scotland’s red meat supply chain”.
Group chairwoman Kate Rowell said: “More than half of the sheep and pigs born in Scotland are slaughtered outside the country each year,”
“Regarding beef cattle, Scotland’s abattoirs tend to specialise in processing prime cattle, resulting in a significant proportion of the cows being slaughtered elsewhere in Britain.
“In 2019, more than 42% of the female cattle aged over 30 months which had been born in Scotland and went to slaughter were processed in England and Wales.”
The trade in store livestock was a vital component of Scotland’s traditional farming systems, she added, and Defra’s plans, and those contained in a separate Scottish consultation, would put much of this in jeopardy.
More small abattoirs
The Sustainable Food Trust (SFT), however, has welcomed the phasing out of live exports. Its head of communications, Megan Perry, said shipping meat on the hook rather than on the hoof would improve welfare, reduce fossil fuel use and create jobs.
“We also feel the government should work with the devolved administrations to reduce live transport involving long sea journeys from smaller British islands to mainland UK, through the provision of more local abattoirs,” she added.
The SFT agrees that the proposed journey times of up to 18 hours for pigs and 21 hours for sheep and cattle might be acceptable for breeding animals, but were “far too long for journeys to slaughter”.
“The government has led people to believe that it supports the slaughtering of animals as close to the point of production as possible. The British public would not expect this to mean journeys of anything like the times proposed,” said Ms Perry.