The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has expressed huge concern about Conservative post-Brexit plans to halt live exports over animal welfare issues.
Defra secretary Theresa Villiers and Steve Barclay, secretary of state for exiting the EU, have signalled their intention to stop the live export of sheep, and restrict transport journeys by requiring farmers to sell stock to local abattoirs.
The comments have sparked criticism from the UFU and the National Sheep Association (NSA), which have both accused the cabinet ministers of failing to understand how the livestock industry operates in the UK.
The UFU said government officials were mistaken to link animal welfare standards to a ban on live exports, when the UK already had some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world.
UFU deputy president David Brown said: “Live exports are an integral part of Northern Ireland’s livestock sector and any additional controls or changes to regulations, post-Brexit, are unnecessary.
“More than 500,000 sheep per annum cross the Irish border for processing in the Republic of Ireland, and it is crucial that this trade can continue without any friction.”
He added: “Government officials are making these claims, but I would question if they really understand how our livestock industry operates in the UK. Transporting livestock is not a welfare issue.”
The NSA said it was “highly concerning” that Defra was proposing radical restrictions on trade.
Reduce market options
This would further reduce market options and farmgate prices when farmers were already suffering from volatility and Brexit uncertainty, said NSA chief executive Phil Stocker.
He added: “To suggest that farmers would have to sell livestock to their nearest abattoir, and that they should abandon market access to Europe when demand clearly exists, either shows a serious lack of understanding of how competitive markets function, or suggests a change in policy direction that hasn’t been discussed or catered for.”
In 2016, the UK exported more than 550,000 sheep, cattle, pigs and goats to the EU, worth £1.6bn to farmers.
UFU and the NSA have written a joint letter to Ms Villiers to request a meeting.