I care deeply about animal welfare, so I understand the concern on this issue. I believe that, where possible, it would be much better for meat, as well as other animal products, to be exported, rather than transporting livestock long distances.
You will be pleased to learn that in recent years, there has been a large decrease in the number of live animals exported from the UK. In 2011 for example, the net mass of live exports stood at just below 12,400 tonnes. This is around half of what it was just five years earlier in 2006, at 24,600 tonnes.
It is important to recognise however, that the export and import of live animals is a legal business under EU law, and its restriction would be contrary to free trade laws. In the 1990s the European Court of Justice twice ruled that the UK could not ban live animal exports. Though Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union increased the profile of animal welfare, there is no evidence to suggest that it has changed the legal status of animal exports. The free movement of goods remains one of the defining principles of the EU, and trumps animal welfare concerns.
I do not therefore think that amending the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 would successfully change the law on this. Section 33 of the Act seeks to ensure that UK ports remain available to all looking to engage in legitimate, legal business. It would clearly be inappropriate for the Act to be amended so that individual ports can simply ban certain forms of trade however they wished, in direct contradiction to our European commitments.
The best chance for improving or changing the UK live export trade lies in closer co-operation with Europe. We can use our influence in the EU to press for higher animal welfare standards, and for them to be enforced, as indeed we regularly have. The EU’s Council Regulation 1/2005 has already helped to do this better. It has meant that transporters of live animals have to be properly trained and authorised, and the vehicles used must be specifically approved for long-distance journeys. Rest stops also need to be taken into account, so that the animals are given enough water, food and rest on their journey.
In the UK, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency is responsible for making inspections of animals at point of loading and at ports. Trading Standards has powers to make inspections of animals during transit too, and can bring prosecutions against anyone who is acting in breach of these regulations.