NSA calls for a reality check amid live export debate
11th October 2017
The National Sheep Association (NSA) is urging Ministers and policy makers to exercise extreme care when considering some of the questionable calls being made by campaigners opposing live exports, fearing they could cause unintended and unnecessary consequences for no welfare gain at all.
The UK annually exports between 35 and 40% of sheepmeat it produces, with annual imports of a similar volume. Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “The historic reason we export and import is to balance seasonality and preference for particular cuts, but we now work within a global trading environment which is driven by economics. The more the UK supply chain chooses to import lamb from countries like New Zealand, the more it is pushed to export. There is no doubt British farmers and our supply chain could innovate and adapt over time in order to even out seasonality if we were protected from imports, but our future within the World Trade Organisation and a Government which wants us to be global free trade leaders means market protection is unlikely.”
The vast majority of UK sheepmeat exports are transported as carcasses or meat cuts, allowing the UK economy to add value to an animal, provide jobs in the processing sector and use energy more efficiently to transport further. EU legislation and trade rules allow live animals to be exported, with a strict and common regulation governing livestock transport within the EU trade bloc based on widely accepted research.
Phil continues: “I don’t dispute the motive of campaigning organsations in wanting to ensure the best animal welfare standards for livestock in transit, but some of their ideas for how to achieve this are highly questionable. The answer would be to find a way of ensuring consistent enforcement of regulations right across the EU, but I accept this is difficult.
“With Brexit seen as an opportunity to part company with EU regulations, several different calls have been made and messages have become inconsistent. Suggestions to limit all journey times to eight hours do not consider the infrastructure needed to support this. There simply aren’t enough abattoirs or supply chains to allow it and if this resulted in a farmer only having one market to sell to, getting a competitive price is unlikely.
“Banning live exports from the UK is another call being made, but this would stop what can be a very direct trade from the South East of England to Northern Europe with journey times that can be less than some internal UK trips. It has even been suggested we ban live animals travelling across water, something which causes no welfare problems. Banning it would finish many of our island farming communities and trade within the UK would be discriminated.
“Exporters of breeding animals comply with strict regulations and we should aim for all animals to be treated in this way. The emphasis should be on a joint effort from Governments, farming organisations and welfare campaigners to ensure EU regulations are properly adhered to. If we can’t rely on other EU states to do this effectively then exploring the potential of UK assured routes to ensure regulatory compliance is something I would welcome.”