Live animal exports – ban or no ban?

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Concerns over the welfare of animals exported from the UK have prompted proposals in Westminster to ban the export of live animals after the UK leaves the EU.

Currently the UK cannot impose a ban on live animal export because their transport and export within the European Union is regulated by EU legislation. This is implemented in domestic legislation across the UK.

In October last year, legislation to ban the export of live animals after Brexit was introduced to the UK Parliament as a Private Member’s Bill by Theresa Villiers MP who stated the following objections to the export of live animals:

“First, some countries in Europe have far weaker animal welfare rules than we have. Secondly, there is a real risk that the rules on the transport and slaughter of animals that are supposed to apply throughout the European Union will not be enforced effectively once the animals leave our shores.”


The issue was also raised in a petition to the UK Parliament and was debated on 26 February 2018.

The Private Member’s Bill proposes a UK-wide ban on live animal exports to countries outside of the UK for the purpose of fattening or slaughter (other purposes, e.g. breeding would be excluded from the ban).

The proposals put forward in Westminster have raised questions over whether the Scottish Government can opt-out of a ban if introduced. This is because the ban would affect devolved (animal welfare) and reserved (trade) matters.

What is the Scottish Government’s position?

Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, said in relation to banning live animal exports:

“Let me be absolutely clear, this is one UK-wide framework the Scottish government will not be participating in. I will not support anything that creates further challenges or difficulty for our farming sector or puts Scottish agriculture at a disadvantage.” (BBC, 2 February 2018).

This position was confirmed by the Cabinet Secretary in response to a topical question in the Chamber on 6 February 2018.


Can Scotland opt-out of a UK ban on live animal exports?

It is not yet clear whether Scotland can opt-out of a UK ban. This is because the issue is currently entangled in ongoing discussions between the UK and devolved administrations on UK-wide governance frameworks once the UK leaves the EU.

The UK Government recently published a provisional assessment of areas of EU law that intersect with devolved competence in each devolved administration. The assessment highlighted 24 policy areas that are subject to more detailed discussion to explore whether legislative common framework arrangements might be needed.

Animal exports fall under two of the policy areas identified:

  • Animal health and traceability – EU rules and standards that aim to maintain animal health and allow their movement, including policies covering: prevention of disease (entering UK), control of disease (endemic and exotic), surveillance (for exotic disease) movement of livestock, pet passports and veterinary medicines.
  • Animal welfare – EU rules relating to aspects of animal welfare including on-farm issues, movement of livestock and slaughter.

There is no agreement at present over legislative common framework arrangements in these policy areas.

A ban on live animal exports may be further complicated by World Trade Organisation Rules. Under WTO agreements, countries cannot normally discriminate between their trading partners. This principle is known as most-favoured-nation (MFN) treatment. It may be possible that WTO rules would therefore prevent a ban on live animal exports/imports under this principle. This was highlighted in a recent briefing published by the RPSCA. It concluded that as it involved a trade ban “it may need to be defended at the WTO”.

How much does Scotland export?

According to figures from the Animal and Plant Health Agency, in 2016, approximately 2,400 sheep were exported from Scotland to Germany and France for slaughter, and 3,000 calves were exported to Spain.

In terms of value, HM Customs and Revenue figures show that in 2017, Scotland exported a total of £45 million. £466 million was exported from the rest of the UK.

It is important to note that these figures include all animal exports to all countries and not just those for slaughter and fattening. HMRC does not provide a breakdown of figures for specific animals or purposes at regional level. At UK level, export statistics show that bovine animals, sheep and goats, swine and poultry accounted for 17% of total UK exports of live animals in 2017.

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In 2017, Scotland had the lowest percentage of exports of live animals and meat and meat preparations as a proportion of total Scottish exports compared to other UK countries.

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The majority of exports of live animals and meat and meat preparations from Scotland are to EU countries. In 2017, live animals accounted for £26 million of exports to the EU and meat and meat preparations, £87 million.

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What next?

The UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP, and the Department for Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs (Defra), recently launched a call for evidence for a potential ban on the live export of animals for slaughter after Brexit.

The document states that:

“This call for evidence is issued on behalf of the UK Government and Devolved Administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland […] Animal welfare is a devolved matter and we will discuss the evidence and any future proposals with the Devolved Administrations.”

It is not clear at this stage how, or whether, the consultation will affect the Private Member’s Bill currently in the UK Parliament. It is possible that it will be withdrawn to make way for UK Government legislation.

The Farm Animal Welfare Committee has also launched a review into the existing welfare standards for animals during transport, and this is being complemented by research commissioned by Defra from Scotland’s Rural College and the University of Edinburgh.

A motion calling for the Scottish Government to launch its own consultation on a ban on the export of live animals was lodged by Christine Grahame MSP on 7 February 2018, and has achieved Cross Party Support.

The next reading of the Live Animal Exports (Prohibition) Bill is due on 26 October 2018.

Damon Davies, Researcher, Brexit, Environment and Rural Affairs.