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Tuesday, February 9, 1999 Published at 18:02 GMT

UK Politics

MP seeks live export ban

Animal welfare "not applied evenly"

A new attempt to bring to an end live animal exports has been started in Parliament.

Environment correspondent Tim Hirsch looks at the background to the bill
The Transport of Farm Animals Bill, introduced by Labour's Gwyn Prosser, was given a formal first reading without a vote in the House of Commons.

The Private Member's Bill has already been heavily criticised by farmers who have been hit hard by the beef ban and plummeting prices for farm produce.

Introducing the measure, the Dover MP told the Commons a recent poll by Compassion in World Farming found 88% of those questioned believed export of live animals should be ended and animals should be slaughtered in the UK and exported as meat.

"I am in complete accord with this view," he said. "Each year over 500,000 animals, mainly lambs and sheep but also pigs, are exported on extremely lengthy journeys of 30 hours and more."

[ image: A 1998 protest against live exports]
A 1998 protest against live exports
Mr Prosser said they were kept in crowded conditions so that if they fell down they stayed down, to be trampled on by their companions.

"In hot weather, the heat can be a killer," he told MPs.

Mr Prosser said his bill would require ministers to make proposals to end this "cruel trade".

Later, junior agriculture minister Elliot Morley disclosed outside the House of Commons that relevant government departments were conducting a review of rules for live animal transport.

Mr Morley said: "The government strongly prefers meat exports to live exports. Meat exports mean that processing and value-added work remains in this country.

"But it has been established that the UK has no legal scope to ban exports and any such move would be struck down in the courts.

"Our policy in the circumstances is to ensure the highest possible welfare standards when animals are transported."

High standards

Mr Prosser's bill stands no chance of becoming law without government support owing to lack of parliamentary time.

The minister continued: "We can now ban transporters who break the rules on welfare, enforce strict journey times and rest periods, and apply high vehicle standards on longer journeys.

"We are overhauling the pre-export veterinary checks procedure to strengthen the independence of the arrangements and reviewing the rules with a view to making procedural improvements."

Labour MP Gwyn Prosser: "A complete ban on this cruel trade"
Earlier, speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Prosser said his bill was seeking a "dispensation" for British farmers from European laws which he described as "a barrier against the UK taking its own action to ban live exports".

He said that while new government regulations had improved the welfare of sheep and lambs exported live, the "enforcement of rules is not applied evenly".

"Once the animals arrive in Dunkirk, or on the Continent, they are outside our control and no matter what agencies we have, we can't control what happens on the other side of the Channel," he said.

Director of the animal export Farmers Ferry company, Terry Bayliss argued that, if the bill succeeded, farmers would be trading with "two arms tied behind their backs".

Farmers Ferry's Terry Bayliss: "I don't know why they keep picking on farming"
"We've started this ferry service to trade with our European partners and we're doing the job 100% welfare friendly and it's a legal, legitimate trade," he told the Today programme.

A spokeswoman for the National Farmers Union also defended live exports, saying that "rigorous standards" for the welfare of the exported animals were strictly enforced.

"As long as they are upheld, all trade routes should be open to British farmers," she said.

Mr Prosser's bill coincides with the launch of a new video by animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming, which contains filmed evidence of live exports to an abattoir near Bari in Italy.

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