Page last updated at 16:17 GMT, Thursday, 13 December 2012

Live animal exports debate

MPs have taken part in a wide-ranging debate on whether Britain should ban live animal exports to Europe.

The backbench business debate, which took place on 13 December 2012, was led by Conservative MP Laura Sandys.

Ms Sandys, who has also presented a petition from residents of her South Thanet constituency opposed to the trade, demanded animal welfare inspections be stepped up until the exports can be scrapped.

She told MPs: "Ultimately, it is the will of my constituents that we should be looking to get a ban on live animal exports.

"There is no reason why we should not be able to get good value for our animals and export them having been slaughtered."

Her call came after 42 sheep which arrived at Ramsgate in Kent ready for the cross-Channel voyage were put down because they were lame, reigniting the row about exporting livestock from the UK.

The incident led to renewed calls for the trade to be stopped over animal welfare fears and Thanet District Council suspended live animal exports from the port.

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy was frustrated at the inability of the courts to ban the practice in the UK, saying that it was "highly unsatisfactory" that live exports cannot be prohibited.

Tory Glyn Davies, who is a farmer, said an end to UK exports could lead to overseas markets turning to imports from countries with lower welfare standards.

He said: "We have got to be quite careful about the unintended consequences of what we do."

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas outlined the conditions faced by animals being trafficked overseas, telling MPs that the long journeys could be "very stressful" for both sheep and calves.

Ms Lucas told MPs: "Those stress factors include deprivation of food and water, lack of rest, extremes of temperature and humidity, handling by humans, exposure to novel environments, overcrowding, insufficient headroom, noise and vibration."

Labour spokesman Huw Irranca-Davies said animal welfare had to be the main concern because a ban was not practical under European law.

He said: "Logically, movements of animals should be kept to a minimum - both in volume and also in duration."

Responding to the debate on behalf of the government, Agriculture Minister David Heath said the UK had a very good record on animal welfare issues and promised to take a "zero tolerance" approach to lapses.

Mr Heath told MPs: "There is already a regulatory framework. My task is to make sure that where there are movements that take place within this country, they comply with those regulations, and to have a framework which makes sure that is the case each and every time.

"And where it is not the case, as it would appear may not have been the case recently - I have to couch what I say in careful terms - then we take the appropriate action."

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