The credibility of proposals to ban the live export of livestock from the UK, post-Brexit, has been questioned by the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU).
Following a recent meeting with live exporters, the UFU's deputy president, Victor Chestnutt, believes that the economics of livestock production in Northern Ireland would be severely hindered if the ban was imposed.
It would also have adverse impacts for the environment and rural areas, he added.
Commenting on the matter, Chestnutt said: “Northern Ireland is one of the most productive livestock regions in Europe.
"We have a strong cattle and sheep industry which is highly dependent on live exports to maintain the economic viability of the sector, which in turn, supports the wider rural economy and environment.
Five-year averages for Northern Ireland show that almost 60,000 cattle and 485,000 sheep are exported live annually to a variety of destinations in Britain, the Republic of Ireland and also further afield in continental Europe.
“At this stage the ‘Live Animal Exports Bill’ does not provide specific detail on how the supporting MPs foresee restrictions applying to Northern Ireland, but from our perspective we want to make it clear that any proposal to restrict live exports will be opposed by farmers in this region," he said.
The Live Animal Exports Bill was first presented to the House of Commons in late October and is expected to have its second reading on February 2, 2018.
The bill proposes to prohibit the export of live farmed animals for slaughter or fattening, as well as for connected purposes.
Terms of the bill:
Export of live farmed animals
- A person commits an offence if the person exports, to any country outside the UK, a farmed animal for slaughter or fattening.
- A person commits an offence if the person arranges or facilitates the export, to any country outside the UK, of a farmed animal for slaughter or fattening.
- Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to the export of a farmed animal from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, provided that the animal: (a) was born in Northern Ireland; and (b) is to be slaughtered in the Republic of Ireland within six weeks of arrival in the Republic of Ireland.
Under the bill, a 'farmed animal' is defined as an animal bred or kept for the production of food, wool or skin.
As part of these proposals, it outlines that a person found guilty of an offence is liable on summary conviction to an imprisonment term of up to 12 months - this differs depending on region within the UK - or a fine, or both.
To date, peer-reviewed research studies have demonstrated that where livestock are transported in accordance with existing EU legal requirements, there is no adverse impact on animal welfare or the performance of the animals, according to the UFU.
So the rationale for these legislative proposals is highly questionable, it added.
Concluding the deputy president of the UFU said: “We are very much of the opinion that demonstrating high standards of animal welfare is crucial for the facilitation of the live export trade and we believe our exporters are meeting these standards.
"In truth, the MPs and animal welfare lobby behind this legislation would be much better focusing their time on making sure third country imports meet our standards, rather than creating a new regulatory environment in the UK which puts our businesses at threat.”