The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has warned the live export of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry is an "integral" part of Northern Ireland’s livestock sector.

UFU deputy president, David Brown said: “Farmers take the welfare of animals seriously. The existing European regulations for animal welfare and transport are more than sufficient and are supported by sound science.

"After the UK leaves the EU, we do not see any reason for increasing regulations."

Call for evidence

The comments were made following a meeting with the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC), to discuss the UFU’s submission to the call for evidence on controlling live exports for slaughter and improving animal welfare during transport after the UK leaves the EU.

With up to 50% of Northern Irish lambs exported to the Republic of Ireland and a large majority of Northern Irish sows being slaughtered in Great Britain, Brown emphasised that any additional control of live exports would have an impact upon farm incomes.

He said: “We want to see a sustainable and competitive future for our livestock sectors. However, we are concerned that the FAWC’s remit appeared to solely focus on welfare, despite the fact that economic factors also have a major influence on export decisions.”

The UFU said it is "vital" that Northern Ireland continues to have access to these markets post-Brexit adding that any changes to the current levels of trade would have a significant impact on the region's industry.

“We cannot stress enough how crucial this access is to maintain the viability of livestock farms in Northern Ireland," Brown said.

"Without this right of entry, we will not have a functional supply chain and any hope of improving the supply chain through a future UK agriculture policy will be made more difficult,” he said.