RSPCA welcomes King’s Speech putting live exports ban back on agenda

Lifestyle / Tue 7th Nov 2023 at 01:18pm

‘Historic day’ as charity has campaigned for more than 50 years on this issue

THE King’s Speech today (Tuesday 7 November) set out the UK Government’s agenda for the coming political year and the animal welfare charity was thrilled that the live export ban – via an Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill – was amongst the important issues raised in the supplementary notes.

The RSPCA has campaigned to outlaw live exports for more than 50 years. Today, around 1.6 million farm animals – cattle, sheep, pigs and horses – are transported huge distances across Europe annually, some for slaughter, others for further fattening, on gruelling journeys that can last tens of hours, exhausting the animals and causing suffering and even death.

The Kept Animals Bill – previously the cornerstone of the UK Government’s animal welfare agenda – would have put an end to live exports in Britain and brought this suffering to an end. However, the Bill was dismantled by Ministers along with a litany of broken promises for animal welfare as the UK Government failed to deliver on 14 of their pledges.

However, in an “historic” day for animal welfare, the King’s Speech confirmed that plans to end the live export of animals is back on the agenda. Additionally, plans were announced to give tenants the ‘right to request pets’ as part of the Renters Reform Bill – ending blanket bans on pet ownership in the private rented sector – and a pledge to reduce the appeal and availability of vapes which can cause problems for wildlife.

David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA, said: “This is a historic day for animal welfare. After half a century of campaigning to see an end of live exports, we’re incredibly pleased that the UK Government has prioritised this – albeit as the only animal welfare issue taken forward in their programme.  

“This King’s Speech,  the last one before the election, is an acid test of the UK Government’s true commitment to animal welfare and we now urge them to make good on this promise, finally get this legislation over the line, and bring in a ban on this cruel and barbaric practice.”

Over the last half a century, the RSPCA has seen millions of signatures on petitions, thousands attending protest marches, and weekly demonstrations from members of the public at UK ports. And over half of the public (54%) support a ban with only 10% opposing it.

David added: “Despite the strength of public feeling, the UK Government has been dragging its feet on bringing in a ban which is why having the importance of this issue recognised in the King’s Speech is such a significant moment.”

The unnecessary risk of suffering for animals who are transported in long, crowded journeys abroad includes mental exhaustion, physical injury, hunger, dehydration and stress from the extremes of heat or cold, all while access to food and water is not just a challenge but sometimes impossible. They often also involve overstocking, vehicle or ship malfunctions and journeys involving animals too sick or injured to be exported in the first place. 

Journeys can take up to 96 hours, only for the animals to arrive to be slaughtered or possibly kept in conditions which could be illegal in the UK. Under EU rules, once an animal leaves the UK, there is no control over their final destination or slaughter method. There are no limits on transport of animals – indeed an animal can travel all around the world provided rest stops are applied.

The last export to leave the UK was on 31 December 2020, but with no law in place this could start again at any time which is why a ban is so crucial.

The RSPCA is now urging the public to continue to put pressure on the UK Government and after 50 long years to finally put an end to the live export of farm animals for slaughter and further rearing.

And while the animal welfare charity is delighted at the inclusion of the issue in the King’s Speech, this was just one of 14 dropped pledges for animals recently identified by the RSPCA – with none of the others rectified during this King’s Speech. 

The others were:

  • Caged farm animals – The UK Government had promised to consult on banning farm animals being kept in cages in England. Currently, around 10 million hens live in cages in the UK which gives them on average less usable space than an A4 piece of paper. Around 60% of UK sows (~205,680 sows) are placed in farrowing crates before they give birth and remain for the entire duration of nursing their piglets. A sow will give birth to 2- 3 litters a year, meaning she will spend on average 10-15 weeks a year in a farrowing crate. These metal crates are so small that the sows can’t even turn around.
  • Livestock worrying – this was also part of the dismantled Kept Animals Bill, and would have given police extra powers to provide protection to livestock against dog control and bite incidents which can result in serious injuries and even death.
  • Puppy smuggling – the Bill was also set to increase the age of imported puppies to six months, afford greater protection around the import of pregnant dogs and limit the number of dogs an individual or vehicle can bring into the UK, in an effort to crackdown on the illegal and cruel puppy trade. Mums and puppies are still forced to travel long distances and sold to unsuspecting members of the public who often have to deal with poorly puppies and dogs with behavioural issues.
  • Imports of fur from abroad – fur farming has been banned in the UK for more than 20 years but sadly fur can still be imported from countries where animals raised for their fur often live in cramped, barren cages – with little ability to exhibit natural behaviours – and some are killed in horrific and inhumane ways. An RSPCA survey showed that 95% of the public would never wear real fur, but many items for sale in the UK are either incorrectly labelled or not labelled at all and without a ban on imports this is set to continue.
  • Sale and import of foie gras – this product can only be made through a process that is very cruel to ducks and geese. Production of foie gras has never occurred in the UK and was essentially banned as long ago as 1968, but despite pledging to ban imports of foie gras, this has now been allowed to continue.
  • Trade negotiations with high welfare standards – the UK Government vowed to safeguard high animal welfare standards in free trade agreements following Brexit. However, it has now signed three Free Trade Agreements (Australia, New Zealand, Trans Pacific) none of which included measures to ensure imports met the UK’s industry and animal welfare standards.
  • Food labelling consultation plans for a consultation into mandatory welfare labelling on animal products was recently abandoned. Currently, consumers cannot make an informed choice because there is no clear labelling on the products they buy to show how the animal has been reared and cared for. This comes despite four out of five people* thinking having some knowledge about the way an animal has been cared for is important when making a purchase.
  • Pet theft – following a recommendation from the Pet Theft Task Force, the UK Government added pet abduction to the Kept Animals Bill which would have made pet theft a specific offence. Pet theft is devastating for owners who understandably see their pet as one of the family but currently the law treats the theft of a pet the same as the theft of a mobile phone.
  • Banning the use of shock collars – following a consultation showing overwhelming support for a ban on shock collars in England the Government introduced legislation in April to achieve this.  Whilst it was quickly approved by the House of Lords it has stalled and has yet to be introduced to the Commons. Although we are yet to see an actual backtrack we’re concerned that this too could be abandoned, despite Wales having a ban since 2010. 
  • Call for evidence on snares – the UK Government committed to launch a call for evidence on the use of snares in England but this was sadly dropped. The RSPCA is opposed to the manufacture, sale and use of all snares and any traps which cause suffering to an animal – and these devices were recently banned by the Welsh Government. Foxes are often the target of such traps, but also other animals such as badgers and domestic cats can be potential victims. 
  • Review of slaughter legislation – the Government committed to reviewing the slaughter legislation but no progress has occurred on this despite the Government agreeing that lobsters and crabs are sentient animals and need to have protection when being killed and that fish need specific regulations on slaughter.
  • Importation of dogs with cropped ears – despite being illegal, more than 1,100 dogs are reported to have undergone this cruel and unnecessary procedure in the last three years. Many also take advantage of the loophole as it is not illegal to import dogs with cropped ears despite these dogs suffering mutilations, often by untrained individuals without pain relief. The law would also have seen a ban on importing declawed cats – also illegal to carry out in the UK.
  • Consultation on game birds – the Government promised a consultation on updating the standards on keeping game birds but no progress has occurred whatsoever.

In the absence of UK Government action, the charity now hopes Members of Parliament could offer a ‘rescue package’ for animals by proposing one of the other 13 pledges as backbench legislation due for a ballot later this month.

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