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Animal Transport

Volume 228: debated on Thursday 8 July 1993

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans she has to improve the welfare of animals transported from the United Kingdom to the rest of the EC.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Nicholas Soames)

We have maintained strict national rules to safeguard the welfare of animals during transport, both within this country and for export.

We are pressing for these rules to be extended throughout the Community.

As there are no official figures that show the number of British farm animals that are exported, we must rely on the estimates of the trade, which suggest that there has been a huge increase.

Does the Minister accept that at risk are not only the welfare of animals but the jobs of British meat processors? Instead of watching a year-on-year increase in the number of animals making long journeys abroad, will the Minister fight for meat to be exported on the hook rather than on the hoof, for slaughter to occur as near to the point of production as possible and for a maximum journey time of eight hours?

The hon. Gentleman did a good job in getting all the salient points into his question—I congratulate him. The British trade in animals is important. Statistics for 1992 show that the live export trade—mainly of cattle, sheep and pigs—is worth more than £160 million. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a strong demand for British beef and lamb because they are outstandingly good beasts which command a premium on the continent.

Our European friends prefer that the animals be slaughtered on the continent because they particularly like their butchers' cuts. The hon. Gentleman should be equally aware that the export trade keeps a great number of people employed on farms to raise the animals. I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about abattoirs, which is a regrettable side effect. On balance, the trade is important for British farmers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the incomes of lowland livestock producers have fallen dramatically during the past few years and that those producers are worried about the future of their industry? In his future negotiations with EC colleagues, will he take great care to agree to nothing that could disadvantage the United Kingdom livestock producer?

My hon. Friend has my complete assurance that the Government would never do such a thing. As I said to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy), the trade is important and expanding. Nevertheless, the point that the hon. Gentleman made about the welfare of animals during travel is relevant and is one of which we are most mindful. We intend to bring the rest of the EC up to the same high standards of animal welfare that we have in this country.