Minister for Agriculture & Rural Affairs confirms her government is “considering options to control live animal exports”
LONDON, U.K.––British cabinet ministers, after the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, called “Brexit” for short, “must have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy,” according to draft legislation unveiled on December 12, 2017 by Conservative environment minister Michael Gove.
Of perhaps greater significance, Department of Agriculture & Rural Affairs minister Therese Coffey confirmed during a December 12, 2017 Parliamentary debate in Westminister Hall that the Conservative government is “considering options to control live animal exports once the U.K. leaves the E.U.,” reported Farmers Weekly.
“Trade in meat is preferable to live transport”
“Farm leaders argue the live export trade trade gives British farmers access to overseas markets,” Farmers Weekly summarized. “But animal welfare campaigners claim it is cruel to transport animals long distances and want live exports banned. At one point, nearly two million animals were exported every year, but the number has fallen to some 50,000 sheep exported in 2016 with 5,000 going directly for slaughter,” plus about 3,000 calves exported chiefly to be raised and slaughtered for veal.
Said Coffey, “We have always been clear that the government would prefer to see animals slaughtered as near as possible to their point of production. We believe that a trade in meat is preferable to a trade based on the transport of live animals, particularly when journeys may result in livestock traveling long distances across Europe.”
Animal abuse sentences to increase tenfold
While the legislation Coffey seemed to propose has yet to take form, the draft bill recognizing animal sentience also proposes increasing the maximum prison sentence in England and Wales for animal cruelty tenfold, from six months to five years.
Compassion In World Farming chief executive Phillip J. Lymbery lauded the draft bill on Facebook as “hugely welcome,” and “A victory for animals and everyone who backs animal sentience.”
Gove “has been forced to act,” offered Sky News chief political correspondent Jon Craig, “after social media campaigns by 38 Degrees, Compassion in World Farming and other groups targeted Conservative members of Parliament, calling on them to reverse” a vote on November 15, 2017 which was widely perceived as a vote “against recognizing animal sentience.”
Green Party motion forced Conservatives’ hand
Green Party member of Parliament Caroline Lucas had moved that “Obligations and rights contained within the European Union Protocol on animal sentience set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty,” the E.U. organizing document, “shall be recognized and available in domestic law on and after exit day, and shall be enforced and followed accordingly.”
Lucas’ proposed amendment was defeated along party lines, 313-296, but what the Conservative government sought to frame as simply a matter of procedural protocol was widely perceived as an attempt to roll back the legal protection of animals to the mid-20th century, handing a free pass to animal use industries from factory farming to fox hunting.
Gove dreaming of a Green Brexit
Continued Craig, “Unveiling his plans after visiting Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Gove claimed, ‘As we leave the EU we will deliver a Green Brexit, not only maintaining but enhancing animal welfare standards.’”
Said Gove, “One of the reasons why people voted to leave the European Union is to make sure that when it comes to, for example, things like puppy smuggling, that we can have the rules here which ensure that there is appropriate welfare and appropriate protection for animals and for humans.
“Animals are sentient beings who feel pain and suffering, so we are writing that principle into law and ensuring that we protect their welfare,” Gove emphasized. “Our plans will also increase sentences for those who commit the most heinous acts of animal cruelty to five years in jail.
“We are a nation of animal lovers”
“We are a nation of animal lovers,” Gove declared, “so we will make Brexit work not just for citizens but for the animals we love and cherish too.”
Wrote Craig “On average, about 1,150 people per year are convicted for animal cruelty, but fewer than five of them receive the current maximum sentence. Under the government’s plans, courts will retain the ability to hand out an unlimited fine and ban an offender from owning animals in the future. The proposed legislation will also bring maximum sentences for animal cruelty in England into line with other countries such as Australia, Canada and the Republic of Ireland.”
Elaborated Gove in a follow-up Tweet, “Inside the European Union, we can’t restrict live export of animals, ban products which breach our animal welfare standards, or effectively tackle the exploitative trade in domestic pets raised in cruel conditions.”
“Two Dog Shows”
The backdrop for Gove’s announcement could scarcely have been more symbolic of the British humane tradition.
The Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, founded in 1860 by Mary Tealby as the Temporary Home for Lost & Starving Dogs, was famously saved from bankruptcy two years later by novelist Charles Dickens’ newspaper article “Two Dog Shows.”
Dickens compared Tealby’s work with the upscale Islington dog show.
“Within a mile of that great dog show at Islington,” wrote Dickens, “there existed another dog show of a very different kind, and forming as complete a contrast to the first as can well be imagined. For this second dog show is nothing more nor less than the show of the Lost Dogs of the Metropolis – the poor vagrant homeless curs that one sees looking out for a dinner in the gutter or curled up in a doorway taking refuge from their troubles in sleep.”
Battersea exec sidesteps trade issues
Tealby died in 1865, at age 61, but the Temporary Home for Lost & Starving Dogs survived her, relocating in 1871 from the shadows of Her Majesty’s Holloway Prison to the shadows of the London elevated railway in Battersea.
Said current Battersea Dogs & Cats Home chief executive Claire Horton, appearing to sidestep issuing any comment on the actual issues involved in Brexit, “Battersea is greatly encouraged by the Government’s willingness to see sentences for the most shocking cases of animal cruelty increase from six months to five years. Today’s announcement takes a significant step in that direction. The current maximum cruelty sentence of six months in England and Wales is neither a punishment nor a deterrent, but Battersea believes today’s publication of a draft bill could help to achieve both.”
Can Gove get his bill passed as written?
The oldest humane organization in Britain, the Royal SPCA, was founded in 1824. Agreed RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles, “This is potentially great news for animals post-Brexit.”
First, however, the Gove bill must be passed without disabling amendments, for instance anything exempting farmed animals or animals in zoos and laboratories from coverage.
A tale of two Thereses
“In recent months,” observed Rob Merrick, deputy political editor for The Independent, “green campaigners have praised Gove for his surprise activism on other environmental issues. He announced plans to ban sales of ivory and plastic microbeads, to outlaw new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, and proposed a deposit scheme for drinks bottles and cans. But,” as Therese Coffey’s statements in Westminster Hall indicated, “Gove is under pressure to ban – rather than merely restrict – live exports of animals,” generated by “a backbench bill put forward by Theresa Villiers, a former cabinet minister.”
Specifically, in Villiers’ words, her bill would “prohibit the export of live farmed animals for slaughter or fattening; and for connected purposes.”
Villiers is now the Member of Parliament for the London borough of Chipping Barnet.
Introduced as a private member’s bill without official party support, Villiers’ “Live Animal Exports (Prohibition) Bill 2017-19” received a first reading in the House of Commons on October 25, 2017. The bill is scheduled for a second reading on February 2, 2018.
“Make the case for change”
Although private members’ bills “rarely lead directly to legislation,” Villiers’ web site acknowledges, they are “used as a means to highlight important issues and make the case for change.”
Said Villiers on her web site, “A number of my constituents want this cruel trade banned because of the unnecessary suffering it causes to many of the animals involved. I am asking the government to include a ban in the legislation on food and farming which they will bring forward next year.
“Some countries in Europe have weaker rules on animal welfare than we do,” Villiers summarized, “and the rules that do apply are sometimes poorly enforced. Journeys lasting many hours can be stressful for the animals and in some cases they can result in great suffering caused by overcrowding, high summer temperatures and injuries sustained en route.
“End this inhumane, unnecessary trade”
“Up to now,” Villiers continued, in terms echoed by Coffey, “attempts to ban live exports have been blocked in the European Court of Justice. Now that the U.K. has voted to leave the E.U., we have the opportunity to make our own decision on this issue. We should put a prohibition on live export on the statute book now to come into effect on ‘exit day’ when the U.K. leaves the E.U. The time has come to end this inhumane, unnecessary trade, which has no legitimate part to play in modern farming. Exports should take place on the hook, not the hoof.”
Endorsed by Compassion in World Farming, the Royal SPCA, and the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, the Villiers bill was viewed with alarm by British agribusiness even before Coffey indicated that the Conservative government may advance some form of similar legislation.
Recalled the online magazine FarmingUK, “The Conservative government of 1992 sought to restrict live exports and refuse licenses to export sheep to Spain, but the decision was overturned by the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it would breach E.U. rules on the freedom of goods.”