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Dover cliffs lit up in celebration as 'landmark' live exports ban gets Royal Assent

News Section Icon Published 20/05/2024

Compassion in World Farming, RSPCA and Kent Action Against Live Exports have lit up the White Cliffs of Dover to celebrate a landmark moment - as a law ending the live export of animals from Great Britain for rearing or slaughter receives Royal Assent.

This represents a major milestone in improving the welfare of Britain’s farmed animals and comes after some 100 years of campaigning.

British animals will now be spared unnecessary, gruelling journeys - some lasting for over 100 hours - when being exported abroad in cramped and poor conditions.

Figures from Defra show up to 40 million farm animals, including sheep, calves and pigs, have been exported from Britain for further rearing or slaughter since the 1960s. This equates to an astonishing 13,888 a week or 82 animals suffering every hour.

The charities and organisations, who have campaigned to outlaw live exports for decades, marked the momentous occasion with a projection on the White Cliffs of Dover. This is one of the ports from which live animals have historically been packed into boats and shipped on gruelling journeys across the Channel and beyond.

The projection read: “Up to 40 million calves, sheep and pigs. Thousands of gruelling journeys across sea, air and land. You fought, we fought, they fought, now our fight is finally over. No more live exports from Great Britain. Thank you. Together we made history for farmed animals”

Campaigners gathered at the historic British landmark on Wednesday (15 May) to celebrate the now Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Act completing its Parliamentary journey, with Royal Assent following today (20 May).

While no live exports have left the UK since the end of 2020 - due to a lack of border control posts approved to process livestock at ports such as Calais - with no law in place banning the practice, campaigners feared the trade could recommence at any time, either by using a different route, or via Calais if suitable control posts were introduced. This is why this ban is so crucial.

Emma Slawinski, Director of Advocacy and Policy at the RSPCA, said: “This is a historic day in the RSPCA’s 200-year history as something we have campaigned against for so long is finally outlawed. It is a huge, landmark step forward for animal welfare and will now prevent animals suffering unnecessary, long, crowded journeys abroad causing them mental exhaustion, physical injury, hunger, dehydration, severe stress and even death.

“We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has campaigned on this vital animal welfare issue, and the UK Government for acting to bring in the ban - we have all made this happen together!”

Emma added: “This is also a special day for me personally having campaigned to see a ban on live exports throughout my life, from demonstrating outside Parliament, to witnessing the cruel export of animals at ports. This has been a huge team effort with many organisations and individuals campaigning for decades to bring about this change. It's an incredible reminder of what we can achieve together for animal welfare.

“I am haunted by the smell that comes off an export truck, and the calls of the animals inside which can still be heard as the ship leaves the port and sails into the distance. As we all aim to create a better world for every animal, I am so glad that those sights and sounds have been consigned to history. This is a great day.”

Philip Lymbery, Global CEO of Compassion in World Farming, said: “This is a huge day to celebrate and one that has been long-awaited. For decades, British farmed animals have endured these senseless and arduous exports to the continent – but no longer!

“We applaud the UK Government for taking the lead and banning this appallingly cruel trade. Now it’s time for the European Union to follow suit and protect the millions of animals currently exported from the continent on gruelling journeys outside of Europe where they frequently face inhumane slaughter. It’s also vital that other Governments around the world take steps to end the trade in live animal exports.”

Every year, millions of live sheep and cattle endure long and stressful export journeys from the European Union to places such as the Middle East or Africa where they face inhumane slaughter practices that would not be allowed in the EU. These unnecessary journeys often involve overstocking, vehicle or ship malfunctions, are very long and complex and take a huge toll on the animals.

The plight of live animals exported abroad was highlighted recently when an Australian livestock ship carrying 17,000 sheep and cattle to Israel stranded at sea for over a month due to security concerns - with thousands of animals enduring cramped conditions in the midst of a heatwave. Upon the animals returning to Australia, they remained onboard the vessel and have subsequently been re-exported - this time around Africa and through the Mediterranean.

Philip continued: “This is not just a problem that impacts Europe. In recent weeks, we have seen farmed animals transported for a staggering 41 days from Brazil to Iraq and a gruelling 34-day journey from Australia to Israel. The suffering endured by these animals – simply to be slaughtered on arrival in conditions that are frequently inhumane – is totally unacceptable. It’s high time for the global trade in live animal exports to end.”

Over the last half a century, Compassion in World Farming, the RSPCA and Kent Action Against Live Exports (KAALE) and other organisations have seen millions of signatures on petitions, thousands attending protest marches, and frequent demonstrations from members of the public at UK ports.

Yvonne Birchall, from KAALE, said: “For 29 years, KAALE and their supporters have demonstrated outside UK ports as live export shipments have been loaded on vessels bound for Europe. It has been truly heartbreaking to witness these animals crammed into trucks – calves just a few weeks old cry for their mother and sheep with terror in their eyes.

"Whatever the weather, whatever the time of day, KAALE have attended these sailings, and our members are some of the last friendly faces millions of animals will have seen before being exported. We are delighted that the law will finally ban this cruel trade and the people of Kent will no longer need to stand up in opposition to it.”


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