The global live animal trade
Worldwide, every year, millions of farmed animals are forced to endure journeys of hundreds, or even thousands, of miles, only to be slaughtered on arrival or fattened in often inhumane conditions.
Calves, cattle, sheep, pigs and other animals are routinely transported by road and sea, for days or even weeks, and may suffer:
- Overcrowding - Animals are crammed into vehicles where they may not even have room to lie down. They can be injured or even trampled to death.
- Exhaustion, hunger and dehydration - During these long journeys animals may suffer extremes of temperature, often without sufficient rest, food or water.
- Fear and stress - Animals are sentient beings, just like us. Imagine how you'd feel if you were taken from your familiar environment, crammed into a truck, and transported for days?
- Tragic results - In addition to routine suffering, over the years, animals have faced horrific conditions during delayed journeys, and thousands have died in fires or when livestock ships have sunk.
- An uncertain fate - In many countries animal welfare legislation is utterly inadequate, and exported animals may face terrible suffering on farms or at slaughter at their destination.
If animals are being farmed for food, they should be raised and slaughtered as close as possible to their place of birth. Long distance live transport should be replaced by domestic consumption or a trade in meat.
Taking on this global trade is a huge task. But Compassion and our supporters work nationally and internationally to end this trade. We are currently fighting on the following fronts:
- Campaigning to ban live exports for slaughter or fattening from or through Great Britain.
- Working at European Union and member state levels to end live exports from the EU to countries with lower animal welfare standards.
- Calling for live transport journeys within or from the EU to be limited to a maximum of 8 hours (4 hours for poultry) and a ban on transporting unweaned animals.
- Raising awareness and keeping up the pressure on politicians to ensure international legislation and guidelines on the welfare of animals in transport are enforced.
- Since 2016, coordinating the annual Ban Live Exports: International Awareness Day, to encourage and support grassroots action against this trade around the world.
What's happening where?
In the mid-1990s, each year, millions of animals were transported live from the UK to be slaughtered or fattened in Europe and beyond.
By 2020 these numbers had significantly decreased, to tens of thousands a year. Then, post-Brexit, a lack of required control posts at Calais has effectively blocked the only route that was being used to export live animals directly from Britain to the Continent. However, live exports remain legal and could recommence at any time using a different route, or via Calais if control posts were introduced.
In June 2021, the UK Government introduced the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which would have banned live exports for slaughter or fattening from or through Great Britain. This was a huge step forward, and the legislation initially made rapid progress in Parliament. However, it stalled in November 2021 and, after eighteen months of dither and delay, in May 2023 Government Ministers announced the Bill was being dropped.
The UK Government claims it remains committed to delivering the Conservative Party's 2019 manifesto commitment to "end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening". But it's outrageous that, at best, Ministers have unnecessarily delayed a British live exports ban. And, at worst, we may not see a ban during this Parliament or beyond.
So on 20th September 2023, thanks to you, we handed in more than 95,000 signatures on the Ban Live Exports petition directly to the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street, to show enough is enough.
The Government announced their intention to introduce a Bill to Ban Live Exports on the 7th November 2023. This step forward is thanks to persistent campaigning and your support, which brings us closer to ending this inhumane trade. We will continue to pressurise the Government to pass the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill into law.
Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland
There is a substantial export trade in young calves from Northern Ireland to the European continent. This is normally around 20,000 calves every year. Whilst Northern Ireland is part of the UK, post-Brexit trade agreements mean that Northern Ireland must comply with intra-EU free trade rules, and a Northern Irish ban on live exports does not appear possible at this stage.
The Republic of Ireland also exports several hundred thousand cattle every year to mainland Europe and the Middle East.
Moreover, we are concerned that animals exported from Ireland to mainland Europe may be re-exported to non-EU countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Algeria. In addition to the suffering caused by further long journeys to such destinations, slaughter in these regions is often utterly inhumane and in breach of the World Organisation for Animal Health's international standards.
Over eight million farm animals are transported long distances within the EU each year - with some journeys taking three days or more. And, annually, over three million cattle, sheep and pigs are exported from the EU to other countries. Many are destined for Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa.
In addition to facing horrific journeys, animals exported to destinations such as Turkey, the Middle east and North Africa leave behind the legal protection they received in the EU. As a result, on arrival they may be forced to endure squalid housing, brutal handling, torturous restraint systems, and slow, painful slaughter.
The transport of live animals within, and their export from, the EU is regulated by the the European Council. But the legislation doesn't prevent long-distance live transport and is poorly enforced. Please sign the petition calling for limits to journey times within the EU, and a ban on all EU live exports to countries with lower animal welfare standards.
At the end of April 2023, in New Zealand, a ban came into force on all live exports by sea for cattle, sheep, deer and goats for slaughter, fattening and breeding. This was a huge victory for local campaigners, and followed a government consultation to which Compassion submitted a briefing.
In March 2023, the Australian Government announced plans to phase out live sheep exports by sea. They have launched a consultation on a timeframe for doing this and an independent panel presented their recommendations in October 2023. The Government is now reviewing the report and deciding on their course of action. This is promsing step in a country that exports hundreds of thousands of sheep every year.
In April 2023, a Brazilian judge banned live cattle exports from all the country's ports. This momentous ruling may be appealed by the Government, but it followed a lawsuit by the National Forum for the Protection and Defence of Animals. The judge, Djalma Gomes, said "Animals are not things. They are sentient living beings... individuals who feel hunger, thirst, pain, cold, anguish, fear."
Ban Live Exports International Awareness Day
Ban Live Exports: International Awareness Day is a day of global action which takes place every year on 14th June. Campaigners all over the world come together - in person and online - to speak out in solidarity against this horrific practice, and to urge those in power to make it stop.
Organisations and campaigners in over 40 countries – from Germany, to Australia, to South Korea – have taken part in the Awareness Day. Campaign actions have included solidarity marches through Kathmandu, a giant inflatable cow joining protests in Brazil, rallies in Parliament Square in London, and social media campaigning with a potential reach of millions of people.
- Find out more about Ban Live Exports: International Awareness Day.
- Take action against live exports in the EU.
- Watch and share our live transport investigations.
- Learn more – have a look at our reports on live transport.