The King's Speech on November 7 set out the UK Government's agenda for the coming political year, and the animal welfare charity RSPCA is pleased that a live export ban - via an Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - was amongst the 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 journeys that can last tens of hours, exhausting the animals and causing suffering and sometimes 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. 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, says the RSPCA.
The King's speech confirmed that plans to end the live export of animals is back on the agenda.
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 prioritized this - albeit as the only animal welfare issue taken forward in their program.
"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.
The risks for animals who are transported in long, crowded journeys abroad include 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.