Farm animal welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming has mounted a long-standing campaign to end the live export of farm animals for slaughter and production – writing here, the pressure group's head of policy, Dr Nick Palmer, clarifies its position on how such a ban would work in practice, with specific reference to the Scottish livestock sector.

"A SERIES of statements by the Environment Secretary over the last year have given a strong indication that opportunities after Brexit will be used to change British policy in this area and a consultation on a possible ban on live exports closes this month.

However, a number of concerns relating to Scottish farming have been raised and Compassion in World Farming has been talking with Scottish Minister Fergus Ewing and a range of other MSPs to find the best way forward for both animal welfare and the needs of Scottish farmers.

Scottish trade involves the export of a relatively small number of animals on long journeys (in 2017, 5,500 pre-weaned calves) most often to Spain. The journey by land and sea can last for 100 hours or longer, and although stops every 9 hours are required by law, the animals may not be offloaded for periods of up to 21 hours at a time, causing them stress and discomfort. Additionally, these animals are usually only given water while on board the transporter, rather than the nutrients and milk substitute that pre-weaned calves need.

After arrival the calves are fattened under Spanish conditions, some of which would be illegal in Britain. They are then slaughtered or re-exported.

Effective control by British or Irish authorities is impossible once the animals leave the British Isles. Spain has very high export figures of cows to North Africa and the Middle East, so it is likely that a proportion of the animals exported from Scotland end up in slaughterhouses where conditions are often horrific.

CIWF believes any ban needs to be constrained to reflect Scottish reality. Some conditions should be common ground:

1. The movement of animals between Scottish islands and the mainland must be unaffected. It would be ideal from the welfare viewpoint if every island had its own local slaughterhouse or mobile slaughter unit, in the real world that is not going to happen for the foreseeable future. CIWF is clear that any demand to end transport from the islands is unreasonable;

2. Exports of cattle for breeding are important to Scotland and should not be affected. Breeding animals are very high-value and the conditions in which they are transported are altogether different – they may well be given greater care than, say, typical human passengers on cross-Channel ferries;

3. Transport from Scotland ending in Ireland should not be affected. The reason for this is partly pragmatic. Nobody familiar with the agonised Cabinet debates over Brexit and Ireland would suggest that Cabinet members should add a further complication to the process. Again the issue is defused by the fact that the transport is under UK and Irish supervision;

4. There is, however, a legitimate concern that this should not open up a loophole. The contract for animals exported to Eire needs to specify that the animals will be slaughtered in Eire (or returned after production to the UK), rather than re-exported to Spain or beyond.

With these constraints, CIWF urges the Scottish Government to support an end to live exports. The Scottish debate revolves around exports for production. In reality, though, the distinction is hard to maintain – all the same concerns arise, and a ban on exports for slaughter which does not cover production is going to be largely ineffective.

In the end, the animals are going to be slaughtered sooner or later, and there is no effective British control over how long the production period lasts – a year, a month, a few days? It is bad legislative practice to introduce unenforceable laws, and it would be much better to help the small number of farmers affected by a production export ban than to try to create a largely artificial exemption.

The organisation’s discussions with MSPs across all parties suggest that there is a majority in favour of an end to live exports, so long as the conditions above are firmly imposed. CIWF’s hope is that debates in the coming months will lead to a broad consensus agreeing to an end of live exports for slaughter and production."