The Scottish Government is committed to the welfare of all animals during transport, whether within the United Kingdom or for export purposes. Animals should be exported only in line with strict welfare standards, which ensure freedom from harm and sufficient rest and nourishment, and ensure that transport welfare rules are fully complied with.
The current European Union regulations and standards provide a rigorous framework to protect and promote the welfare of animals, and have been adopted into our law through the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Scotland) Regulations 2006. We have been clear since the outcome of the EU referendum that we wish to maintain adherence to current EU standards and regulations, particularly regulations on animal and plant health and food safety, because those remain essential for our reputation and for access EU and other international markets. We will therefore not support any move that creates further challenges or difficulty for our livestock sector or that places Scottish agriculture at a disadvantage.
“we would prefer to see a trade in meat rather than live exports. This avoids long distance travel of live animals whilst ensuring better returns across the industry from added value product.”—[
, 22 January 2008; S3W-08022.]
Apart from the not-insignificant matter of animal welfare, can the cabinet secretary outline why he thinks that better returns for the industry are secured by live exports, which seems to depart from what his predecessor said?
I do not agree with that. I agree with Richard Lochhead that live animal exports for breeding are vital for the pedigree livestock sector, and his expressed sentiment that, ideally, animals be killed as close as possible to their farm of origin.
The important point that I wish to stress is that animal welfare is paramount and that the rules and regulations cover very detailed provisions to secure that objective. They do so by making provisions on nourishment, rest and hydration that must be strictly complied with. That is the approach that the Scottish Government believes should be taken and it is one that I believe is supported by the NFU Scotland and other key stakeholders in the sector.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer, although I think that some of the issues around animal welfare in long transportations will be disputed—and are disputed—by many animal welfare organisations. Can the cabinet secretary reconsider having, at the very least, a consultation on banning live exports, because we are exiting the EU and will not be tied to the regulations? I have to say to the cabinet secretary that I would hate to become by default a fan of Michael Gove.
I am not responsible for whose fan clubs Christine Grahame is in. However, I am responsible for agriculture and can assure the member that the matters to which she has referred are taken with the utmost seriousness.
The position down south on the issue is very confused. There is talk about a ban of live exports for slaughter, but very few or no animals are exported for slaughter from Scotland. The export of live animals from Scotland is done for other reasons—breeding and production. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has indicated that the value of that totals £50 million a year. Unless one takes the view that that £50 million should be reduced to zero overnight, it would be better to concentrate on ensuring that we all support the high standards of animal welfare that are rightly required by the regulations.
I declare an interest as an honorary member of the British Veterinary Association.
What evidence does the cabinet secretary have that a UK-wide ban on live animal exports would damage the livestock sector, specifically in Scotland? Does what the cabinet secretary has said now mean that he will oppose the ban on the export of live animals from other UK countries? In effect, will the Scottish Government be leading a race to the bottom in animal welfare standards?
No. That is complete nonsense. The proposals from Westminster are not clear, although I understand that the manifesto commitment by the Conservative Party was to restrict the ban to animals that are exported for slaughter.
We have taken the view—as, I think, the vast majority of members would—that most animals should be slaughtered as close to the farm as possible. That is why it is so important that our abattoirs continue to function properly. Of the official veterinarians who work in our abattoirs, 95 per cent are European Union nationals, so the greatest practical matter that we should consider at the moment is to ensure that those EU nationals, many of whom are from Spain, are able to continue to staff the abattoirs. Otherwise, the practical problem will be to ensure that slaughter of animals—if Mr Ruskell will care to listen, rather than chattering incessantly behind me—will continue to be done in local abattoirs, which will depend on whether the people from the EU who work in them will be able to stay to carry on their good work.
I emphasise to Mr Ruskell that we are all concerned about animal welfare, consideration of which remains paramount in such matters.
The question is this: what is Mr Gove proposing? I do not know whether Mr Rumbles is clear what is in Mr Gove’s mind, but I am not, because he has not set the proposal out clearly.
The manifesto commitment was restricted to a ban on exports for the purposes of slaughter. As I understand it, no animals are currently exported to other EU member states for the purposes of slaughter, so the impact of such a ban would be zero, at the moment.
An impact would result if the ban were to be extended to exports for other purposes: namely, pedigree breeding or production. The impacts would be felt by the poultry sector in particular, and by the pig and other livestock sectors. The value of such exports to Scotland was estimated in 2015 by HMRC to be £50 million. If the figures are accurate—I have not had time to study them, because this topical question was raised only yesterday—the answer to Mr Rumbles’s question is that there would be a considerable impact on farmers and farming, especially in the Scottish islands, where transportation of animals, albeit that it is intrastate, is a necessary fact of life.