The National Sheep Association has commented on the reported statement by Defra secretary of state, Theresa Villiers, proposing a ban on live exports of farm animals and stating that animals should only be slaughtered at their most local abattoir.

The association believes that this exposes a lack of knowledge and understanding of how the industry functions and an absence of awareness of transport related welfare research.

It believes that this would create serious issues for sheep farmers and the supply chain, resulting in a loss of choice in business options.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Over a year ago we went through intense discussions on the subject of live exports and as a result the secretary of state of the day appeared to accept that a ban on live exports was not necessary and a system that offered greater controls and assurances was preferable.

“Now we seem to back at square one again. With a new secretary of state, with new ideas and the circus goes around again.

“To suggest a requirement that farmers should have to sell to the closest abattoir defies belief. I have to question how Ministers think markets function. They claim to understand the need for options in order to be able to negotiate with the EU but then suggest we take market options away from livestock farmers.

“Imagine such a requirement in a livestock market when only one buyer, the local abattoir, can bid for your animals – it wouldn’t do much to improve the profitability or productivity of farms. If the Government is serious about such a radical idea then it would have to offer slaughtering as a public service with the market functioning after that point – and that would result in a restructuring of our industry in a way that would put all the other ideas that have been discussed into the shade.”

NSA says that it understands that the Government intends to publicly consult on these and other related livestock management issues, and will oppose proposals that risk damaging the industry but will support initiatives that genuinely improve the health and welfare of sheep.

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