Sheep farmers are concerned that the lack of abattoirs and staff may make the proposed ban on live exports unworkable in practice.

The second Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was welcomed by many for including measures that will set standards for improving the UK’s already world-leading position on animal welfare.

However, the National Sheep Association (NSA) is now questioning the capability of meeting some of the wider implications of the Bill, particularly concerning the suggested ban on live exports.

NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker said: “The Bill’s aim of reducing travel time from the point of production to slaughter, needs to also address the availability, capacity and location of abattoirs and slaughter facilities, alongside a real shortage of staff and labour and how ministers will ensure future international trade deals also meet and uphold these standards.”

To be able to cater for a ban on live exports, NSA believes there needs to be sufficient locally placed abattoirs in livestock rearing areas with attention given to their operation to ensure they can provide the appropriate service.

Most farmers want to keep journeys to slaughter as short as possible, but there still needs to be choice and competition in order to maintain prices.

Phil said: “For years we have heard that the UK has ‘over capacity' in slaughtering, and in theory, this might be correct - but with increased stock to be slaughtered, pressure on journey times, and a shortage of available labour there needs to be investment in options rather than just the application of restrictions."

There has been steady decline in the network of small- to medium-sized, multi-species abattoirs across the UK.

The number of licensed abattoirs has dropped dramatically from 30,000 in the 1930s to around 250 today.

The loss of smaller, local abattoirs has meant that livestock has had to travel longer distances within the UK.

This has led to an obstacle for those trying to establish local and direct supply chains. For some farmers in the south east of England, the closest facility has been just across the channel in France.

Phil said: “The UK government has set its stall out clearly regarding ambitions for animal welfare with the launch of this Bill.

"This, therefore, adds to the frustration and disappointment that trade deals are now being explored and agreed that threaten our standards and values, simply offshoring practices not allowed here and pushing things conveniently out of sight.”