The NPA has called on Defra to reject proposals intended to improve animal welfare in transport that it said appear to have been driven by ‘perceived wisdom, rather than science’.
If implemented, the proposals would ban live animal exports for slaughter, introduce new limits on journey times for pigs of 18 hours, with 48-hours rest between journeys and prevent journeys where external temperatures were below 5°C or above 30°C. They would set restrictive new requirements for space and headroom and ban journeys by sea if the wind was more than a strong breeze.
While, the UK does not export pigs for slaughter, the NPA’s response, compiled by senior policy adviser Rebecca Veale, makes it clear the proposed changes would damage the sector, while being unlikely to improve pig welfare and are not backed by the available evidence. Some of the key points in the document include:
- The NPA is opposed to a ban on live animal exports because there is no evidence to suggest there is any compromise to pig welfare. The policy should not be based on anthropomorphic ideals.
- The temperature proposals are flawed because they have used external temperatures, rather than internal temperatures, which are referenced by EU law and are more reflective of the environment the pigs will be in. The EU guidance for hauliers focuses on using pig behavior to lead their actions, which is a sensible approach. The driver behind these proposals appears to have come from evidence in the poultry sector and clearly a blanket approach does not work here.
- There is insufficient evidence to justify limiting journey times, but this would significantly impact on the movement of breeding pigs, inhibiting exports to valuable markets, such as China, as air travel is included. It could also impact on the movement of cull sows.
- Similarly, the recommendations for rest periods are not based on any science or evidence, but would inhibit breeding pig exports, and potentially create biosecurity risks if pigs mix at resting places for long periods.
- The recommendations on space and headroom are not based on any evidence which reflects UK systems. More research and evidence is required
- Sea journeys should not be governed by a single measure of wind speed. The Ships Master currently makes the decision, taking into account various conditions for the whole journey, including wind strength. Roll on roll off ferries used by breeding pig exporters are designed to function well in these conditions.
The NPA response stresses that any future regulatory changes ‘should be based upon sound fundamental and applied science and not be derived from emotive concerns or political expediency’.
“As stated in the document, we are disappointed that the apparent assumption made by Defra is that current practice in the pig sector is sub-standard, when there is very limited evidence to suggest this during transport for both domestic and international journeys,” Rebecca said.
The proposals have also been criticised by other organisations across the livestock sector, including the NFU, which it said the changes would have a significant impact the on the livestock and poultry sectors, while failing to deliver any meaningful benefit to animal welfare.
Ms Veale added: “We sincerely hope that Defra takes into account the points raised by the NPA and others and works with us to ensure that any future proposed changes to pig transport policy are based on evidence, not sentiment.”
Responding to criticism of the plans at the virtual NFU conference, Defra Secretary George Eustice said the Department would ‘look very closely’ at the issues raised and stressed that he wanted this to be a ‘genuine consultation’.
He acknowledged that some of the proposals stemmed from incidents with laying hens and that there were differences with transporting other livestock. He accepted that a ‘blanket approach’ was not necessarily the right one to take.