Animal welfare groups are at odds about the implications of recently published draft legislation on animal transport into and within the European Union.

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) is warning that the exclusion of a clause allowing member states to apply “relevant national additional rules” will open the way for horses to be exported live from the UK for slaughter.

However, the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) says that the UK should be able to keep its own protective measures for equines, despite the absence of the clause.

Peter Stevenson, political and legal director of CIWF, says: “We need some wording in the regulation which will allow us to keep our ban — Britain has to go to Brussels and fight very hard.”

Under EU free trade and movement agreements, a country cannot ban exports unless it can identify a law that allows it to. The current EU law on animal transport (1991, amended 1995) states that “member states may … apply relevant national additional rules”.

Peter says: “It is this wording that allows the UK to retain its ban on the export of horses or ponies for slaughter. If the proposal is enacted with the current wording, the UK will have no legal basis for its ban.”

But a spokesman for the ILPH says: “This proposal does not include any provisions that cover the specific issue of exporting live equines from the UK for slaughter, since its purpose is to cover the conditions under which all animals are transported into and within the EU.

“This should give the UK the opportunity to maintain and develop its own protective measures for our horses, ponies and donkeys.”

The proposal is to go to member states for consultation, and DEFRA has invited comment on the proposed legislation.

“We have already sent an initial response [to DEFRA], and will continue to lobby for some important improvements,” says a spokesman for the ILPH.

“We will also press to ensure that provisions are included either within this regulation or in UK legislation to maintain the existing protection of British equines intended for slaughter for human consumption.”

Both the ILPH and CIWF have welcomed some details in the proposals, such as tighter restrictions on conditions of transport, journey and rest times, competence of handlers and drivers and better enforcement.

Last year, 113,470 horses were imported into the EU from outside Europe for meat with journey times exceeding 40hrs and few rests, water or feeding stops, while thousands more travelled between EU countries for slaughter.

Read the full story in this week’s Horse & Hound (14 August), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week.