Reticence by DEFRA, and in particular minister for the horse Alun Michael, to grasp an offer by the EU to member states to opt out of exporting live horses for slaughter could still result in a resumption of the trade from the UK.
The European Parliament has voted for an amendment to EU draft regulations on the Protection of Animals during Transport that would allow individual states to ban, for moral reasons, the export of live horses.
The recommendation must still be accepted by the Council of Agricultural Ministers and the European Commission at the end of April, and must be reconciled legally, which experts believe is likely. However, a positive response by the British government is also required to secure an opt-out.
But Alun Michael baffled campaigners by denying that a complete opt-out is desirable or necessary. Only when under extreme pressure during a parliamentary debate last week did the minister concede that the option would be worth “looking at”.
He told Radio 4’s Farming Today: “Talking about a ban doesn’t achieve anything, and animal welfare organisations agree with the approach we are taking.”
But this claim was contradicted by events later the same day when James Gray MP rode into Parliament to highlight the issue on behalf of the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH).
At the heated parliamentary debate that followed, Tory and Lib Dem MPs spoke out in favour of taking up the opt-out from live export for moral reasons — an option also favoured by Denmark, Finland and possibly Holland.
James Gray MP, who answered the debate, said: “Alun Michael can’t shelter behind minimum values regulations, or the EU, or the gold plating of European transport law. We demand an absolute ban [on live export]: the minister should deserve his name of minister for the horse.”
But Alun Michael questioned the existence of a moral reason for banning live export of horses for slaughter. He also claimed that campaigners and press have misled the public by saying the trade could restart.
The ILPH, which delivered its “Say No to Live Exports” petition of 83,410 signatures to the president of the European Parliament last week, says that it was “encouraged” by Alun Michael’s commitment to look at an opt-out.