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Animal Welfare: Live Exports

It is recognised that animal welfare generally, and especially the live export of animals is a very emotive issue.

Live export of animals for breeding, further rearing or slaughter has taken place from (and to) the Isle of Man for many, many years. All recent activity is shown on the following DEFA webpages: Cattle Export Statistics and Sheep Export Statistics.

Export market opportunity is a fundamental element for the continued viability of many Manx livestock and animal product producers. Destinations include Meat processors (direct consignment) Marts (slaughter and further rearing) and private purchasers (further rearing, production or breeding). Large UK marts enable competitive price realisation and essential trade routes. Further, income generated within wide export markets provides incoming revenue to the Island economy. The achieved health status of the Manx National Herd is an important positive factor considered by GB purchasers.              

Consumer Driven Markets

Whilst it would be desirable for all animals to be killed as close to the point of production as possible, there are many reasons why trade has developed over longer distances:

  • Consolidation of the meat industry has resulted in considerably fewer abattoirs, which consequently need to serve wider catchment areas for consigned livestock
  • Small abattoirs are now very low in number; having been out-competed by larger establishments through economies of scale
  • Individual abattoirs specialise in particular categories and species of livestock in order to fulfil contracts in the most cost effective manner (e.g. for supermarkets or export trade)
  • Competition by abattoirs for livestock intake, is a significant factor within the industry with selective purchase of livestock allied to the market requirements of the finished product

All of the above are the result of consumer led economic drivers that promote lower costs of production in order to provide lower cost and specific market products. This has been the overriding message from consumers in the last thirty years and is likely to become even more pronounced in the current world financial situation. It is a sobering fact that, while the majority of individuals would vote for improved animal welfare in a survey, the truth of the matter is that price is generally king on the supermarket shelf: there is no point in farmers producing all local stock to an extremely high welfare standard if the population are not prepared to pay the associated price premium.

Export of Specific Classes of Stock

Previous work on the Island has also shown that there are particular groups of livestock that cannot be processed and sold profitably here, but can achieve good prices if transported to the UK. Carcasses of lambs that graze the uplands, without which we would not enjoy the landscape we value so highly, are prized in southern European countries; the contracts for such supply are held by particular abattoirs in the UK. The Island simply does not produce enough animals in this category to service such European contracts. Hence, moving them to markets and large abattoirs in the UK secures a better return for the farmer. For the Island meat plant to produce and export relatively small numbers of such carcasses to European destinations is economically unrealistic.

Lack of Sufficient Price Premium

It is understood that some consumers would pay for higher welfare standard products, but not in sufficient volumes to support major agricultural industry change. Differing Welfare standards perceived throughout Europe, and further afield, are reflected within the subsequent pricing structure.

An historic example of such difficulties was the decision by the UK (and IOM) to prohibit the keeping of sows (mature female pigs) in stalls (metal cages that prevented them from turning round). While a laudable decision, and unquestionably the “right thing to do” from a welfare perspective, critically the competitor nations in the EU did not follow suit - they delayed the implementation for years. Hence the UK pig industry suffered from a competitive disadvantage for a prolonged period, unable to compete with producers that still used stalls (economically more efficient) and further, through EU free trade unable to prevent imports of such meat into the UK market.

Critical Points

All the above contains many lessons for the Island:

1) Market economics drive the decision as to where animals are slaughtered

2) Consumers are currently not prepared to pay sufficient premium to restructure the UK meat industry back into local, high cost, but low journey time, meat plants

3) There is no legal justification for preventing transport of animals out of the Island depending on their ultimate destination (slaughter or rearing)

4) Animals are transported much longer distances than Douglas to Heysham, for example from the North of Scotland to Cornwall or trans-European consignments.

5) Supporting the local Plant through the purchasing of Manx meat is critical for the survival of local meat production

Controls on Livestock Trade

The Department as the competent authority, maintains official controls regarding the trade in livestock, both within and consigned from, the Island: ensuring it is carried out to the correct legal and professional standards. Compliance with Welfare Regulations, and the compulsory pre export Veterinary inspection and certification of livestock, ensures standards are maintained.

All export (and import) movements of livestock (cattle, sheep and very rarely, pigs) are preceded by an official veterinary inspection and certification process that ensures animals are free of clinical signs of disease, meet additional health conditions, and are in a fit condition to undertake the proposed journey. Animal destination is specifically stated within the official certification and stock must be consigned directly to that specific destination.

Animals consigned for direct slaughter in the UK, go to fully approved and licensed EU plants where compliance with welfare and hygiene regulations is carefully monitored. A duly qualified full time Official Veterinarian is in attendance; therefore, animals arriving from the Island are further subject to additional Veterinary inspection at that plant before slaughter.

Livestock transporters are also subject to strict, uniform Island, UK, and EU Regulation, which protects the welfare of livestock carried on such journeys. Animals consigned to Auction Marts are subject to welfare and identification checks at arrival and throughout the mart by official, mart and Animal Welfare organisation staff.

Failures in transport or welfare would be subject to investigation by the relevant authority.

Please see our Welfare of Animals in Transport page for further details.

The Science of Animal Transport

Much scientific research into livestock transport has been done. Interestingly it has been shown that amongst the most stressful elements of transport are the loading and unloading. The actual journey time is of relatively little significance except in pro-longed transport or extreme conditions. The journey time is controlled under The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Isle of Man) Order 2007 and similar legislation in the UK and EU. Transportation of livestock within the Island requires both loading and unloading as is the case for exported livestock.

Updated 17 November 2023

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