In a landmark moment for animal welfare, a UK bill banning livestock exports for slaughter has cleared parliament.

After more than 50 years of relentless campaigning, on Tuesday 14 May 2024 the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill was passed by the UK parliament’s unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, and will now head for royal assent before becoming law.

Tens of thousands of British farmed animals every year will no longer be forced to endure journeys overseas, involving travelling for hundreds of miles, causing them to suffer from exhaustion, dehydration and even death.

The news comes after previous attempts by the government to impose a ban on live exports – which was part of a longer list of animal welfare reforms – were scrapped.

By banning live animal exports, Britain is joining other countries such as Germany and Australia – all of whom have pledged to ban or phase out the trade.

Some live exports will still be allowed under the law – notably the movement of racehorses, which can be exported for breeding and races. Live exports for other purposes, such as for breeding, will still be allowed provided animals are transported in line with legal requirements aimed at protecting their welfare.

History and setbacks

The path to the landmark victory has not been smooth sailing. In May 2023, the UK Government dropped the Kept Animals Bill – a Bill that was introduced to Parliament in 2021 and would have delivered a live exports ban if it had become law. Following the Government dropping the Kept Animals Bill, Compassion in World Farming secured over 95,000 petition signatures within just three months, calling on the Government to reintroduce the Kept Animals Bill. This was submitted to the Prime Minister at Downing Street in September 2023. Two months later, the Livestock Exports Bill was listed as one of the Bills included in the State Opening of Parliament, which set out legislation the Government would introduce in 2024.

The petition secured extensive media coverage and endorsement from animal activists and vegan celebrities, including Dame Joanna Lumley. At the end of 2023, the Bill passed through its Second Reading in the House of Commons without needing a vote to pass to the next stage due to cross-party support. During that debate, the Secretary of State (Steve Barclay) thanked campaigners whose efforts over many ‘decades’ have helped raise awareness on this issue, and he specifically mentioned Compassion in World Farming’s campaigning.

“This is a huge day to celebrate and one that has been long-awaited,” Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) – which has long campaigned for the ban – said in a statement. “For decades, farmed animals have endured these senseless and arduous exports to the continent – but no longer! I am phenomenally proud of our supporters whose dedication and persistence have helped secure this hard-fought victory.”

Yvonne Birchall, from Kent Action Against Live Exports (KAALE) said: “For 29 years, KAALE and their supporters have demonstrated outside UK ports as live export shipments have been loaded on vessels bound for Europe … our members are the last friendly faces millions of animals will have seen before being exported. We are delighted that the law will finally ban this cruel trade and the people of Kent will no longer need to stand up in opposition to it.”

Why all livestock exports must be banned

Worldwide, every year, millions of farmed animals (cows, calves, sheep, pigs) are forced to travel journeys of hundreds, or even thousands, of miles, only to be slaughtered on arrival or fattened in often inhumane conditions. Transported by road and sea these animals often endure the following:

  • Overcrowding – Animals are crammed into vehicles where they may not even have room to lie down. They can be injured or even trampled to death.
  • Exhaustion, hunger and dehydration – During these long journeys animals may suffer extremes of temperature, often without sufficient rest, food or water.
  • Fear and stress – Animals are sentient beings, just like us. Imagine how you’d feel if you were taken from your familiar environment, crammed into a truck, and transported for days?
  • Tragic results – In addition to routine suffering, over the years, animals have faced horrific conditions during delayed journeys, and thousands have died in fires or when livestock ships have sunk.
  • An uncertain fate – In many countries animal welfare legislation is utterly inadequate, and exported animals may face terrible suffering on farms or at slaughter at their destination.

CIWF said that the new legislation was “growing momentum” around the world to end live exports. In 2023, a Brazilian court banned live cattle exports and a ban came into force in New Zealand to end all live exports by sea for cattle, sheep, deer, and goats. The Australian government recently announced that live sheep exports would end in 2028. But the ban is not yet law and will face strong opposition from the farming sector and right-wing politicians.

Brazil will no longer export live animals thanks to landmark court ruling