FARMING organisations have responded to the possibility of a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter in a letter penned to the Government.

In a joint letter to Defra secretary Theresa Villiers, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and the National Sheep Association (NSA) raised their objections to the Conservatives’ plans to halt live exports over animal welfare concerns. The Conservative manifesto promised to end “excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening”, and instead require farmers to sell stock to local abattoirs post-Brexit.

The letter states the proposal “undervalues the importance of live exports to the farming sector in Northern Ireland and highlights a lack of agricultural knowledge.”

UFU deputy president, David Brown said that live exports were an “integral part of Northern Ireland’s livestock sector and any additional controls or changes to regulations, post-Brexit, are unnecessary.

“More than 500,000 sheep per annum cross the Irish border for processing in the Republic of Ireland and it is crucial that this trade can continue without any friction,” he said. “Government officials are making these claims, but I would question if they really understand how our livestock industry operates in the UK.”

Mr Brown also expressed his concern for the language which government officials had used when talking about the subject.

“They have claimed that banning live exports will improve animal welfare, but that is not the case,” he said. “Again, it comes down to a lack of understanding.

“Transporting livestock is not a welfare issue and by making this assumption they are generating negative press which calls into question animal welfare in the UK, when in reality we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world.”

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “We recognise that our departure from the EU will lead to changes for farmers, particularly in areas of trade. But it is highly concerning that our own secretary of state for Defra is already predicting volatility and uncertainty. To suggest that farmers would have to sell livestock to their nearest abattoir, and that they should abandon market access to Europe when demand clearly exists, either shows a serious lack of understanding of how competitive markets function, or suggests a change in policy direction that hasn’t been discussed or catered for. There are far more intelligent ways to ensure good welfare outcomes, and measures that are likely to drive prices down are not one of them.”