A potential post-Brexit ban on the export of live animals for export looks a step closer after Defra today (10 April) announced the launch of a six-week consultation on ending the practice.

Defra said it was inviting the meat and farming industries, charities, the public and devolved administrations to submit their testimony on the proposals. The consultation follows a Tory manifesto commitment which suggested taking “early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter”, while an outright ban was proposed by Labour in February, as well as mandatory country of origin and method of slaughter labelling.

Michael Gove has made animal welfare a priority during his tenure as environment secretary, introducing mandatory CCTV in abattoirs and increasing the maximum sentence for cruelty offences.

“All animals deserve to get the respect and care they deserve at every stage of their lives. This call for evidence begins to deliver on our manifesto commitment, which aims to control the export of live animals for slaughter once we leave the European Union,” he said.

“With all options being considered, I am keen to hear from industry, the devolved authorities and charities on all possible options and evidence on this vital issue.”

A Live Animal Exports (Prohibition) Bill was tabled in Parliament last October, by MP Theresa Villiers. The bill was welcomed by animal welfare activists, who suggested animals exported for slaughter abroad could encounter conditions illegal in the UK.

In 2016, more than 4,000 sheep were transported to continental Europe for slaughter, sparking protests at ports. However, live exports are on the decline, according to the RSPCA, with exports down from nearly two million 20 years ago to tens of thousands in recent years.

“We believe that production animals should not be transported long distances to the abattoir but should be slaughtered as near to the point of production as possible,” said British Veterinary Association president John Fishwick.

“Animals should be transported on the hook, as meat, not on the hoof, as live animals. It is vital that we maintain the UK’s current high standards of animal welfare post-Brexit and seek opportunities to improve them.

“We look forward to contributing to this call and seeing the results once the evidence has been collected.”