The government's pledge to end live exports – which was a key part of its Action Plan for Animal Welfare – has been effectively scrapped.
Farming minister Mark Spencer has announced in the House of Commons that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals Bill) will be dropped.
Instead, key aspects of the bill will be introduced separately as individual measures.
The bill was set to legislate to end all live exports from Britain of cattle, sheep and pigs for fattening and slaughter – a manifesto commitment of the government.
Legislation on important welfare issues like sheep worrying will also be delayed.
In 2021, Defra said it was 'committed' to improving the UK's 'already world-leading standards' by delivering animal health and welfare reforms.
On live exports, the department said the practice caused farm animals to experience 'distress and injury' due to 'excessively long journeys during export'.
"We will become the first European country to end this practice," Defra explained in June 2021, when the bill was unveiled.
"EU rules prevented any changes to these journeys, but the UK government is now free to pursue plans which would see a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening."
But farming groups warned that any significant regulatory changes could potentially have a major impact on the UK food supply chain.
The Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) has frequently said that a live export ban could 'cut off an essential lifeline' for sheep producers.
According to Ruminant Health & Welfare (RH&W) – whose members represent the breadth of the supply chain – a ban on live exports must be rooted in science while safeguarding the welfare of animals.
But animal welfare campaigners have responded to the bill being dropped as "extremely disappointing".
Nick Palmer, head of Compassion in World Farming UK, said: “This cruel and outdated trade has been a stain on British farm animal welfare standards for far too long.
"The Kept Animals Bill would have finally consigned it to the history books. But sadly, the government have let this opportunity slide."
Andd Emma Slawinski, director of polic at the RSPCA said: “We have been waiting for almost two years for the Kept Animals Bill to improve the lives of billions of animals and now it’s effectively been scrapped.
“We are frustrated and disappointed that, despite overwhelming public support, the government has delayed and delayed and has now broken up the bill, leading to yet more uncertainty and lost time."