Animal Welfare Minister Elliot Morley emphasised yesterday [Tuesday] that he wants an export trade in meat to replace live animal movements.

Morley met representatives from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) to receive a petition calling for live exports of sheep to be banned.

The EU has agreed to lift its ban on exports of live sheep from Britain imposed during the Foot and Mouth outbreak and the necessary arrangements are being put in place to allow resumption of trade, subject to appropriate biosecurity measures.

Morley said: Many sheep farmers and traders have agreed the large scale international live animal trade is unnecessary and could, and should, be replaced by a trade in meat.

"I would call on the sheep industry and welfare organisations to work together on this common cause in increasing value of exports through meat while recognising that European law requires the free movement of goods, including live animals, between member states.

"There are increasing calls here and in Europe for an end to the very long distance transport of animals for slaughter. The European Commission is expected to propose changes this year and the United Kingdom will be a major player in the negotiations. In the meantime we shall continue to do all we can to encourage full and proper enforcement of the present rules to improve the conditions under which animals are transported.

UK farmers produce high quality meat products. We should be marketing higher value meat with a clear association with quality, rather than lower value live exports often passed off as local meat, undermining the identity of a quality UK brand."