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April 14 2004

The Western Morning News campaign to obtain a ban on the export of horses, ponies and donkeys to the Continent has generated support from more than 65,000 readers and both national and local equine welfare charities.

The campaign was launched last August by the paper after it emerged that a ban on exporting low value horses, ponies and donkeys to the Continent, which has existed in Britain for many years, was on shaky ground under EU law, because it amounts to a restriction on free trade between member states.

As soon as the concerns of charity Compassion In World Farming were publicised in the paper we had an overwhelming response from readers - with more than 65,000 readers signing petitions calling on the Government to lobby their EU colleagues for an "opt-out" from EU law to allow Britain to continue to ban the cruel trade.

The petitions were presented by animal lover and writer Carla Lane at 10 Downing Street on November 17, prompting a disappointing response from Minister for the Horse Alun Michael, who is refusing to lobby the EU for an opt-out within a draft EU Regulation aimed at improving the conditions in which animals are transported across Europe.

However, the campaign secured a victory on March 30 at Strasbourg when MEPs voted to support an opt-out proposed by Westcountry MEP Neil Parish which would allow Britain to keep its ban.

The case for an opt-out was further strengthened when the European commissioner for animal welfare, David Byrne, told the parliament that the commission, which upholds the laws of the EU, would be prepared for Britain to have an opt-out.

Mr Michael, and his colleague Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Margaret Beckett, have now promised to re-examine the case for an opt-out, in readiness for their crucial negotiations in Luxembourg on April 26 and 27, which represents the last time to secure legal protection for equines for the foreseeable future.