Progress appeared possible on setting a limit on the amount of time animals can spend in transportation, one of the issues highest up the animal rights agenda. However, ministers were still trying to hammer out a formula late last night and discussions were expected to continue today.
The ministers were not expected to discuss Britain's call for a ban on the use of veal crates. Discussion of the veal crates issue awaits a new report by scientists, who have been asked for proof of how much pain and suffering the crates cause the animals. Their report is not expected to be ready for at least another month.
A decision to limit journey times would be hailed as a major victory by the animal welfare lobby, which says animals are often crammed into the backs of trucks for as much as 24 hours without being fed or watered.
Previous attempts to impose a journey time limit have been hampered by disagreements about what a reasonable time would be.
Germany wants to set an eight-hour limit. Austria has a maximum journey limit of six hours, introduced before the country joined the European Union. The British limit was increased from 12 to 15 hours in 1991 in response to a directive creating the pan-European 24-hour maximum journey time.
If journey times were limited, there would be a greater incentive for the meat industry to slaughter animals nearer to the farms, rather than transport them across Europe to slaughter houses in other countries, says the lobby.
However, limits on journey times have always been opposed fiercely by southern European countries, such as Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece where profitable slaughter houses are located.
France, the country which currently holds the presidency of the EU, and which formerly sided with the southern Europeans, is trying to broker a deal between the two camps.
Mr Waldegrave, claimed the meeting was the best chance yet to break an 18-month deadlock between northern exporters of live animals and the southern importers. He also said they would not accept any dilution of Britain's present journey limit.
"We must have proper journey limits, a trans-European licensing system and enforcement of whatever we agree," said Mr Waldegrave.
But whatever is agreed in Brussels is unlikely to appease the animal welfare lobby.
"We want to see the principle established of a single maximum journey time and to see animals slaughtered as close to the farm as possible and a carcass only trade," said Mark Ranson, a spokesman for the RSPCA.
"There's no reason to transport animals for long distances to be slaughtered. We would welcome any decision on the issue but we'll still be pressing for an eight-hour maximum journey time."Reuse content