EU rules on long distance animal transportation regularly flouted, MEPs told

Hearing by European Parliament inquiry committee part of MEP probe into alleged violations of animal welfare.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

01 Mar 2021

Several experts, who participated in the three-hour meeting, all agreed that current EU legislation should be beefed up to improve “appalling” conditions in which animals are often  moved around Europe.

Despite efforts in recent years to raise awareness of such problems various issues remain, including head space for animals in trucks and “extreme temperatures” cows, lambs, horses, calves and other animals regularly suffer.

The meeting last Thursday (25 February) was hosted by the special committee on the protection of animals during transport, which was set up last June to investigate alleged violations of animal welfare.

Hendrik-Jan Roest, of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, told MEPs, “Live animal transport is a key issue for us. Animals are more than someone’s property and we have all seen shocking reports and images of animals suffering during long distance transportation. This contributes to the sense of urgency that is needed for new initiatives to put an end to such cruelty.”

He added, “These reports are shocking for the public but also for those farmers who do their best to ensure that animals treated well. It highlights the fact that animal slaughter should ideally be done locally so that transportation is just the carcass instead.”

He cited two examples of Dutch efforts including its decision to stop lives animal exports to third countries outside the EU. A second is that calves cannot be transport over long journeys without “suitable drinking devices.”

He admitted, “Despite some progress there are many issues that still need to be addressed including head space and transportation in extreme temperatures. There should also be a maximum of eight hours per journey although for some animals this is too long.”

"Animals are more than someone’s property and we have all seen shocking reports and images of animals suffering during long distance transportation. This contributes to the sense of urgency that is needed for new initiatives to put an end to such cruelty” Hendrik-Jan Roest, deputy Chief Veterinary Officer of the Netherlands at the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality

Inquiry committee chair Tilly Metz, a Luxembourg Greens member, said, “This is a scandal and shows the importance of this inquiry. Transportation is often hell for the animals.”

Pierre Sultana, Director of European Policy Office at the NGO 'Four Paws' said that while 85 percent of such trade happened between Member States in 2019, 1.5 billion live pigs, cows and horses were transported to non European countries.

He told the meeting, “There are numerous infringements of current regulations. Animals should be transported for as short a distance as possible but, in reality, they are transported for hours and hours across Europe.”

“Once animals arrive at the destination trucks are still allowed to keep animals on board that truck for up to 12 hours and water or food are not allowed on board so these animals suffer greatly from hunger and thirst. Many animals are often dead on arrival.

“The law says that temperatures of 5 to 30°C must be guaranteed during a journey but often this is not adhered to. This is not in line with the law. These trucks are regularly stopped on the motorway with animals badly dehydrated. Temperatures on board have been found to be over 40°C.”

Sultana added, “Another problem is the transportation of cows. They must be regularly milked but not all Lorries are fitted with such facilities and are, therefore, not fit for such transportation.”

“We have had many reports of cows which are unable to stand but being dragged onto the trucks and then forced to travel hundreds of kilometres across borders.”

He told the committee “Animal welfare problems are manifold and show that long distance transportation cannot be in line with animal welfare. That is why we call for a ban on long distance journeys and a shift to trade in carcases instead. This is urgently needed, be it in European or non EU countries.”

“Animal welfare problems are manifold and show that long distance transportation cannot be in line with animal welfare. That is why we call for a ban on long distance journeys and a shift to trade in carcases instead. This is urgently needed, be it in European or non EU countries” Pierre Sultana, Director of European Policy Office at the NGO 'Four Paws'

Another speaker, Daniele Tullio, who is a veterinarian at a local health unit in Bari in southern Italy, said, “Our port links Italy with various countries and there is a busy trade in live animals but we have noted there is a very different application of current EU regulation between Member States.”

“Italy is the final destination of many deliveries from northern Europe and also a point of transit on their way to Greece. Non observance of the rules, in particular on the length of the journeys, is common.”

Tullio added, “The longer the journey the greater the negative impact on an animal. Problems include lack of ventilation, high temperatures and lack of water.”

“Another problem is the high number of horses transported for slaughter which we see on a daily basis. These are wild horses, mostly transported from Spain and Hungary.”

“Another issue is the involvement of the road police who are less present that they used to be because they tell us they have other priorities. A harmonised system of checks throughout Europe would therefore be useful.”

Iris Baumgärtner, vice chair of the veterinary and animal welfare professionals’ charity, Animal Welfare Foundation, said, “We have documented transportation of calves and some have been deprived of food for 53 hours. We tracked 56 separate transportations and found that all were in breach of current regulations for transporting animals.”

“We often find overcrowded conditions and a lack of head space. A common major violation in each of the cases we tracked was that the animals suffered thirst and hunger for a long time.”

“It is clear that rules are routinely violated during long journeys and the majority of trucks we observed were not equipped with suitable facilities for animals and their special needs. No food was provided – and when we asked the drivers about these things they often just laughed and asked how and what they could do.”

“It is 12 years since the European commission asked Member States to improve things but not enough has been done. Even imposing a journey time limit for calves and lambs would not solve the problem. We are, literally, at the end of the road and appeal today to the European Parliament to support a review of current EU regulations.”

Further comment came from Antonio Velarde, head of the Animal Welfare Programme at the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology in Catalonia, Spain, who said that long distance travel is “very stressful for animals because they are subjected to several hazards, such as prolonged thirst, lack of space in Lorries, high temperatures and heat stress all at the same time.”

There are some instances of good practice, the meeting heard, and Rob Doyle, Director for Animal Welfare at the Irish Department of Agriculture and Food, said animal welfare standards “are high in Ireland, even before an animal leaves a farm.”

He said, “90 per cent of farmers are fully compliant with the current rules and Ireland has a proven track record, including specific legislation on animal welfare and long distance trade. In 2019, or instance, Ireland was the first country in Europe to bring in a hot weather monitoring system for the long distance transportation of animals.”

"I agree there are challenges and we are keen to improve. We’d welcome, for example, the introduction of an internet based monitoring system. We must make better use of technologies to better understand the impact of a journey on an animal” Rob Doyle, Director for Animal Welfare at the Irish Department of Agriculture and Food

 “Data shows that the mortality rate on calves travelling from Ireland last year was just 0.5 per cent.”

He added, “But I agree there are challenges and we are keen to improve. We’d welcome, for example, the introduction of an internet based monitoring system. We must make better use of technologies to better understand the impact of a journey on an animal.”

Romanian EPP MEP Daniel Buda said, “From what we have heard at this hearing today there are still many violations. There is no use in having animal welfare regulations and rules if EU Member States do not respect them. One problem is that live transportation of animals is necessary for certain Member States, including those that don’t accept meat or carcasses.”

Portuguese Socialist MEP Isabel Carvalhais said, “There are clearly many causes of concern and improvements could be made to vehicles to improve conditions.”

More comment came from Danish Renew Europe Group deputy Asger Christensen who said, “The situation needs to be improved because the regulations are not being complied with so they clearly need to be revised.”

French Greens/EFA group member Caroline Roose noted, “Why do we need to transport live animals over Europe for days and days on end? They are not an object. We need to reduce this and, in fact, do away with such journeys entirely.”

Dutch GUE/NGL member Anja Hazekamp said, “Such transportation hurts the animals and remember there are not even any rest stops provided for animals moving outside the EU.”

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