EU struggles to hold Member States to account over animal transport breaches

MEPs voice concern about the injury and suffering caused to animals during transport across Europe.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

27 Oct 2020

A senior commission official has admitted it is currently “impossible” to ban the controversial trade in live animals.

Speaking to parliament’s newly created special animal welfare committee, Claire Bury, Deputy Director-General of Health and Food Safety at the Commission, sympathised with MEPs who voiced concern about the injury and suffering caused to animals during transport across Europe.

She said everything was being done to ensure hauliers comply with current regulations but conceded, “We are not able to ban this at present.”

But, in response to growing calls for a ban on exports of live animals, she revealed that the Commission plans to revise existing legislation on animal transportation.

The Committee of Inquiry, set up to probe violations in EU law on the protection of animals during transport, heard that current rules date from as far back 2007 but that in a resolution last year, MEPs had voiced concerns about their implementation and enforcement.

The committee heard that audits had revealed “major problems” with the welfare of animals during transport and “major barriers” existed which impeded enforcement of the animal transportation rules.

"We condemn transport operators that do not comply with the rules and the Commission is aware of the fact there are significant different approaches on this issue from one Member State to another” Claire Bury, Deputy Director-General of Health and Food Safety at the European Commission

Bury told the meeting there was a problem with how Member States implement current EU legislation and controls and that these “could be better applied.” She added, “This is one of the things we need to look at”.

She pointed out that one of the aims of the EU’s “farm to fork” strategy was to promote more “local consumption” and shorter supply chains. Success on both fronts would reduce the need for transporting animals across Europe on long distances, she argued.

She added, “Currently, we cannot propose a ban on live exports as this would be problematic in meeting our international commitments.”

“Even so, we condemn transport operators that do not comply with the rules and the Commission is aware of the fact there are significant different approaches on this issue from one Member State to another.”

Swedish ECR group deputy Peter Lundgren was critical of the Commission and Member States, though, saying, “The Commission receives reports about systemic breaches of the regulations and, since 2016, three official complaints have been filed to the Commission about such breaches by Member States.

“It is up to Member States to enforce EU legislation on animal transport but this is also the responsibility of the Commission.”

“The Commission has never started an infringement procedure against a single Member State despite there being clear evidence of systematic abuse of the legislation in various Member States" ECR group deputy Peter Lundgren MEP

“The Commission has never started an infringement procedure against a single Member State despite there being clear evidence of systematic abuse of the legislation in various Member States.

“If the legislation, as is the case, is not being properly implemented I want to know if the Commission is willing to start infringement proceedings against those Member States who are non compliant?”

Bury replied, saying, “Where we find that a Member State is not implementing the legislation we will not hesitate to start legal action. If they do not deliver on their obligations and there is systematic non-compliance we will act. The Commission is very rigorous in our approach and, yes, we take our responsibilities in this regard seriously.”

Dutch GUE/NGL group member Anja Hazekamp told the meeting there were “high expectations” expected both of the Committee “and also of the Commission.”

She said, “Long distance transport of live animals is very stressful for the animals and should not be allowed. Hundreds of reports of violations are sent to the commission including pigs being transported from Ireland to China and one-day-old chicks sent all over the world.

“Only last week, thousands of chicks died at an airport in Madrid after being left alone. They were forgotten and ended up starving to death.

“Every day, animals are put on long distance vessels and, every day, there are examples of what is going wrong in the trade in live animals. We don’t want to hear these stories again for the next 15 years.”

Her comments were echoed by Italian EPP group member Herbert Dorfmann who said, “The transport of animals for slaughter should be reduced or stopped. There are different interpretations of the current regulations in different countries but we need the same interpretation in each member state.”

Slovak RE group MEP Martin Hojsik noted, “What has been done so far is not sufficient. The transport to the slaughter house is a fundamental problem and is something we need to look at.”

Even if conditions are improved it always involves a huge amount of stress for animals over a long period of time. And for what? Just so that at the end of this journey they are killed in the slaughterhouse.”

He said such journeys should be limited to four hours, adding, “This would also mean smaller slaughterhouses don’t go out of business.”

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