Making animal welfare a priority

The misapplication of EU animal transport legislation poses a great threat to animal welfare. But before tightening EU law, we must first ensure its correct application, argues Marlene Mortler.
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By Marlene Mortler

Marlene Mortler (DE, EPP) is a vice-chair of Parliament’s Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport Committee (ANIT)

01 Apr 2021

When I was growing up, we considered the animals on my parents’ farm to be a part of the family - they and their needs came first. We treated them with respect, and in return they provided my family with a livelihood. Every animal had a name and that did not change when I took over the farm. Animals are sentient beings, and treating them as such should not be negotiable; this needs to be guaranteed at every step. In the ANIT Committee over the past months, we have been discussing a long list of alleged, and sometimes undeniable, violations of EU law.

One issue that kept coming up during every hearing was the inadequacy of the existing legislation. Over 15 years ago, the European Commission initiated a comprehensive regulation, which outlined the needs of many different species and applied to young and mature animals alike. While the regulation may not be perfect and certainly leaves room for interpretation, its Article 3 makes one thing clear: “No person shall transport animals or cause animals to be transported in a way likely to cause injury or undue suffering to them.”

“At every stage of transport, compliance with legislation needs to be ensured. If there are infringements, a valid sanctions regime should be applied to discourage systematic violations of animal protection laws”

As a basic principle, this should be at the core of every animal transport operation carried out within the European Union and to third countries. Here in the EU, we already have high animal protection standards and many transport operators fully comply with, or even exceed, these. Nevertheless, there are still too many people involved in animal transport that do not respect these standards.

If we want to achieve better conditions for transported animals, we should not aim to tighten the law, but rather first improve how it is enforced. The key to this lies in education, information sharing, harmonisation and frequent checks. In order to fully comply with animal transport legislation, the requirements need to be clear to all involved in the process. Transport operators, veterinary services and national police forces should not have to be concerned with the definition of “sufficient head space”, “fitness for transport” or other relevant requirements. They need to receive clear guidelines on how to check those aspects before and during transportation. Access to information can already solve many problems before they even occur.

Harmonising national legislation is also a crucial part of this process. The basic requirements of animal transport should not differ between countries, and neither should levels of training. Proper training of the people directly and indirectly working with transported animals is a key component of well-executed journeys. At every stage of transport, compliance with legislation needs to be ensured. If there are infringements, a valid sanctions regime should be applied to discourage systematic violations of animal protection laws.

We have an obligation towards the European farm animals that are transported on our roads and waterways daily. Another possibility to ensure animal welfare-compliant transportation is to certify transport routes. If an expert team were to check feeding and unloading stations along the way, as well as road conditions and border inspection waiting times, animal transport could improve drastically in many cases.

“Animals are sentient beings, and treating them as such should not be negotiable; this needs to be guaranteed at every step” 

The use of modern technologies in transportation surveillance and access to real-time data for veterinarians are also options worth exploring further. In addition, our own behaviour should be examined closely when discussing the topic of animal welfare. In line with the goals of the ambitious Farm to Fork Strategy, we should all aim to strengthen regional supply chains. This could potentially decrease the need to transport animals over long distances and pave the way for improvements in other areas of animal welfare, such as on-farm and regional slaughter.

In Europe, we have perfected the art of animal husbandry over hundreds of years and the demand for genetic material for breeding from Europe is high. In any case, it is preferable to transport genetic material or meat rather of living animals. Under certain circumstances, however, the transportation of live animals will still be necessary in the future. We therefore need to guarantee that this is carried out according to the rules we are discussing in the Committee. The trade with farm animals is essential for many Member States’ economies, and it is in the interest of us all to guarantee the wellbeing of the animals that are being transported.

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Agriculture & Food
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