Millions of animals are transported annually, both within the EU as well as to third countries. According to EUROSTAT, the EU exported over four million sheep, goats, pigs and cows to third countries for breeding, fattening and slaughter, as well as over 224 million poultry. Inside the EU, Member States traded over 1.3 billion poultry and over 44 million sheep, goats, pigs and cows, mainly for non-breeding purposes.
Last spring, because of COVID-19 and the associated border closures, animals were stuck on the borders with delays of 12 hours or more, without the possibility of using resting places. Many reports have revealed gross negligence, inappropriate transport conditions and cruelty to animals being transported. Although the EU Directive requires live animal transport to be controlled until the destination, in reality, 70 percent of these transportations do not meet the legal requirements. The European Commission is therefore failing in monitoring, investigating or reacting adequately to the problems.
The current legislation is not fi t for purpose; it has too many derogations, and is lacking in compliance and enforcement. The situation is not good inside the EU, but it gets worse when animals are transported to third countries, despite EU legislation also applying to the sections of the journey outside the EU. Live animal transport, particularly long haul transport, poses a great risk for animal welfare. Animals get stressed when being loaded and unloaded, and may be suffering from hunger, thirst and fatigue as well as lack of space and rest during transport. They are also often carried in improper transportation vehicles.
“The situation is not good inside the EU, but it gets worse when animals are transported to third countries, despite EU legislation also applying to the sections of the journey outside the EU”
The transport and trade in live animals also poses a serious risk to human and animal health, which has been highlighted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Too many animals are being stuffed into small spaces. In some cases, they have been lifted there hanging from their legs. They may not have access to water or feed, nor have any space to move. Sick and injured animals are too often left to lie on the floors, being kicked and stomped by others. Many videos and photos have captured the horrible treatment of animals during transport. Not many would dare to eat meat from transported animals if they knew the story behind it.
This is the second time the European Parliament has asked for a committee of inquiry on animal welfare during transport. Last time, instead of a temporary committee, it was decided that the Parliament should conduct an implementation report, despite the majority of the MEPs seeking a committee.
The result of this implementation report, which was adopted in February 2019, was not a surprise. It stressed the importance of unannounced audits and checks by national authorities and called for infringement proceedings against those EU Member States not complying with the rules. The Parliament acknowledged the benefits of transporting meat and carcasses rather than live animals, and called on the Commission to develop a strategy to move to a meat-and-carcasses-only trade.
At the beginning of the current legislature, 183 MEPs submitted a new request for a temporary committee; this was supported by the vast majority of MEPs. The committee will look into Commission’s failure to act upon the serious and systematic infringements in live animal transport. To improve the situation, the rules of live animal transport need to be updated and the enforcement needs to be strengthened. We need to phaseout long-distance transportation with a maximum limit of eight hours, stop the transportation of unweaned animals, and improve the conditions for the remaining transportation. Different animals need different rules and require specific transport equipment that is suitable for them - as poultry and cows, for example, clearly have different requirements.
“Many reports have revealed gross negligence, inappropriate transport conditions and cruelty to animals being transported”
A harmonised sanction system should be set to ensure that Member States step up and tighten checks on live transports and ensure that violations are tackled effectively and appropriately. The ultimate goal for long haul transportation - one that is also supported by the World Organisation for Animal Health, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the European Food Safety Authority and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, is to reduce and replace live animal transport and substitute it with trade in meat-and-carcasses-only, as well as semen and embryos.
To support the phase out of live animal transport within Member States, the development of mobile slaughter facilities and regional slaughterhouses should be explored. We can, and should, do it better.