Eyewitness account: I followed lambs being transported across Italy


Eyewitness account: I followed lambs being transported across Italy

5 April 2024
Essere Animali
Our Farm Animals Programme Officer, Susanna Blattner, was recently invited by our member Essere Animali to follow trucks transporting lambs across Italy. The purpose of the investigation was to monitor any legal violations to the animals, intervening where possible, and to record firsthand the experiences of these lambs to show where the current Transport Regulation is falling dramatically short of protecting their welfare. This is her account of her experience.

As a veterinarian with experience in slaughterhouses, I thought I was ready for this experience. I arrived on the day of the investigation prepared; I reviewed European regulations until I could cite the most common breach articles from memory. I studied Italian regulations, legislative decrees, previous investigations, watched hours of videos, and talked to several colleagues to prepare myself as best as I could.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. Theory doesn't prepare you for certain things, and from this experience, I return even angrier and sadder but with a greater awareness of the importance of my role in Brussels.


The days were organised like this: wake up at 4am, head to a service station in Friuli, near the border with Slovenia, and wait in the car until a truck containing lambs arrived (sometimes they stopped at the service station) to follow and monitor it. In case of obvious irregularities, call the police and report any problems.

I expected long hours of waiting, but instead, the trucks kept coming. Sometimes I could even hear the lambs bleating from tens of metres away, and every truck spotted with a Hungarian or Romanian licence plate was a blow to the heart.

Their bleating was persistent. I still have it in my ears.

The times when the trucks stopped at a service station and I had the opportunity to inspect them were devastating. The trucks were overcrowded, the lambs touching the upper shelf with their heads, unable to drink. When I stroked them, they searched for me insistently, as if they understood that I was there for them.

Their bleating was persistent; I still have it in my ears. One morning, we followed a truck from Friuli to Emilia Romagna - four hours of pursuit during which even on the highway, with the windows closed, I could hear their lament.


One of the things that struck me the most was my complete helplessness. I met police officers with big hearts who, when I explained that I was a veterinarian, listened to me and called Italian colleagues to try to do something for the welfare of those poor animals and penalise the people who had allowed such cruelties. I met veterinarians who worked with heart, and above all professionalism, ready to meticulously inspect every truck and penalise every minor infringement, with tearful eyes. But I also encountered police officers who accused me of wasting their time for "such a thing", and veterinarians who laughed in my face because I wasn't in touch with reality and it made no sense to fine a truck for "so little." The "so little" were more than 800 lambs on a truck without adequate safety measures and devices for drinking.

A stronger Transport Regulation will be the key to changing the sad state of live animal transport.

However, what troubled me the most was the impossibility of protecting the animals being transported due to endless bureaucratic loopholes: the grey areas of the current transport law, that allow transporters to do things without considering animal welfare at all, the inability of law enforcement to impose adequate penalties, and so on. 


But there was something that gave me a glimmer of hope - the people I met during this experience.

The petrol station attendant who, while we waited at the service station for the arrival of the veterinarians, brought us a bowl to give water to the lambs.

The clerk who, when he realised what we were doing, showed us videos of other atrocities done to animals that he had managed to film.

The travellers who, when they arrived at the service stations, came to ask us what was happening to the animals, and upon our explanation, realised the cruelty of this practice.

The television journalist who was with me all day to film the events, and at the end said to me, "But how can I still eat these little animals now?"

It was a strong, bittersweet experience, one that would be very challenging to repeat due to the physical and emotional fatigue it incurred, but one I will never forget either. I am now even more motivated to work hard, and fight to protect the millions of animals transported every year.

It’s critical the European Commission takes its revision to the Transport Regulation seriously, creating species-specific rules across the sector that robustly protect the welfare of all animals involved.

Live animal transport: due time to change the rules

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