Leaked transport regulation draft fails the animals for “business as usual”

Leaked transport regulation draft fails the animals for “business as usual”

1 December 2023
A revised Regulation on live animal transport, possibly together with rules on cat and dog breeding, is the only piece of updated legislation that will be put forward in this political term. This is at a time when we, and millions of European Citizens, fully expected the European Commission to deliver on its firm commitment to revise all animal welfare rules.

It is, therefore, all the more striking that the leaked Commission’s legislative proposal on the transport of animals is even less ambitious than we could have imagined.

The general tone is that animal welfare is a common good, but business is business and as few obstacles as possible must be put in its way’. Perhaps the most evident proof is that the extremely controversial live exports to non-EU countries are here to stay, albeit with more restrictions, most notably on the vessels that can be authorised for sea consignments. There is even an explicit recognition that this is a lucrative sector and that someone else would profit from it if the EU decided to withdraw. 

The draft Regulation appears to ignore the European Court of Justice Ruling (C-424/13) establishing that animals must be protected according to EU legislation until their final destination, within or outside the EU territory. According to the new draft rules, the operators who should be reporting any animal welfare problems are the same people in charge of the animals during the journey. The same people who are profiting from the business. We can only imagine how eager these operators will be to report their own violations to the competent authorities.

For the rest, the alignment with the recommendations of the latest scientific opinions commissioned to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is inconsistent, and some of the requests of the Animal Transport Committee of the European Parliament (ANIT) have been disregarded. True, the leaked draft includes some positive elements, among which the most important are the proposed lower maximum journey times for most species, updated space allowances, compulsory real-time traceability of all road journeys, and the minimum age of five weeks for transporting unweaned calves. But, as is often the case, the devil is in the details, and those details are concerning. 

To start with a striking example, unweaned animals (calves, lambs, foals, etc.) are recognised as vulnerable but, thanks to a derogation, can still be transported for two consecutive 9h periods with a 1h period of rest in between (so 19h in total) if the trucks are equipped with specific feeding devices - whose effectiveness the Commission intends to “verify”. As if this weren’t enough, when the journey of unweaned calves is roll-on, roll-off (RORO, meaning that the trucks are partially transported by sea), the time spent at sea is not included in the total journey calculations - as if hunger, dehydration, and exhaustion in unweaned animals (and indeed, in all animals) were not time-dependent. This provision, which is so damaging it beggars belief, to all effects legitimises the Irish dairy calf export trade, which in 2022 involved 153.000 calves (for 2023, the numbers have already increased by 30,000 animals). Dairy calves are sent on 18h RORO crossings to be further transported to fattening or slaughter to international destinations. The current requirement to rest the animals for 12 hours after a long RORO crossing apparently disappeared from the new draft Regulation. Another favour to the industry in plain sight. There is also no real consideration for end-of-production (ie, cull) or pregnant animals, two additional vulnerable categories. 

Only animals that are fit for transport should start a journey. However, although fitness for transport is a prerequisite before an animal can be loaded (and it should be guaranteed for the entire journey), the proposal does not provide any concrete and species-specific ways to assess this fitness. EFSA had proposed a series of animal-based indicators in its last scientific opinions: for instance, severely lame poultry or poultry with open wounds/prolapses, broken legs or wings should not be transported. Similarly, severely lame cattle or cattle with pneumonia should be considered unfit for transport. The operators cannot make informed decisions without clear and species-specific indicators of reasons for excluding a vulnerable animal from starting a journey. The draft Regulation only mandates the use of (yet-to-be-defined) indicators at the destination, but this is insufficient to protect animal welfare for the whole journey. 

Other shortcomings concern the allowed minimum and maximum temperatures for transporting animals. Again, looking at the most recent EFSA recommendations, the proposed ranges of temperatures, particularly the maximum allowed ambient temperatures (30 degrees) for transports during the daytime, are inadequate to guarantee animal welfare. For farmed animals there is no mention of minimum and maximum allowed temperatures inside the trucks or containers, nor does the draft mention compulsory monitoring systems for microclimate inside the vehicles (again, ignoring EFSA’s recommendations). 

All the while, contingency plans, while mandatory, are not described in any detail, posing another hazard to animal welfare in case of traffic disruptions, extreme weather conditions, accidents, disease outbreaks, etc. Throughout the text of the new draft, there is a strong emphasis on the responsibility of organisers, drivers/transporters and staff at the final destination for the welfare of the animals in their care. This is also present in the current Regulation, and it begs the question of why commercial operators should denounce themselves to the competent authorities if their failure to enforce the Regulation leads to animal welfare problems.

Is it all doom and gloom, then? This proposal does have some progressive elements, particularly concerning the real-time traceability of each live animal consignment (which would become compulsory) and the recording of relevant data for enforcement purposes. Additionally, we welcome the proposal that ships flying “black flags” (severely sub-standard), which at the moment constitute 55% of the EU-approved livestock transport fleet, would no longer be allowed to operate. Only ships flying a white or grey flag (good or average performance) would be able to obtain the relevant authorisation certificates. The Commission intends to exercise more control over live animal transport data, but how the data will be used is still unknown, also because they will not be publicly available. The scope is extended to aquatic animals and recognises the most important aspects for their welfare, however, a delegated act will be required to introduce measurable and species-specific requirements, or there will be no impact on aquatic animals from the text in this draft. 

When it comes to companion animals (cats and dogs) the draft presents new species-specific criteria but some provisions are generic and vague. While it’s good to see that the minimum age has been set at 15 weeks, it’s astonishing that there is still no maximum journey time. This means that cats and dogs, even pregnant ones, can be transported for days and days, and the only requirement is to feed them “at least every 24 hours”. 

For animals transported for “scientific purposes”, the details remain again vague. There are limitations: only a proportion of these animals would benefit from such protection. The animals used in projects authorised under Directive 2010/63/EU would remain unprotected. Animals that are transported by air, as non-human primates that are imported to EU laboratories, and vulnerable animals, as for example certain genetically altered animals, and animals that have undergone surgery also seem to miss protection under this proposal.

Will animal welfare be substantially improved should this draft become legislation? From our analysis, the answer is no.