Live animal transport

In 2019 over 1,600,000,000 ovines, bovines, poultry and pigs were transported alive across the European Union and to non-European (EU) countries. Journeys can last several days or even weeks, exposing animals to exhaustion, dehydration, injury, disease and even death.

Routinely, investigations on live transport both via sea and road find serious breaches of the Council Regulation 1/2005 (Transport Regulation). Official audits confirm NGOs’ investigations  findings. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, DG SANTE audited 11 Member States and visited Turkey: shortcomings with different levels of severity were found in the majority of them concerning transport both via sea and by road. For instance, the audits carried out in France, one of the biggest EU exporters of live animals, concluded that “the measures in place do not provide satisfactory assurances that exports of live animals operate smoothly and that these journeys are correctly planned and carried out in line with animal welfare requirements to prevent causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to the animal”. Particularly problematic is when trucks and vessels load very young animals that are still on milk dietary (unweaned animals). 

WELFARM and AWF followed a truck loaded with 155 young calves being transported from Poland to the Franco-German border. Investigators found that the animals were kept in the truck for 20 hours, with no breaks or unloading and no access to water and food, in clear breach of the Transport Regulation.

It’s even worse in the summer, when temperatures as high as 30 degrees Celsius create hellish conditions, causing even more health and welfare problems to the animals being transported. Over this period the demand for live animals by third countries increases due to the ‘Festival of Sacrifice’. As a consequence, an impressive number of live sheeps and cattle are sent to the Middle East via European ports (Cartagena, Midia, Rasa, and Sete are the major exit points for live export) and the Bulgarian/Turkish border, which remains a hotspot with crisis happening every year.  

In the past years we have seen the EU Commission sending letters to the EU competent authorities warning them about the risk for animal welfare related to the high temperatures. With some exceptions, its calls remained unheard over the years. The case of Romania is emblematic: a DG SANTE audit revealed how poorly the country is implementing the EU Transport Regulation, moreover it exported 70,000 sheep in disregard of legally binding animal welfare standards and the call of the then EU Commissioner V. Andriukaitis to stop that operation. 

In addition to these long journeys impacting the animals welfare, they’re also badly treated by operators with  inadequate equipment. Recently we witnessed what happens if one of these ships perishes: the death by drowning of both animals and human beings. Also, our Member Organisations have shown that upon arrival in third countries, the majority of the animals are handled in a brutal manner and slaughtered without stunning. A recent investigation revealed the cruelty with which French farm animals are treated when they reach slaughterhouses in Morocco and Lebanon. 

The transport of live animals to non-EU countries is particularly problematic. Besides the problems at departure, the animals have to endure very long journeys in countries where they cannot benefit from the legal protection they receive in the EU. As confirmed by the cases of the animals on board the vessels Karim Allah and Elbeik, very often contingency plans do not exist, regardless they are mandatory by law. 

Despite the verdict by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) establishing mandatory compliance with the EU Transport Regulation provisions until final destination regardless of this being outside the European Union, it is impossible to monitor such a compliance. De facto this trade continues regardless of the lack of information by Member States and the EU Commission on whether these countries implement EU animal welfare transport standards.

sheep loading

WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?

Live animal transport emerged as one of the top concerns for EU citizens “for the future of agriculture, fishery and food production in Europe”, in the latest Future of Europe survey.

This was also demonstrated by the success of Eurogroup for Animals’ StopTheTrucks campaign in 2016-2017, which exceeded its target of one million signatures.

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

To protect the welfare of animals during transport, the EU set a series of requirements in the Transport Regulation, which entered into force in January 2007 and applies to all the transport across and from the EU. As recently confirmed by the EU Parliament Implementation Report on this matter, the Transport Regulation is outdated and very unevenly implemented. To shed light on this situation, in 2020 the EU Parliament set up a Committee of Inquiry on live transport to assess the responsibilities of the EU Commission and the EU Member States in implementing and enforcing the Transport Regulation. 

Meanwhile, the EU Commission announced the revision of the Transport Regulation in the framework of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy. To make sure the revised text will enhance animal welfare and support the building up of a sustainable food production chain, Eurogroup for Animals wrote a White Paper ‘Live animal transport: time to change the rules’. The paper provides the EU Commission and the EU co-legislators with species- and category-specific provisions and ad-hoc definitions, to ensure the welfare of all the animals transported alive.