Live animal transport

Each year, millions of chickens, sheep, goats, horses, pigs and bovines are transported alive within the EU and to third 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 EU Regulation 1/2005 (the EU 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). One Eyes on Animals investigation followed calves aged between 2 and 3 weeks old on their journey from Ireland to the European continent: once arrived in France, 2,500 calves were unloaded at a control post to be fed. Hungry and scared, they were handled impatiently and roughly, and some were hit, pulled by their ears or kicked.

WELFARM and Animal Welfare Foundation 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 humans. 

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. Despite the verdict by the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) establishing mandatory compliance with the EU Transport Regulation provisions until final destination regardless of this being outside the EU,  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.

Our Member Organisations have shown that in third country destinations, the majority of EU animals exported alive 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.

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 Council Regulation 1/2005 which entered into force at the beginning of 2007 and applies to all the transport across and from the EU. The Transport Regulation is outdated and very unevenly implemented, as revealed by the EU Parliament Research Service (EPRS) in 2018, and corroborated by the EP via the Implementation Report on this matter. One particular area of concern is the general fitness for travel of the animals, with the term ‘fitness’ open to interpretation, as well as a lack of training among farmers and inspectors, to be able to determine it. This uncertainty routinely leads to severe violations, such as unweaned animals being transported across the EU and beyond its borders. 

Confronted with 13 years of violations and aware of the Transport Regulation unsuitability to meet its scope, in 2020 the EU Commission finally announced its revision. The EU Parliament set up a Committee of Inquiry on live transport which  will examine the responsibilities of the EU Commission and the EU Member States in implementing and enforcing the Transport Regulation.