The Commission and a majority of the EU member states do not want to make time limits on how long live animals can be transported across Europe. Instead, the Commission wants a better implementation of the already existing rules by making platform meetings. But talks are not enough to end the suffering of millions of slaughter animals says Eurogroup for Animals which calls for time limits and a harmonized sanction system for all member states
For many animals in Europe, it is a relief to reach the slaughterhouse because then their long journey is finally over.
The international animal welfare organisation Eurogroup for Animals estimates that at least 1 billion poultry and 37 million live cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and equines are transported each year over long distances within the EU and to third countries like Turkey.
Their journey can last several days in which the animals are exposed to exhaustion, dehydration, injuries, disease, and even death as proven in a five-year investigation from 2010-2015 carried out by the three European non-profit animal welfare organisations Eyes on Animals based in the Netherlands, the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) based in Germany and The Tierschutzbund Zürich (TSB) based in Switzerland.
The investigation demonstrated that 70 percent of the trucks inspected at the Bulgarian border to Turkey were breaching EU Transport Regulations.
The investigation team found animals starving, without water, placed in trucks parked in direct sunlight for 24 hours, sheep waiting for five days before continuing their journey and standing on carcasses of lambs that had been trampled to death.
“The report showed that the number of violations was significant,” says Francesca Porta, programme officer for farm animals from Eurogroup for Animals.
She believes that the number of infringements in Europe, in general, are growing and therefore call for new legislation.
“We need to make sure that the current legislation is well enforced and there are some key actions that can be taken in the short term to ensure this. But there’s also a need to revise the current legislation.”
Eurogroup For Animals released this video earlier this year with several examples of animal suffering during long-distance transport. A lot of the material was made by Eyes on Animals, TSB and AWF during their inspections at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey.
Eurogroup calls for a time limit
Most dominantly, Eurogroup for Animals wants a limit on how long the animals can be transported something which does not exist in the current EU legislation.
The animal welfare organisation suggests a maximum of eight hours for mammals and four hours for poultry.
“Scientific evidence says that when the length of the journey increases, the welfare of animals decreases substantially. That’s why we’re calling for a time limit,” says Mrs. Porta.
This statement is backed by ethologist and Ph.D. Kristina Odén from the Swedish Board of Agriculture, which is the Swedish Government’s expert authority in matters of agri-food policy.
“Eight hours is not a magic limit. Several studies exist, which show that the limit should be lower for some animals. For example, a maximum six hours for calves and four hours for chickens,” says Mrs. Odén.
But not only time and distance play a role when it comes to animal welfare during transport. The way the animals are transported is also an important factor, says Mrs. Odén.
“As is the condition of the animals. It is quite obvious that animals that aren’t well in one way or another may have problems during a transport – and the risk increases the longer the journey is,” she says.
The Commission: “We don’t need new rules”
A time limit on animal transport may face long prospects since the current European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis from Lithuania, has expressed no plans of making new legislation.
Instead, he stated in November during the EU Platform meeting on animal welfare that the current legislation – described in the EU Transport Regulation from 2005 – is sufficient since it already defines the responsibilities of all participants involved in the transport chain of live animals.
The rules ensure that the animals get proper food, space and the essential needs for their survival and wellbeing during the transportation. On transport lasting longer than eight hours the legislation also specifies stricter rules on for example stopovers.
“It needs to be said and stressed that we have one of the most comprehensive rules and regulations in place in the whole world which are based on the principle that animals must not be transported in a way likely to cause injury or cause suffering to animals,” says Anca Paduraru, spokesperson for the Commissioner on Health and Food Safety.
Another reason for not supporting an eight-hour limit is that the Commission is not convinced that it would ensure better animal welfare.
“The people should know that there’s no conclusive scientific evidence to support an overall transport time limit for all species. The legislation aims to ensure that animals are transported in a way that doesn’t cause them any suffering. The way you transport them is perhaps more important than the time the animals are being transported,” Mrs. Paduraru says.
Focus is on implementing the rules
But if the current legislation has no faults, why are there still cases where animals are found suffering in the trucks, you might ask. The reason, according to the Commission, is that the implementation of the legislation – now 12 years after it was introduced – is not fully complete in all of the member states.
In the past year, the Commission has therefore hosted two EU Platform Meetings on Animal Welfare – the first in June and the second in November – and created a subgroup on animal transportation in order to speed up the process of implementing the rules.
The members of the platform meetings and the subgroup are member states, international animal organisations, business organisations, people from civil society and independent experts and the idea is that they can exchange best practices.
“It is also a question of culture because some countries might be more protective when it comes to animals than others. People might think differently and have different habits and it’s good for them to meet in this group and establish best ways to do it,” says Mrs. Paduraru.
Eurogroup for Animals is represented in both the platform meetings on animal welfare and the subgroup on animal transportation and it has high expectations in the outcome. It will try to use the meetings to promote the export of frozen meat instead of living animals and try to get all the member states to agree on a harmonized sanction system.
“In certain member states you have strict sanctions but in other member states, you just receive a notification when you break the rules, which is not enough to have a good implementation of the legislation. We think that a subgroup is the best arena to work on this strategy,” Mrs. Porta says.
Even though Eurogroup for Animals had hoped for time limits on animal transport and has collected over a million signatures from European citizens who support it following their campaign ‘Stop the Trucks’ from the spring of 2016, Mrs. Porta is not disappointed that the Commission instead of proposing new legislation has chosen to create platform meetings and a subgroup.
“No, we are really pleased with the result of this campaign because now the transport is back on the agenda. It was not discussed before. We now have a subgroup which was a great achievement and we’re really happy with the result we’ve got,” she says.
MEP: Animal welfare is a small thing for the Commission
However, not everybody shares the enthusiasm for the platform meetings and the subgroup.
The Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout from the Greens-European Free Alliance hopes that the meetings can result in some agreements among individual member states to impose stricter rules on animal transport in their own country. But he is disappointed that the Commission is not willing to propose new legislation.
As a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety he is fighting for an eight-hour limit on animal transport but he does not think any legislation will happen during this commission’s term (2014-2019).
“My only conclusion is that animal welfare is a small thing for this commission. They don’t care. There are hardly any initiatives coming from the commission on animal welfare, it’s more like deregulation and fewer rules. I have given up on this commission for this part,” he says.
Mrs. Paduraru, the spokesperson for the Health and Food Safety Commissioner, rejects Bas Eickhout’s claim and states that this commission is the first one to make platform meetings and a subgroup.
She emphasizes that both the platform meetings and the subgroup have members who are politicians, independent experts and are from the civil society, from businesses and international organisations.
“If this isn’t the best framework to discuss animal transport and to improve the rules then you tell me what we should do?” she asks.
The influence of the lobby groups
When it comes down to it, it is not just the Commission who are standing in the way of making a limit on how long animals can be transported. If the Commission at some point decides to make it into a proposal it would need to be passed both in the Parliament and in the Council of Ministers before it can turn into law.
And so far, only five countries – Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden – support a time limit on animal transport while countries in Eastern Europe, France, Spain, and Italy are the biggest opponents.
“The last time we were discussing it in 2012 in the Parliament, in the end, there was no majority. The agricultural lobby was stronger. That happens quite often in this house,” says Mr. Eickhouts.
One of the lobby groups who oppose stricter rules on animal transportation is the European Farmers and European Agri-Cooperatives (Copa-Cogeca). As long as the animals have resting periods and food and water then it shouldn’t be a problem, says Amanda Chesley, press officer for Copa-Cogeca.
“Also, the facilities in the trucks are quite good now like ventilation. In general, the standards are high. And then you have these few cases that aren’t and these are sometimes promoted by the animal welfare organisations,” says Mrs. Chesley.
Whether or not new rules on animal transport is the best way to improve the welfare of slaughter animals, the goal seems to be the same for all the stakeholders in this debate. As Mrs. Paduraru, spokesperson for the Health and Food Safety Commissioner, clearly formulates it:
“Animal transport is one of the longest lasting practices in the world so there’s little you can do to stop it. The thing to do is to try to limit the stress and harm that risk being done to the animals and this is what we’re aiming to do.”