Commission wants ‘real progress’ on live animal transport but no law review plans

The Commission insists it wants to prioritise animal welfare but is so far unwilling to review existing legislation on transporting animals. [Carsten ten Brink/Flickr]

EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis wants to see “real progress” in the proper implementation of animal transport rules, a European Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.com. But the EU executive claims the current legislation is comprehensive and does not plan to review it.

Eurogroup for Animals and other NGOs advocating for animal welfare have put pressure on the European Commission to review legislation from 2005, which sets rules for the protection of animals during transport.

According to data, a record one billion poultry and 37 million live cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and horses were transported in and out of the EU in 2009.

Citing scientific evidence, animal welfare advocacy groups claim that the longer a journey is the worse it is for animal welfare and therefore, are pushing for a review of the regulation.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stressed in a report that in order to reduce the risk of transport-associated disease outbreaks “there is a need to reduce the journey times”.

In addition, the European Parliament has also called on the Commission to review the legislation and establish a maximum eight-hour limit for animals transported for the purpose of being slaughtered.

“Journeys to slaughter and/or to further fattening take over 30 hours, the worst over 70 hours, and involves extensive suffering for animals,” Eurogroup for Animals said in a report.

They also stressed that mortality rates have significantly increased (due to cold, heat, stress, exposure to vibration and acceleration) especially for young animals like calves.

The activists claim that the animals are transferred abroad in overcrowded trucks for slaughtering as it is cheaper. But during these journeys, according to the NGOs, the animals are getting into a painful process and the current EU legislation fails to protect them.

“Over the years we have seen hundreds of investigative reports and audits showcasing that this regulation is just not fit for purpose. What are we waiting for? When will the EU finally live up its reputation as global animal welfare leader?” Eurogroup for Animals Director Reineke Hameleers told EURACTIV.

Over 1 million signatures have been gathered for the StopTheTrucks campaign, which aims to cut long-distance transportation. But it still seems there is no political appetite for a review of the rules in the executive.

The Commission’s stance

Asked by EURACTIV whether the EU executive was considering these scientific and political concerns, a European Commission spokesperson replied “yes” and confirmed it has received the petition and will reply.

The EU spokesperson said that while official data indicates that long road transport of live animals for export was “not a particularly problematic area”, it is a priority animal welfare area for the Commission’s services.

“Whilst daily implementation of EU legislation falls under the responsibilities of the member states, the Commission has been consistently working to help member states improve enforcement through various actions,” the EU official emphasised.

They highlighted a number of initiatives that the executive has already taken to address the situation such as hosting regular meetings of national contact points for animal welfare as well as on the spot visits of the Commission services in Bulgaria and Turkey to get first-hand information on the problems and their causes.

The EU recently established an EU Platform on Animal Welfare aiming to promote an enhanced dialogue on animal welfare issues.

“This could offer also concrete possibilities to improve the situation in the field of animal transport and Commissioner Andriukaitis is determined to make use of the Platform to reach real progress on the ground on this issue,” the EU spokesperson stated, adding that the creation of a subgroup on transport within the Platform will be tackled during the next meeting of the Platform on 10 November.

No review of regulation

However, it seems the Commission is not willing to change the relevant legislation and enact further restrictions.

“The EU rules are among the most comprehensive in the world and are based on the principle that animals must not be transported in a way likely to cause injury or undue suffering to them,” the official noted referring to the Regulation 1/2005.

As for journeys exceeding eight hours, the regulation offers more efficient monitoring tools and stricter rules, including a substantial upgrading of vehicle standards, the Commission claims.

The executive also stressed that overall data show that compliance in relation to animals exported to non-EU countries is high (close to 95% and a bit lower in summer months) and the “episodes of bad welfare are not the norm”.

Another aspect the Commission is intending to enhance its action is law enforcement.

“The Commission started to audit several member states in 2017 and it will continue this action in 2018, focusing in particular on the transport of live animals to non-EU countries. These audits will include transport by road but also export by livestock vessels.”

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