Rules on the duration and conditions for animal transports need to become stricter, said MEPs on a Parliament special committee after having found numerous breaches of existing animal welfare rules.
In its final session on Thursday (2 December) the inquiry committee into the protection of animals during transport adopted a report on shortcomings and breaches of the current EU rules on the issue, as well as recommendations for an upcoming overhaul of the legislation.
The committee was set up in June 2020 to investigate allegations of low compliance with the rules to protect animals during live transport in many member states.
“We have found a situation that is far from ideal,” Romanian Christian-democrat Daniel Buda, one of the Parliament’s co-rapporteurs on the file, told journalists on Friday, adding that the current regulation, drafted in 2005, was not being well-implemented on the ground.
Based on hearings with experts, member state representatives, and NGOs, as well as a number of on-site visits, the MEPs concluded that “EU provisions in this area are not always complied with in member states”.
“In many cases, the animals do not have enough space or the ambient temperature is not adapted to the species’ needs,” the committee’s chair Tilly Metz (Greens/EFA) told reporters on Thursday.
She added that the systems put in place to supply animals with water and food during the journey were often deficient or not fit for purpose.
Stricter and clearer rules
Based on their findings, the MEPs recommend that requirements on the duration of the journeys and the minimum space per animal should be made stricter and clearer. This includes an eight-hour limit on the transport of specific groups of animals as well as a ban on transporting very young animals below the age of 35 days.
Once voted on by the Parliament plenary in January, the report and recommendations are meant to inform the European Commission in its planned overhaul of the animal transport regulation.
This revamp is part of a wider effort by the Commission to review the EU’s animal welfare legislation to align it with the bloc’s food flagship policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy.
“It is important that the European Commission take this into account,” MEP Buda said. His co-rapporteur, the Portuguese socialist Isabel Carvalhais, called on the Commission to “present a clear action plan by 2023”.
Regarding the export of animals to third countries, the committee called for a harmonised certification system regarding the compliance of non-EU countries with the EU’s animal welfare standards.
Animal welfare campaigners as well as some parliamentarians criticised the recommendations for not going far enough.
To meet animals’ needs and align animal transport legislation with the Farm to Fork strategy, it would not be enough “if long-distance transports are improved rather than banned,” Reineke Hameleers, CEO of the animal welfare organisation Eurogroup for Animals, told EURACTIV.
Integrating scientific findings
Several organisations, as well as the Green group in the Parliament, had called for a general eight-hour limit for all species and purposes. “We will make massive efforts in order to still push this through in January’s plenary session,” the Greens’ Metz said.
However, the centre-right lawmaker Buda said a general ban of journeys longer than eight hours was not feasible as long as a dense network of regional abattoirs did not exist across Europe.
“If a farmer is nine hours away from the next abattoir, what are they to do – should they just let the animals die?” he asked.
The committee report also called on the Commission to align animal transport legislation with new scientific data on different species’ needs, including by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
While the current regulation is from 2005, the EFSA’s most recent Scientific Opinion on animal welfare during transport is from 2011, an EFSA spokesperson told EURACTIV. In this paper, “several recommendations were given, including on space and journey time, that have not been incorporated in the current legislation,” they added.
The Commission has also tasked EFSA with conducting a new assessment on the issue, which is due to be adopted in mid-2022.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna]