The inhumane trade in European farm animals

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

animal_slaughter.png [Compassion in World Farming (CIWF)]

The European Union’s animal welfare legislation is regarded as among the best in the world. But exported animals are no longer protected by EU transport or slaughter welfare laws once they leave its borders, writes Olga Kikou.

Olga Kikou is european affairs manager for Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), an international NGO working on the welfare of farm animals and sustainable farming and food.

During 2014, over two million farm animals were exported live from the EU to third countries in North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey. Exports of live animals are on the increase as the farming industry is in search of new markets.

However, serious welfare problems have tarnished this trade. A recent exhibition in the European Parliament called “Live animal exports: the EU’s cruellest trade”, highlighted the suffering involved in long distance live animal transport and the inhumane slaughter that animals often face at journey’s end.

The EU has put in place a number of legislative measures aiming to protect the welfare of animals. EU animal welfare legislation is regarded among the best in the world. However, conditions in third countries are vastly different from those in the EU and exported animals are no longer protected by EU transport or slaughter welfare laws once they leave its borders. In third countries, there is often no level of protection at all and slaughter practices are often in breach of the international standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) on welfare of animals at slaughter.

A wide range of slaughter practices which cause great animal suffering are common in regions where EU animals end up. Investigations in a number of countries have shown animals slaughtered by cruel, unskilled and violent methods, causing severe pain and leaving them conscious and suffering for several minutes after any wounds are inflicted, until they eventually bleed to death.

Cattle are tethered to poles or trees and are forced to the ground, their leg tendons are sometimes severed to make them easier to control. Blunt knives are used to slash repeatedly at the animals’ throats. Sheep are dragged by their rear legs, fleeces and horns, and are thrown onto their backs or sides for throat cutting. Cattle are beaten on the head with poles to force them to the ground.

In other cases, animals remain standing on all four legs while they slowly bleed from the neck. Often animals are killed at unofficial slaughter locations, dragged off trucks and chased down streets before they are slaughtered on the pavement, often outside butcher shops.

While many animals are sent to third countries for slaughter, others are sent to fattening farms first where they spend some time in filthy, cramped conditions before being sent for slaughter at a local abattoir or street-butcher. In their case, prolonging their lives might mean prolonging their suffering. Those sent for breeding could end up in systems that would be illegal in the EU and will still face inhumane slaughter at the end of their short lives. This is the end result of journeys that can last up to 14 days in cramped conditions, in trucks or ships, without proper rest, feed or water.

Despite overwhelming evidence of cruelty, the Commission will not discourage the export trade and member states continue to send animals abroad. Exports are on the rise and without any measures to ensure proper treatment of animals in third countries.

The EU even allows the export of animals to war zones where the authorities are completely unable to ensure proper slaughter conditions. In 2014, around one million animals were exported to Libya, a war-torn country. Animals are even exported to Syria. A most recent investigation found Hungarian and Romanian animals in Gaza.

There is an obvious irony here. Animals are regarded as sentient beings while in EU territory but the same animals are left to their fate once they’re sent abroad. This is certainly a double standard that needs to be scrutinised and eliminated.

In fact, this trade in live animals is in breach of Article 13 TFEU which requires the EU and the member states to pay “full regard to the welfare requirements of animals” in formulating and implementing EU agriculture policy. The “full regard” condition has not been applied in the case of exports. Besides legal obligations, there are also welfare and ethical considerations surrounding the EU live animal trade which have not been addressed despite the fact that EU institutions have been informed many times in recent years of the very serious welfare problems experienced during transport and at slaughter by EU animals.

Why then does this trade exist and could any alternatives provide long term solutions? The answer is that no trade can be associated with such serious mistreatment and abuse of animals; if it does exist, then it should be brought to an end and alternative solutions should be presented. Economic arguments should not push aside moral and ethical considerations. The EU has to prove that it is serious about its own rules and value system. It becomes imperative therefore for the EU to take responsibility for the welfare of its animals. Ending the exports of live animals is the only way to tackle such a clear cut case of inhumane treatment.

Ending this trade does not actually mean economic hardship for farmers. On the contrary, replacing the trade in live animals with exports in meat is a viable alternative that presents economic opportunities for the agriculture sector. These opportunities provide the right incentive to make the replacement of live animal exports by meat products a priority for the EU and a long term solution to a problem that has already tarnished the EU’s image.

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