Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team
Animal welfare has become an increasing concern of both consumers and civil society groups. With agriculture and livestock at the heart of EU traditions, the total number of animals for food and farming within the bloc is impressive. In 2018, EU herds counted 87 million bovine animals, 147 million pigs, 100 million sheep and goats, 290 million laying hens, countless poultry chicks and other types of animals, from rabbits to horses. Most of these animals have, or will, experience domestic transport – transport from the farm to the slaughterhouse, or from one farm to another, or for production reasons – and some will undertake international journeys. Whether domestic, cross border in the EU or international, some of these distances can be of significant length and animal welfare must be considered for all occasions and for each different species of animal.
Despite increased calls for meat consumption to be reduced, there is no sign that this is going to happen. Globally, 346.14 million tons of meat are consumed every year (2018). In 2030 this number is expected to rise to 453 million tonnes, a 44% increase. Meat comes from animals which, under European legislation, are transported live. EU legislation regulates for the protection of animals during transport, including in relation to trade. This happens in both intra-EU trade and with EU imports and exports to or from third countries. Sadly, over the last years, reports of breaches of the rules and accidents have raised concerns about the transport of live animals. The sheer volume of international trade in live animals has resulted in serious animal welfare concerns and violations of recognised animal welfare standards, including of the World Organisation For Animal Health, a World Trade Organisation(WTO)standard (OIE-Standard).
An estimated two billion animals are transported each year by road, sea or air. Some of these journeys can take several weeks passing through different jurisdictions with different rules and social dimensions regarding animal welfare obligations. Most third countries have limited legislation on animal welfare and this renders EU legislation meaningless. Despite requirements for supply chain audits, control checks during the journeys and commitments to good animal welfare codes of practice, animals continue to suffer on their journeys. Where known breaches do occur, enforcement is complicated, often exasperated by a lack of information or cooperation with local officials.
The most important European legal standards regulating the transport of live animals have not been significantly revised since they came into force, in 2005, despite numerous studies and demands for a higher level of animal welfare. Whilst the EU Commission policy focuses on general conditions for the transport of live animals, it is the European Agencies, Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW) and the European Food and Safety Agency (EFSA) who are responsible for providing data and analysis by which the EU decision makers form legislation. Additionally, the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) carries out audits to analyse the differences between Member States regarding the enforcement of the regulation’s provisions. These cooperations have led to a sharing of enforcement practices and harmonisation at EU level but have not led to any legislative reinforcement of the regulations. Hence, multiple voids in the systems have resulted in repeated failings. The inability of enforcement officials to access electronic data, evidence crucial for enforcement, as well as information exchange between Member States, sea transport on ships and ferries and transport legs in third countries allows for the non-compliance of EU rules and maltreatment of animals during their journeys, even within the EU’s borders.
Within the European Union, the “EU Network of National Contact Points (NCP) on Animal Welfare during Transport” exists to improve and standardise regulatory controls on road transport for live animal exports to third countries covering the loading of animals, the route planning and access to electronic data. They have suggested that control points and plausibility checks, the existence of route-related emergency plans and the inclusion of weather forecasts should be endorsed in EU regulations. The Commission, for its part, has established a platform for animal welfare with the participation of delegates from industry, science and the authorities from the Member States. This has allowed for the development and implementation of “good” as well as “better practices” for the transportation of animals.
Proposals have been put forward but not yet implemented nor laid down in legislation for control points both inside and outside the EU. Additional considerations could include that transport, resting and feeding intervals are adapted, first to the actual needs of the animals and secondly to their individual coping capacity, and that the authorised duration of transport should be limited to 8 hours. These considerations should be irrespective of the means of transport and include the loading and unloading processes. The rules should be based on each individual species and categories of animal species. The harmonisation, standardisation and digitalisation of the enforcement of animal welfare law by competent authorities are key elements to improve animal welfare during long journeys.
Large differences in practices have been identified in European Member States leading to serious animal welfare violations, as confirmed by numerous evidence based reports from NGOs. These violations are usually not detected, nor punished, by competent authorities. On account of this, legal norms on animal welfare during transport inside the European Union, and as a condition of EU trade agreements with third countries, must be revised. Poor compliance and improper enforcement of legislation lead to poor animal welfare and the Commission must not only update the legislation but it must also improve enforcement to stimulate and facilitate the work of competent authorities in each Member States.