Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Opinion

Long-distance animal transport: unthinkable still happening

  • The heat inside the livestock compartment can be unbearable with animals desperately panting for air and water (Photo: Eurogroup for Animals)

The transportation of live animals has caused societal outrage for decades.

Citizens are baffled by the fact why in the 21st century we are still barbarically transporting live animals over extremely long distances.

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As opposed to other business sectors and in times of advanced transportation technologies, the livestock transport sector hasn't embraced innovation and live transport volume and duration only increasing.

Thursday was World Live Animal Transport Awareness Day. We are still wondering why this dossier has been stuck for such a long time and what's needed to break the stalemate.

Today, the EU is transporting over a billion live animals annually of which a growing percentage travel far beyond the borders of our Union.

Transport conditions are barbaric, insulting our society's moral values. Packed into overcrowded trucks and ships, animals often have insufficient headroom meaning that they have to stand in unnatural positions sometimes for days on end.

The heat inside the livestock compartment can be unbearable with animals desperately panting for air and water.

With often insufficient food or water animals become so hungry and thirsty that they resort to eating their bedding, which is filthy with their excrement.

Suffering from exhaustion and hunger, many animals collapse onto the floor and risk being trampled by others.

The livestock sector has been transporting live animals for decades, with a steep upward trend in live exports over the past few years.

Proponents of the status quo say that it is more lucrative to transport live animals than to transport meat and that supply chains impose it because moving animals at milestones during their lifetime - birth, rearing, fattening, slaughter - is a fundamental driver of efficient animal rearing.

But this view is very short-sighted and ignores the broader societal implications of this practice.

Numerous scientific and investigative reports show that live animal transport comes at an incredible price for animals, the environment, public health and food safety at a time when more humane and more sustainable alternatives exist.

Failure to enforce 1991 rules

The EU has legislation to protect animals during transport since 1991 but has failed to enforce it properly ever since.

Some provisions of the Transport Regulation 1/2005 are just not enforceable. Legal provisions about access to water during transport, to avoid animals get dehydrated, under their current formulation don't guarantee the desired impact.

Practice shows that trucks are never equipped with enough drinking devices to cater to the needs of all animals and that overcrowding makes efficient drinking on board virtually impossible.

Enforcement is also challenged by absence of harmonised sanctions to uniformly and effectively tackle ill-compliances throughout EU.

With the Transport Regulation leaving full freedom to member states to define sanctions and their application, penalties are both too low and inconsistently applied to be dissuasive.

It seems the European Commission also lacks the political will to act, despite overwhelming evidence that the law is ignored. Hundreds of official inspections and audit reports have shown that the Transport Regulation has been systematically violated, both for transport of live animals inside and outside the EU.

90 percent failure rate

2017 Commission audit reports concluded animal protection during live transport failed across about 90 percent of member states inspected, both during the EU part and in the later journey outside the EU.

Individual departing country are obliged to to ensure compliance with key aspects of the regulation until the end of the journey outside the EU.

The commission has promised to step up control actions and is investing in stronger enforcement. But shouldn't the conclusion be that the legislation is just not fit for purpose, politicians need to reflect citizens' moral expectations and that it is time to consider structural solutions to reduce this systematic and cautioned animal suffering?

German federal and regional state ministers for agriculture recently pledged to ban live export and the Dutch government committed to investigate how live animal transport can be replaced.

The European Parliament is undertaking an "implementation report" to take the commission's and member states' failure to consistently apply the EU Transport Regulation closely under the loop and make strong recommendations to address these breaches of EU law.

Clearly, momentum is growing to break the stalemate and innovate to cope with the present and be resilient in the future.

A complete overhaul of animal products' supply chains is needed, privileging local food chains including local slaughtering which is proven to benefit the environment, the resilience of our economy, food safety and animal welfare.

Import figures from third countries like Jordan show the infrastructure exists to store chilled and frozen meat as a viable alternative to transporting animals over long distances.

Policy makers and the livestock trading industry continually justify this trade with economic arguments. It appears though that habit and short term economic interests represent their biggest resistance to explore these new solutions.

Under the announced single market programme a long term strategy to transport meat and carcasses could be developed while ongoing discussions concerning the future CAP offer the right environment to question the incentives and disincentives in place to lead to this desired result.

Meanwhile, to deter operators from shamefully exploiting our enforcement weaknesses and mount up pressure for member states to respect the rule of law, it is the European commission's duty to start infringement procedures, with no further delay, against systemically ill-compliant member states.

Karin Kadenbach MEP, is an Austrian politician from the Social Democratic Party, part of the Party of European Socialists. She is also the vice-president of the European Parliament intergroup for the welfare and conservation of animals. Reineke Hameleers is the director of Eurogroup for Animals.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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