EU Countries Ignoring Animal Transport Laws

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 19, 2000 (ENS) - Animals are often subject to brutalities and improper care and handling, according to a report, which finds major shortcomings in enforcement of European Union transport rules.

Horses are particularly ill treated, according to the report, which looked at animal transport conditions in Central and Eastern Europe to include states attempting to join the 15 member European Union.


Today's report confirmed NGOs claims that European directives aimed at protecting animals in transit are frequently ignored. (Photos courtesy CIWF)
Since the opening up of Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, about 140,000 live horses have been imported into the European Union annually for slaughter, mainly by road.

Poland, Baltic States, Hungary and Romania are the main exporters and Italy is the main importer (more than 80 percent), meaning horses are travelling long distances before reaching the European Union.

As a result, horses reach the border of the European Union insufficiently rested, poorly watered and unfed. Vehicles are often inappropriate for long distance transport, overloaded and minimum welfare requirements are disregarded.

Italian border officials were singled out for criticism for their lack of enforcement on these minimum welfare requirements.

But the problem is not confined to horses. In the UK, in 1998, around 700,000 lambs and sheep were exported for slaughter in continental abattoirs. Some 500,000 live cattle are exported from the European Union, mainly Germany and Ireland, to the Middle East and North Africa.

Animals are also exported from Australia to the Middle East and South East Asia.

Animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) has folders full of photos showing the appalling conditions in which many animals are transported to slaughter, and shelves full of undercover videos documenting cruelty.

In August 1999, UK and French sheep were left at the Italian port of Bari for 48 hours waiting for a ship to take them to Greece. They were kept locked in trucks without water in blistering heat, said the group.

When CIWF investigators convinced authorities to unload the sheep, about 115 UK lambs and 45 French sheep had died.


CIWF has trailed journeys lasting well over 30 hours in which cattle have not been fed or watered.
The group claimed this is not an isolated incident and has followed journeys of UK sheep being taken from Belgium to southern Italy in journeys lasting well over 30 hours without a break. In 1997, the group trailed three consignments of sheep from Italy to Greece for over 50 hours, during which time, the sheep were given neither food or water.

The European Commission's report today confirmed the claims of CIWF and other animal welfare organizations, that laws in the exporting or transit countries are inadequate to protect the welfare of animals during transport.

Under European Union law, the most commonly transported animals - horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry - can be transported for up to eight hours without a break. With upgraded vehicles and specific conditions concerning watering and feeding intervals, this limit can be extended.

According to animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), such rules are frequently ignored, leading to animals being transported for up to 30 hours.

The report found major shortcomings in enforcement of the legislation by national authorities.

During cross border long distance transport, animals are often subject to "brutalities and improper care and handling," or are "unfit to be transported in the first place," said the report.

Rules on prior approval of route plans and on maximum travel times for animal transports are not respected. Remedial action from the side of member states' inspectors is rare and in certain countries enforcement of animal transport rules appears to have low priority.


Lambs to the slaughter.
Under European Union law, before departure, the transporter must submit a route plan to the official veterinarian describing all the steps of the journey, including time of departure and arrival, feeding and watering stops, stops at staging points, and any change of vehicle.

Under legislation which took effect January 1, 1997, member states were supposed to submit an annual report to the Commission stating the number of inspections carried out, including details of any reported infringements and the action taken as a result.

Today's report said some member countries had yet to provide full inspection reports for 1997 or 1998, despite repeated reminders. Greece sent no information at all.

Announcing that the European Commission intends to strengthen both the legislation and its enforcement, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne said the rules on animal welfare during transport must be respected.

"The Commission will not tolerate the shortcomings in the implementation found in this report," said Byrne.

"Where necessary, we will make the legislation's requirements clearer and more precise to facilitate proper enforcement. European citizens are increasingly concerned about animal welfare issues and this Commission is committed to improving welfare standards in the European Union.

"But national governments have the primary responsibility for the day to day implementation of animal welfare rules and must make sure that transport firms abide by the law."

The European Commission is now working on short term proposals to improve the format of the route plan and giving clearer and more precise definitions of animals unfit for transport.

It wants improvements in the cooperation and coordination between national authorities involved in cross border transport.

The current European directive, or law, on animal transport will be amended next spring. Amendments will include new rules requiring temperature monitoring and ventilation of trucks used for long distance animal transport.


Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
CIWF called the European Commission's proposals helpful, but argued that they do not go far enough.

"We are very disappointed that the Commissionís report does not propose the only humane solution, which is that the European Union should adopt a fundamental change of policy whereby the long distance transport of live animals is abandoned and replaced by a meat trade," said a CIWF statement.

"Most of the suffering involved in long journeys could be avoided if animals were slaughtered near the farm of rearing," said the group. "The meat could then be transported to where it is wanted."

The Commission briefly mentions this issue, saying that "measures to encourage the slaughter of animals closer to the places where they are raised also merit examination."

CIWF had also hoped for action on transport of live animals to so called "third countries," beyond Europe.

Hundreds of thousands of live cattle are exported from the European Union to the Middle East and North Africa every year. In 1999 the figure was 323,000. Long journeys are followed, on arrival in the third countries, by cruel conditions during unloading, onward transportation and slaughter, said CIWF.

This trade is actually subsidized by European Union export refunds, which vary from 90 to 290 million Euros (US$80.5 million to US$259 million) a year.

"We believe it is unacceptable for taxpayersí money to be used to fuel a trade which imposes great suffering on animals," said CIWF.