Welfare of Animals in Transport Still a Concern

ANALYSIS - Concern is growing again over the way livestock is being transported both for slaughter and as live exports, writes TheCattleSite Editor in Chief, Chris Harris.
calendar icon 12 January 2012
clock icon 4 minute read

In Europe, the issue had seemed to have been put to rest when the animal welfare in transport rules came into effect in 2007.

Under the rules, vehicles used to transport animals for eight hours or more had to be upgraded and officially approved and drivers and animal handlers had to be trained and certified for the care of the animals.

There were also regulations for stricter control of journey times, rest times and stocking densities.

However, a report from the European Commission towards the end of last year, while recognising the advances that have been made in the welfare of animals in transit, called for more action to be taken.

At the time, the Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, John Dalli, said: "The findings of this report clearly demonstrate the benefits of action at EU level for important issues such as animal welfare.

"Nevertheless, the report also documents the need for improvement, in particular in enforcing existing legislation. The Commission will, therefore propose a series of concrete actions to further improve the conditions for animals during transport."

The report then found that there were three shortcomings in the way the regulations were being applied:

  • the poor enforcement of legislation;
  • market distortions created by the divergent interpretations of the rules;
  • the potential of the navigation system has not been fully exploited.

The Commission said that there had to be greater sharing of information and the Commission also decided to bring together the measures taken by individual countries to enforce the rules to ensure that enforcement is improved.

The Commission said it planned to increase the number of inspections in the Member States carried out by its Food and Veterinary Office (FVO).

The Commission said that this was particularly important because every year more than 35,000,000 cattle, pigs, sheep, horses, calves are transported between Member States and to and from third countries, because of trade and market opportunities, limited slaughter or processing capacity and the differences between the production and consumption of meat in some Member States.

Over the last week, however further concerns about the transport of animals in Europe were raised over the export of livestock to Turkey. More than a million animals were exported to Turkey last year and out of checks on 158 vehicles, 67 per cent were found to have broken the EU regulations.

The findings led to howls of anguish from animal welfare organisations and a call for live exports to Turkey to be suspended.

The Commission has said that it is not possible for it to impose a suspension unilaterally, but it has started to take action and hold negotiations with the relevant parties.

The main problems have revolved around overcrowding, inadequate ventilation and lack of water.

The concerns about live exports of animals have not been restricted to the EU. In Australia, exports of cattle to Indonesia for slaughter were suspended mid way through last year because of concerns over slaughter practices.

The effect of the suspension of live animal trade that lasted about six months was devastating on the Australian beef and cattle industry. A lack of exports for finished animals had the dual effect of putting more cattle on the domestic market and presenting processors and farmers with unwanted cattle. The cost to the industry was huge.

At the turn of the year the first shipments of cattle resumed to Indonesia, however, the number of permits that have been issued are just two thirds of those issued last year for the first quarter.

There is little surprise then that concerns over the potential repercussions to the European meat and livestock industries have also had a bearing on the decision in the EU not to halt the live exports to Turkey.

What will be needed it a stricter implementation of the regulations as already revealed in the report issued last November and is also a need to greater attention to education and training of those in charge of the livestock on the move.

Part of that education process might be found in a new publication issued this week, the "Guidelines to assess fitness for transport of adult bovine animals", prepared by Eurogroup for animals, Animals' Angels, UECBV '(European Union of Meat Traders), FVE (Federation of Veterinarians of Europe), IRU (International Road Transport Union) and ELT (European Livestock Transporters).

The document that will be presented during the National Seminar on Transport Controls for Official Veterinarians in Berlin.

The guidelines are designed to provide easy to understand help and advice to professionals involved in the transport of adult bovines and aim to improve animal welfare throughout the transport process.

The Eurogroup for Animals says that they are also extremely visual and use photographs and simple texts to help all operators decide on the suitability of an adult bovine animal for transport.

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