cow in ship

Beyond borders: why the EU should prohibit live animal exports

With the upcoming EU legislative proposal on Transport, the long and painful journeys endured by animals being exported outside the EU can finally be put to an end


Every year, at least 1.37 billion live cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and horses are transported within the EU and to third countries. And while most live animal transport will involve some level of cruelty due to the heat or cold, hunger, stress and fear they experience, live exports to third countries are particularly problematic. Most of these animals are exported for slaughter, but also for fattening and breeding. 

The ethical and practical problems of exporting live animals by road and sea to non-EU countries are quite obvious, yet it is still a common practice. In fact, animals often endure a series of long journeys throughout their lives until they are finally slaughtered. For instance, young calves (from the age of 14 days onwards) can be first transported from Ireland to Spain or Italy to be fattened there, and then exported to third countries such as Libya, Lebanon, or Jordan. While in the EU journeys are limited to 29 hours (with only one hour break), once outside the EU the animals may be on the road or at sea for days or weeks. 

Status quo

At the moment, the only protection given to animals during transport is provided by the EU Transport Regulation 1/2005 which has been in force since 2007. But this regulation is very limited in its scope as it only overs transport by road and allows for pigs to be transported for 24 hours without a break, and cattle for 19 hours with only an hour’s break – which can then be repeated as many times as desired. Further, this regulation is not properly enforced within the EU, even less outside EU borders - since 2007, the Commission has received approximately 200 reports of infringements. 

Although the European Court of Justice has ruled in 2015 that EU animal welfare rules on animal transport must apply beyond EU borders until the final destination (ECJ ruling 424/13), there is evidence that this is not being applied in practice. 

Some examples:

  • 2021: Transport of cattle, standing at the Bulgarian-Turkish border for 13 days on Bulgarian territory. No unloading of the animals at a control post nearby. No infringement or sanction procedure followed this breach of legislation. 
  • 2021: Transport of 2,600 young bulls from Spain to Turkey were stranded at sea for months with very limited feed and water. Hundreds died on board; the rest ended up being emergency killed. 
  • 2019: Transport of pregnant heifers (6-7th month of gestation) from Emsland, Germany to Fergana, Uzbekistan (6,000km), 205 hours in total, of which the animals stayed 118 hours on the transporter without being unloaded. 

The alternative

Many countries importing animal-derived products from the EU are already doing so in the form of meat, milk powder and semen. This shows that a switch to a 100% export of meat and carcasses and genetic material is achievable. Such an alternative would reduce animal suffering and could also lead to an increase in jobs and create added value in the EU.  

However, for this to happen there needs to be a political willingness to implement change and fund the development of food cold chains. A food cold chain is an integrated temperature-controlled food distribution system that ensures that temperature-sensitive products (such as meat) are kept at their optimum temperature from source to destination. Replacing live exports with meat and carcass exports through cold chains would: 

  • Ensure that EU animal welfare standards are respected
  • Eliminate the suffering and thousands of deaths of animals that occur when they are being transported for more than 8 hours
  • Create new jobs in meat production and preservation

Including a ban in the Transport proposal

The most effective way to eliminate live animal exports to third countries is by including a ban in the upcoming animal welfare legislation – amending the Transport Regulation 1/2005. We expect the European Commission to include such a ban within the Transport proposal, as well as tighter rules on live transport within the EU.  

But we also expect the proposal to face resistance when it is scrutinized by the European Parliament and Member States. The reluctance to bear the short-term costs and complacency with the status quo are the main drivers of opposing a ban on live exports. This is why citizen demand for change is so important!  

As the European elections approach, make sure to vote for an MEP that prioritises animal welfare in their political agenda and can make this ban happen!

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Morgane Speeckaert

Morgane Speeckaert

EU Communications Coordinator

+32 2 74 00 888

+39 331 365 4110

Rue Ducale 29, 1000 Brussels


European Policy Office

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