After three intense years of waiting for the delivery of four new proposals that would come as part of the Green Deal’s promise to revise the EU acquis on animal welfare, the Commission presented only one: the transport proposal. While the delay of the other three proposals did bring disappointment to millions of citizens and animal welfare organisations, in turn, hopes were up for a bold and ambitious transport proposal.
But expectations were not met. While important aspects, such as certain temperature thresholds, space allowance, transport conditions and duration limits were addressed, the new proposed rules present significant inconsistencies, and some parts are worse than before. Further, the opportunity to ban the transport of unweaned animals and live export to third countries was missed.
Since 2007, the Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport has been implemented; however, it has repeatedly demonstrated its ineffectiveness in safeguarding the welfare of animals. And not just a few animals, but a staggering 1.35 billion live poultry, 37 million pigs, 4.30 million bovines, and 3.30 million sheep and goats, among other animals, which are transported every year in crowded vehicles, enduring prolonged suffering in journeys that can extend for weeks. Tragedies and accidents are frequent occurrences, both on road and sea routes, leading to thousands of casualties and injuries.
Among the biggest problems under the current legislation are the transportation of unfit animals, overcrowded vehicles lacking proper ventilation, long journeys with little rest periods, and the transport of animals under extreme temperatures.
So, what has been proposed?
In terms of transport duration, improvements have been made for the transport of animals destined for slaughter, where maximum transport duration without rest has been reduced from 29 hours to 9 hours, with exceptions if there is no appropriate slaughterhouse at a reachable distance within that time. But this journey limit does not apply to animals transported for other purposes (e.g: breeding); in fact, those animals could still be transported for 21 hours (with 1 hour rest without unloading after 10 hours) and, if necessary, for additional 21 hours after having been unloaded for a rest period of 24 hours at a control post.
Furthermore, the text not only excludes a ban on live exports, but also retrogressively omits any mention of duration limits for transport by sea. This is seriously concerning as transports by sea are often long and conditions are harsh. Exports to third countries pose a particular challenge, as adherence to EU legislation cannot be assured. Numerous documentations of NGOs and journalists show that EU rules are, more often than not, disregarded.
Incomprehensibly, there are several elements in the text that propose lower standards than the current rules. These include:
- Less space allocated for pigs during sea transports
- Removal of temperature monitoring inside vehicles (therefore relying solely on external temperature indicators)
- Allowance of transports at night even when ambient temperatures are above 30°C (though with 20% less loading density)
- Deletion of minimum air flow levels
- Extension of journey time for breeding rabbits to up to 24 hours instead of 12 hours (when feed and water is provided in the vehicle)
- Exemption of bio-secure animals from transport requirements
What must co-legislators address in the months to come?
Scrutinizing the new regulation, our primary concerns for the future revolve around the absence of bans on third-country exports, transport of unweaned animals and sea transports. Adding to these concerns, are the permitted durations for transporting poultry and rabbit which surpass the recommended limits of max. 4 hours. For other animals, varying durations also exceed science-based recommendations.
The extension of transportation for pregnant animals until 80% of their pregnancy is a significant departure from the suggested 40% limit, as well as the rule exemptions for bio-secure animals (e.g. animals for scientific purposes).
While the new proposal does include some improvements, it is clear that there is still a steep path to go in achieving comprehensive standards that would significantly improve animal welfare during transport.
As we move forward, it is imperative for both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU to amend this proposal in alignment with the latest scientific evidence and societal demands, for a transport regulation that truly protects animals.