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News Section Icon Published 18/11/2022

Opinion by Olga Kikou

The controversial issue of farmed animals transported over long and exhausting journeys has just received another important blow from the EU institutions. This time, the EU food safety agency confirmed that animal transport poses a risk of exacerbating the current public health crisis of 'superbugs' — bacteria and viruses that are resistant to existing treatments.

Farmed animals suffer during long-distance transport due to being packed closely together for long periods of time, in weather that can be extremely hot or cold. It is commonplace for transport trucks to lack fresh air and for animals to have to stand in their own urine and manure throughout the journey. Inappropriate feeding and drinking devices, or difficulty in accessing them, can leave animals debilitated by hunger and thirst.

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In such confined and unhygienic conditions, it is not surprising that antibiotic-resistant bacteria and viruses can proliferate and become a threat to animals and people alike – endangering the effectiveness of antibiotics in treating human and animal diseases in the long run.

Against this background, last week EFSA – the European Food Safety Authority – published a scientific opinion on the transmission of antimicrobial resistance during animal transport, a study produced at the request of the European Parliament.

It recommends a number of strategies to reduce transmission of superbugs, including improving animal welfare immediately before and during transport, ensuring comfortable temperatures on board, proper cleaning and disinfection of vehicles — and, above all, minimising journey times.

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EFSA clearly says that “most of the identified risk factors are influenced by transport duration (i.e. with longer transports the exposure to other risk factors is prolonged).”

In other words, to reduce the spread of superbugs through live animal transport, journeys should be as short as possible — and no longer than absolutely necessary.

This is the second time since the summer that EFSA has spoken in favour of reducing transport times. Just last month it issued five scientific opinions on animal welfare during transport which highlighted the hazards that animals are exposed to under the current rules. It summed up its recommendations for improving their welfare as “more space, lower temperatures, shorter journeys”.

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Countless investigations and exposés have underlined the terrible conditions that farmed animals face during transport, how the current EU legislation is infringed systematically and routinely by operators, and how national authorities often prefer to turn a blind eye to these breaches rather than enforce the law. 

That is why Compassion in World Farming and other animal protection organisations are calling on the EU institutions to recognise the urgency of this matter and take action. EFSA’s recommendations only strengthen our case.

We want to see journey times within the EU limited to a total of eight hours for most farmed animals, and to four hours for poultry and rabbits as they are more vulnerable. Weaker animals, such as unweaned babies and pregnant mothers, should not be transported at all.

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In addition, exports of live animals to countries outside the EU must be stopped altogether and replaced by trade in meat and carcasses. Journeys to destinations outside the EU can take weeks or even months, often in squalid conditions and unbearable temperatures in which some animals perish en route.

The European Commission intends to propose a package of updated animal welfare legislation next year and this is the perfect opportunity to tighten the rules and improve enforcement on animal transport. We urge the European Commission to take EFSA’s recommendations on board and present proposals that would reduce animal suffering, as the current rules have been quite ineffective.

Olga Kikou is Head of Compassion in World Farming EU

For more information, please email


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