By Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU
Every year more than three million live animals are exported from the EU to third countries for fattening and slaughter. The transport conditions on the trucks and ships are often unbearable, causing the animals immense suffering on journeys that can last days, weeks or even months. It is commonplace for some to perish in transit.
In the worst disasters thousands die. In 2019 more than 14,000 sheep destined for export drowned when the cargo ship carrying them capsized in Romania’s Black Sea port of Midia. And last year more than 2,600 calves being exported from Spain were killed after being kept adrift at sea for three months as no country wanted to accept them due to a suspected outbreak of disease. Over the years countless petitions and protests by citizens and NGOs have called on the EU to end the live exports horror show. They are backed up by numerous scientific recommendations advising against continuing this cruel practice.
This week the European Parliament must show its commitment to standing up for the concerns of Europe’s citizens by voting at its plenary session to call for a ban on live exports and strict limits on animal transport within the EU.
The Parliament rightly set up a Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport in 2019 in response to public disgust at the ever-growing catalogue of suffering and death in EU animal transport.
But despite the committee’s noble mission and the positive lead given by some of its members, it appears to have been largely captured by those who want to block progress towards better animal welfare. The recommendations the committee voted through last month, focusing on better enforcement of the current (totally inadequate) rules, fall far short of the changes needed. In plenary this week the Parliament must find its backbone.
Farmed animals suffer during transport due to being packed closely together for often long and exhausting journeys, in weather that can be extremely hot or cold. Boiling temperatures inside the trucks, lack of fresh air and the build-up of urine and manure in the containers the animals are stacked in are commonplace. Inappropriate feeding and drinking devices, or difficulty in accessing them, can leave the animals debilitated by hunger and thirst.
Even unweaned calves are transported from the age of 14 days on long journeys, suffering hunger, thirst and thermal stress which heavily impacts their weak immune system. Nor is any special care given to pregnant animals, which sometimes end up giving birth in terrible conditions on board vehicles or ships.
Journeys by road and/or sea are particularly long and stressful to countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Libya and Algeria which are considered high-risk for animal welfare. Cases of tremendous cruelty in third countries are reported time and again, but it is impossible for the EU to enforce its animal protection legislation beyond its borders.
The European Commission is currently preparing a revision of all EU animal welfare legislation. In its plenary vote this week the Parliament has a unique opportunity to influence for the better the revision of the inadequate legislation on animal transport dating from 2005.
If it still wants to be a credible voice that reflects public concerns, the assembly must seize this chance. It must press for a ban on all live exports outside the EU and their replacement with trade in meat and carcasses.
Parliament must also call for overall journey times within the EU to be limited to no more than four hours for poultry and rabbits, which are particularly vulnerable, and eight hours for other animals. In addition, specific rules for transport of different species are needed and the transport of all unweaned animals must be ended.
Europe has all the evidence it needs to put an end to the appalling suffering that animal transport causes. This week MEPs must listen to voters’ demands and finally call for an end to a grotesque practice that is only fueled by narrow vested interests.
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