A new report provides insights into animal welfare issues during transport within and from the EU.
Around 44 million farmed animals a year are transported, including unweaned calves and lambs on journeys from Europe lasting up to three weeks.
Inadequate and misleading official records are masking the true horror and scale of the EU’s long-distance trade in farmed animals, say the international NGOs Eurogroup for Animals and Compassion in World Farming, on release of the report.
The report analyzes unpublished EU records relating to the long-distance transportation of 180,000 consignments of farmed animals within and from the EU during a 19-month period from October 2021 to April 2023.
Key insights, according to the report, include:
• Each year, over 370,000 unweaned calves were taken from their mothers shortly after birth and deprived of nutrition during long journeys – many as young as just two weeks old. 300,000 unweaned lambs are also imported by Italy alone each year, enduring long journeys without adequate feed.
• France, the Netherlands and Denmark have exported thousands of pigs to distant countries including Brazil, Vietnam, Thailand and Nigeria. “By exporting breeding sows that have been genetically selected for very large litters, the EU is seeding its inhumane factory farming model in other parts of the world,” say the NGOs.
• Each year, millions of cattle and sheep endure long sea journeys to the Middle East and Africa for slaughter or fattening. Vessels are often in very poor condition, and animals suffer greatly during these journeys from heat stress, noxious gases, motion stress and starvation, and there are no effective legal protections.
The report claims the EU's journey records were incomplete, often inaccurate and vastly underestimate the sheer extent of the length and duration of many journeys. Around 60% of journeys are shown as starting at assembly centers, but animals may have been transported from the farm of origin for many hours prior to this without any requirement for this to be logged. Many transporters practice ‘assembly center hopping’ avoiding the requirement for animals to be given 24 hours mid-journey rest before resuming their journey, say the NGOs.
The report comes before the expected publication of the European Commission’s proposal on animal transport on December 6. However, the Commission has failed to publish the other proposals it committed to present as part of a more comprehensive revision of the animal welfare legislation, including the ban on caged animal farming.
The two animal protection NGOs are calling on the EU to ban the export of live animals from the EU to non-EU countries, to switch to a trade in meat and carcasses only, and to introduce tougher rules to protect the welfare of animals on journeys within the EU.
This call for greater protection for farmed animals’ welfare during transportation is supported by the majority of European citizens, the NGOs say. The 2023 Special Eurobarometer found that eight out of 10 Europeans think the travel time for the commercial transport of live animals within or from the EU should be limited, and nine out of 10 people believe it’s important to protect the welfare of farmed animals.
Reineke Hameleers, CEO, Eurogroup for Animals, said: "The transnational nature of live exports makes it especially challenging to protect the welfare of animals, and this is why we ask for a ban on live exports to non-EU countries. A replacement with meat and carcass exports does only benefit the animals but has huge economic and environmental benefits. Better measures to protect unweaned and pregnant animals must be put forward, while the misuse of assembly centers needs to be urgently addressed. The immense scale of suffering highlighted by this investigation cannot be ignored - the European Commission must come forward with a more ambitious Regulation".