The welfare of millions of cattle, sheep and goats exported from the EU is being put at risk by failings including heat stress, bad planning and a lack of information from the destination country, a new European commission report has found.
Among the systemic problems identified were poor planning for high temperatures, an issue that has been raised repeatedly by campaigners. In summer, the report said, animals “in many vehicles arriving to ports” must sometimes “endure temperatures of over 35C”.
The report criticised the way that, as one campaigner put it, animals “disappear’” at their destination. It noted that most EU countries “do not receive any feedback” from the country of destination about the condition of the animals on arrival. Nor do they get any information, “from the transporter, ship’s Master or vessel operator”.
Also singled out were poor contingency planning, incomplete or incorrect departure documentation, and an inability to prevent recurring compliance problems.
One of the welfare organisations that worked with the commission to produce the report gave it a cautious welcome. “We find it strong even if it pardons Ireland and Portugal where we also found lots of problems,” said Animals International’s EU director, Gabriel Paun.
But others pointed out that the report also raised many issues. Peter Stevenson, policy adviser for Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) , said: “The new report reveals a disturbing picture of non-compliance by member state authorities and exporters.”
Romania, a major breeder and exporter of sheep, comes in for particular criticism following the drowning of more than 14,000 sheep last November. The sheep were on board Romanian-approved livestock ship, the Queen Hind, which keeled over shortly after leaving the Romanian port of Midia. Only 180 sheep survived.
The report identified gaps in animal welfare regulations, which, it said, “are not geared to detect issues that could cause vessels to tilt and overturn”.
Ireland and Portugal are praised for having comparatively better systems in place for livestock approval and health inspection prior to loading, helping to minimise welfare risks.
Uncertainty as to who is legally responsible for the proper care of livestock at different points on their journey – particularly in ports or during sea journeys – is another weakness, the report said.
Delays at ports are another problem, as many thousands of animals arrive for the same shipment. Of Europe’s 13 exit ports, only six, the report said, “have facilities in the port or arrangements nearby where, in case of need, the transporters can unload, rest, water and feed the animals”.
The report found that ships are also rife with problems, with only 24% of livestock vessels licensed by “white list” countries. Ships that fly the flag of a white list countries are recognised as having a consistently low rate of port detentions for regulatory failings.
Asked what action the commission would be taking following the report, a spokesperson said it would “explore the feasibility of harmonising and strengthening, through a legal act, the inspections of livestock vessels into an EU database in cooperation with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)”.
The spokesperson added that the commission was “cooperating with the OIE [World Organisation for Animal Health] to develop a network of contact points dedicated to animal transport in third countries. The objective is to reinforce our collaboration with these countries on this issue”.
More than 30 EU welfare organisations wrote to the European commission last week arguing that cattle exports to Libya by Ireland, Spain and Romania were in breach of EU regulations. The letter said that under EU Article 13 the commission and member states are obliged “to take animal welfare into account in a thorough and serious manner in formulating and implementing policies in specified fields”.
The EU’s live animal export welfare failings are laid out in the Welfare of Animals Transported by Sea report, circulated this week and based on information gathered by thecommission from EU countries including Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Portugal and Ireland in 2017 and 2018.
The European Union exports around 1 million cattle and 2 million sheep each year to non-EU countries, mainly in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2019, the value of the EU’s live animal export trade was more than €12bn (£10.6bn).