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What is EU doing about live animal exports?

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By Josh Loeb

Animal welfare groups have accused the EU of paying ‘no regard’ to animal welfare by allowing live exports to continue despite ‘very long queues’ at borders.

More than 30 welfare organisations have signed a letter demanding that all live exports from EU countries to non-EU countries stop completely and movements within the EU be limited to a maximum of eight hours.

Since Covid-19 movement restrictions were introduced early last month some European countries have closed or partially closed their borders. This has caused logjams on some roads, with knock-on effects for livestock.

A coalition of welfare groups, including Compassion in World Farming and the pan-European Eurogroup for Animals, says the EU is flouting its own rules by refusing to place time limits on movements of livestock between European countries and by refusing to stop onward transport to non-EU countries.

The Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) – the bloc’s written constitution – stipulates that animals are sentient beings and that the European Commission must pay ‘full regard’ at all times to their welfare.

Although movement restrictions introduced last month are not supposed to apply to trucks carrying cargo, lorries containing consignments of livestock have been held up – in some cases without animals having access to basic necessities such as water for as long as 18 hours, say the charities.

In recent days, the queues at European border controls have eased significantly, according to the European Commission and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, but they are continuing near the bloc’s external borders – for example, in southern Bulgaria.

This is because, while still allowing live exports within the EU and from the EU to non-EU countries, the commission has at the same time shut the bloc’s external borders to non-EU outsiders. Welfare groups say these new controls have led to ‘immense truck queues’ forming at pinch points through which livestock are often transported.

In their letter, the welfare groups noted that queues at borders ‘are stopping medical supplies and health professionals from getting through’, making it ‘even less likely that it will be possible to attend to the welfare of animals caught up in these queues’.

While the situation in Europe has improved, the signatories of the letter – sent last month – still believe that by continuing to permit lengthy journeys for livestock during the current crisis, the commission is contravening the TFEU.

‘Insisting on continued transport of animals between member states and to non-EU countries despite the increased delays and enforcement difficulties resulting from Covid-19 and the increased difficulty in non-EU importing countries in achieving compliance with OIE welfare standards pays no regard to animal welfare, rather than the “full regard” required by Article 13 [of the TFEU],’ the letter’s signatories stated.

This week they sent a follow-up letter to emphasise this point.

BVA senior vice president Simon Doherty said: ‘Any movement of livestock will have an impact on their health and welfare and in the first instance, animals should be slaughtered as close as possible to where they are reared, and should not be exported to countries with unknown welfare standards. We understand that in these challenging times, keeping the food chain moving is essential and veterinarians play an important role in that process, working to make sure that animals’ health and welfare is upheld and of a high standard.

‘Any delays will inevitably have an effect on the animals involved. We recommend that current legislation which is in place to protect livestock in transit is followed strictly and that where improvements can be made, they are. While we appreciate that many of the delays at this time are unprecedented, we would encourage hauliers to consider transport “on the hoof” only where entirely necessary and that they build extra contingency measures into route planning.’

A spokesperson for the European Commission played down reports of problems at borders, saying: ‘Most disruptions of animal transport are due to additional checks at national borders regarding people, which has the effect of slowing down traffic. However, member states have taken measures to mitigate these problems by dedicating specific lanes for animal transport.

The commission is not informed of any major issue regarding the transport of animals by road

‘At this stage the commission is not informed of any major issue regarding the transport of animals by road.’ ●

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