Many of those campaigning against the live export of horses in Poland assume that entry to the EU will require far higher standards of control and inspection of the transport of animals. Viva!’s research shows that this will not be the case and that the EU’s Transport Directive is little more than a cynical device which allows a largely uncontrolled trade to continue without regulation, inspection or sanctions.
In 1991, the European Directive 91/629 was introduced and allowed animals to be transported for 24 hours without food and water breaks. It was poorly drafted and details of rest breaks were unclear. The result, in effect, was that animals could be transported for unlimited time periods over unlimited distances.
In 1995, the Directive was amended by Directive 95/29/EC, which introduced two different sets of regulations, depending on the standard of vehicles used for the trade and the age and species of the animals being transported. The original proposal to include mandatory forced ventilation was dropped, with hauliers simply giving an undertaking that the temperature inside the vehicles would remain with the range 5-30 deg C. No provision was made for monitoring these undertakings.
The longest journey times are still 24 hours - for pigs, the animals most affected by travel sickness and consequently the worst travellers of all. Such long journey times reflect a support for the status quo and have little to do with improving animal welfare.
The specification for newer vehicles, supposedly demanding higher standards, have been so eroded that almost all existing vehicles now meet them. Again this acceptance of the status quo ensures that on many vehicles it is impossible to inspect livestock because of poor vehicle design and it is equally impossible to ensure that all the animals can be fed and watered during ‘rest’ stops.
Some agreement has been reached over conditions for loading and unloading at staging points (lairages) but there is no clear requirement for inspection and monitoring. Past experience shows that where there is no monitoring, regulations are simply ignored. On this basis it is highly likely that these requirements will also be ignored. Research by responsible animal welfare organisations shows this is in fact the case.
The outcome is that there is no commonly-observed law on live transports and individual members of the EU choose which parts of which directive they intend to observe and which they don’t. Even those parts of directives which are accepted by individual countries and passed into national law are mostly ignored. As virtually no independent inspection is carried out throughout the entire EU, live exports are an uncontrolled free-for-all and animals crossing into the EU from Poland and other countries can expect no better welfare controls than exist in Poland. Just as Polish laws are routinely ignored so are EU laws.
A 1996 report by the Commission’s Veterinary Inspection Office noted these failures and said that many hauliers were operating their own code of practice independent of EU Directives and were essentially relying on a system of self regulation. In practice this means no regulation and this was confirmed by the Inspection Office. It found that there was a high level on animal suffering during transportation because the feeding and watering interval, then set at 24 hours, was being ignored.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has stated that “Considerable improvements in legislation, implementation, monitoring and enforcement are required if acceptable standards of welfare and a reduction in suffering are to be achieved” (32).
Compassion in World Farming has monitored the implementation of EU law and says that it is routinely flouted. It states that route plans are often defective, making it impossible for authorities to ensure compliance with the laws on journey times, rest periods and feeding and watering.
Cattle and sheep who have travelled for 29 hours are often not unloaded and given food, water and 24 hours rest as required by
Trucks being used to transport animals on very long journeys fail to meet the vehicle standards required for journeys over 8 hours. And that sick and injured animals are frequently transported, which is against the law.
To show the inadequacy of the EU Directive in protecting animals, CIWF investigators followed consignments of sheep from Britain to Italy. They found that journey times could last for anything from 60 to over 100 hours. In one 10-day period, they witnessed thousands of sheep being transported from Britain to Greece via Bari in Southern Italy - a destination to which many of Poland’s horses are sent.
By the time they reached the port, the animals were often exhibiting critical signs of suffering as a result of overcrowding, extreme heat, lack of water, proper ventilation sand the sheer length of the journeys.
In one case, two trucks were left waiting for 48 hours in Bari for the ferry to Greece. Throughout this time the sheep were left on the lorry in blistering heat without water. Understandably, after two days the animals were in an appalling condition - exhausted, dehydrated, heat stresses and desperately panting and gasping for air.
Only after constant pleas from the investigators to the Italian authorities to save the animals from further suffering was permission given for the animals to be unloaded. This relief came far too late for many, who were already dead or dying.
Over the next few days, more sheep and lambs suffered a similar fate. In total, 160 animals died - all of them suffering terribly over a long period of time. The Italian authorities were simply not interested in the problem.
Many of these reports and first hand accounts could equally be about horses from Poland, who are just another aspect of the cruel and unnecessary trade in living animals. The whole of Europe is criss crossed by these long journeys. The problems experienced in Poland - inadequate veterinary inspection, poor quality vehicles, bad or non-existent documentation and an absence of will to police existing laws - are European wide.
The Directive allows for horses to be transported for up to 24 hours plus a further two if in reach of the destination, before a 24-hour rest for food and water. Both water and food are also supposed to be offered every eight hours. Incredibly, there are no regulations governing the way in which the water should be offered nor the length of time it has to be made available. Eye witness accounts of the failure to provide horses adequately with water and food are now so prolific that there is clearly a failure to meet even this fundamental and vital requirement.
Because of the widespread reluctance of governments to introduce adequate protection for animals in transit - and a refusal to enforce or monitor that legislation which does exist - the only protection animals can hope for is that concerned people will take a moral stand and protest vigorously at this widespread abuse of animals. The EU’s acknowledgement that farmed animals are sentient creatures must become a reality rather than simply words on a piece of paper.
The conditions in which animals are transported demeans all those who participate in the trade and all those who allow it to happen in their name without protest. Legislators in all EU countries have quite clearly placed the profits of the livestock industry above the suffering of animals. It is a situation which shames us all.
Available evidence shows the EU to be as undemocratic as Poland in enforcing legislation. However, public protests at the suffering involved has begun to shame legislators into acting. In 2001, the EU Scientific Veterinary Committee made a recommendation to the European Commission that animal welfare should be improved on long-distance transports. There was also an apparent change in fundamental attitudes with Health Commissioner, David Byrne, saying: “Long distance transport should be the exception rather than the rule. When it is necessary, it must take place under conditions that do not endanger the animals or cause unnecessary suffering.” This clearly displayed an intention to curtail the trade.
At the time of writing, the proposal had still to be accepted by EU ministers and proposed short-term improvements, which include controls on vehicles, loading and unloading, health checks for animals and obligatory steps to alleviate suffering when it occurs. They would apply to horses as well as farmed animals.
If accepted, the proposals would come into effect from December 21, 2003 and will fundamentally alter the design of trucks. From that date they will have to be equipped with monitoring and warning systems for humidity and temperature as well as meeting more stringent standards for loading, unloading and feeding animals. These fundamental necessities, which have been avoided for a decade, would add only five per cent to total cost of trucks.
However, the emphasis is on phasing out the trade as pressure from public and animal welfare groups has consistently shown that a majority of British people are opposed to the trade. We have no means as yet of definitively assessing the mood of Polish people but initial consultations indicate that it is even more strongly opposed, if anything.
Legislators are increasingly aware of the public’s revulsion at long distance transport and are responding appropriately in words if not yet action.
“I want to make it absolutely clear that we are taking the problems identified with animal transport very seriously and that we will do everything that is in our competence to address them. These proposals are a step in that direction”, said Commissioner Byrne.
German Farm Minister at the time of the announcement, Renate Kuenast, increased pressure for fundamental changes in the trade by calling on the EU to radically improve animal transport rules. She linked the spread of foot and mouth disease with the length and poor quality of journeys.