Why are animals transported over long distances?
Long distance transport of animals is happening for economic reasons only.
Intensive farm animal production has led to a specialisation in breeding and fattening farms, resulting in long distance transports of poultry, pigs, cattle, sheep and goats that are brought from the breeding farm to the fattening farm and from there to the slaughterhouse. The centralisation of slaughterhouses and the aim to minimise production costs have led to increasing distances in transports of animals send for slaughter as well. E.g. laying hens are slaughtered in member states where slaughter is cheapest and not in the member state they originate from. Companies earn good money with the trade of live animals. Long-distance transports to third countries bring money to a few breeding companies that hold on to exporting animals over extreme long distances with a journey duration that can easily last 300 hours. Many of the exported animals are heifers, labelled as 'breeding animals', being pregnant when transported, to give birth in the destination country, be milked and then slaughtered shortly after.
Other animals are sold for immediate slaughter. The way the animals are slaughtered in most of the importing non-EU-countries is far off being acceptable for animal welfare reasons. As the animals are slaughtered without stunning in most importing third countries, the animals get their eyes pricked, to make them defenceless, their leg tendons are cut, and they are hung upside-down before being killed by a cut with a knife through the throat. Time of bleeding until final death was recorded to take up to 30 minutes. This is, of course, not at all acceptable.
Why are the animals transported alive?
Exporting and importing countries want to make the most profit from the animals. Importing third countries profit from the hides, the milk, the calves, and the meat. Some of the countries claim to aim at building their own breeding population. But in fact, no stable breeding population has been built up so far in the importing third countries even though trade has been going on for decades.
In reality, many of the animals are slaughtered soon after arrival, also because the feed resources are not available in most countries. High yielding cows that are imported from the EU need high quantities of water and feed to stay healthy. This is mostly not available in the importing third countries, leading to cows being slaughtered soon. Ritual slaughter without stunning is also a major reason for importing live animals.
Where are animals transported in the world?
The trade of live animals is a global phenomenon, with the EU being the biggest exporter of live animals.
First countries already banned exports or are discussing banning certain types of export. Only recently, New Zealand banned the transport of breeding animals!
Bans for exports for certain animals are also discussed in the UK. We urgently need better legislation to protect animals in the EU as well. Only recently, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg called for a ban of all long-distance exports in a joint statement as well. EU legislation on transport will be revised soon and we are calling for a prohibition of live animal exports per road and ship in the new legislation.
What and how many animals are transported on long distance transport?
More than 1.3 billion poultry and more than 44 million cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and horses are transported intra EU each year and about 200 million poultry and 4.5 million cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and horses are transported to third countries.1
In 2021 Eurogroup for Animals published a whitepaper on live animal transport with the following numbers published:
"Poultry is the most traded farmed animal species (98% of the total export). In 2019, the top EU exporters were Poland (with 61,922,019), Hungary (35,592,697), the Netherlands (29,806,473), and France (25,399,220).
Within mammals, ovines (sheep) are the most exported animals (3,117,585), followed by bovines (1,018,060) and pigs (369,347).
For bovines the export market is dominated by Spain (193,092), Romania (141,924), France (124,182) and Hungary (91,966); for pigs, the major EU exporter was Croatia (124,410), followed by Greece (92,140), Germany (71,474) and Bulgaria (31,814).
Major trade partners for the EU are Ukraine, which in 2019 imported 84,590,184 terrestrial farmed animals from the EU, followed by Belorussia, Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, and Albania. These are the major importers of poultry, and given the high portion of these animals in extra-EU trade statistics, they also render them major EU trade partners in absolute terms. However, by looking at the export data for mammals only, the major EU trade partners are Libya (that in 2019 imported from the EU 1,105,445 ovines, bovines, and pigs), Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Turkey."
Why are so many calves exported?
Male calves are of no value to the dairy industry. This is because the local modern high-performance dairy breeds have been bred for high milk production only. In order to give milk, a female cow must give birth to a calf. To keep the milk yield as high as possible, the cow is inseminated every year. The male calves that are born are suitable for fattening to a limited extent because they gain little weight and thus produce very little meat. These calves, but also some female calves that are not used for breeding on the dairy farm, are collected by a cattle trader. The trader transports them over long distances abroad, for example to the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain or Italy, countries that specialised in calf fattening. The calves that are brought to Spain and Italy suffer terribly on transport. Being only 2 weeks of age, they have to suffer from hunger and thirst for more than 30 hours.
It is not possible to feed them milk on the trucks. Not even the water supply works properly because the trucks are not equipped for young animals. A transport of 19 hours in one go is allowed. But the animals are often brought to assembly centres before the transport, so they are left hungry beforehand. Many calves get sick after the long ordeal, animals die again and again during and especially days after the hellish journeys. In Spain, the calves are then fattened and in some cases transported on another hellish journey to third countries such as Morocco etc. to be slaughtered there in an extremely cruel way.
How long can animals be on transport?
Animals are transported for days and weeks, e.g. up to 300 hours. According to the EU transport legislation 1/2005 there is a clear definition of “long distance” transports. Everything more than 8 hours is defined as long distance transport. Long distance transport can last many days and weeks. Cattle may be transported 29 hours in one go (with 1 hour break), pigs are allowed to be transported for 24 hours without a break. After 24 hours rest, this period can be repeated, resulting in transports that may last several days. Transport on vessels is not limited in time at all. In the cases of transports via sea the duration can last several weeks.
What problems do animals have on long distance transports?
Every transport means fear and stress to the animals, as they are in cramped, stuffy conditions. The longer the journey the more likely it is that animals suffer. Particularly on long distance transports animals suffer, many of them die due to heat and water deprivation. Particularly poultry, pigs and unweaned animals are susceptible when it comes to dying on transports.
The latest catastrophes with the two vessels Elbeik and Karim Allah have shown that due to the rejection of the receiving third countries animals were caught on the Mediterranean Sea for 3 months. Almost 200 animals died on the sea and all the others (over 2000 cattle) were killed when anchoring at the Spanish port. Re-imports of animals are not possible, and rejections of consignments can always happen.
In summer 2019, 70,000 sheep were sent via sea from Romania to the Persian Gulf, being exposed to heat on deck exceeding 60℃ despite EU legislation banning the transport of animals when temperatures exceed 30°C. The animals were cooked alive in the scorching temperatures onboard crammed ships that took over 8 days to reach their destination.2
Read more about live animal transport via sea here.
How many accidents are happening on transport ships and trucks?
Accidents on the road and via sea happen regularly. Every year numerous accidents happen in each country on the road. There is no statistics about this, but accidents that lead to the death of thousands of animals are documented by NGO's and hit the news every year.
Why is dairy connected to live animal transport?
See question above ("Why are so many calves exported?")
Are live animal transports controlled?
There is a lack of enforcement of existing legislation and live animal transports are only controlled poorly. There is a huge lack of controls on the road, at ports, at airports and during the journeys and there is no control from the point when the animals leave the EU. There is no feedback from third countries to the countries of origin, how many animals reach the final destination and in which conditions they are. There is no official veterinary control in third countries. This is why FOUR PAWS demands a ban of live animal transports to third countries.
Is there a heat limit for live animal transports on trucks and ships?
Concerning transports by road, there is a temperature limit in the EU transport regulation: temperatures may not be above 30°C or below 5°C in the inner of the transport vehicle. This is valid for the whole journey until the reach of the final destination. But this regulation is very often ignored. It is not possible to keep the inner temperature of the transport vehicles lower than the outside temperature, because the vehicles do not have air condition. It happens regularly that long and very long-distance transports are carried out, also because competent authorities do not check properly.
Every long-distance transport needs approval. In case competent authorities do not check whether forecasts are properly, transports get approvals, even though they should not. Concerning transports by sea, the temperature limit must also be taken into account as every transport by sea is connected to transports by road as well (animals are always brought to the ports and from the ports to the final destination by truck). On the vessels temperatures and humidity are often very high, leading to immense animal suffering. Animals cannot be unloaded once on a vessel.
For this reason among others, FOUR PAWS demands to prohibit live animals transports by sea.
Is there a time limit for animal transports on trucks and ships?
For cattle, after 29 hours drive a resting period for 24 hours is mandatory, pigs have to rest for 24 hours after a transport of 24 hours. The transport of poultry and rabbits is limited to 12 hours after which animals might wait at the slaughterhouse for another 12 hours.
Legislation does not protect the animals from suffering and needs to be revised.
FOUR PAWS call for a maximum transport time of 8 hours for cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, 4 hours for poultry and rabbits and zero hours for transporting unweaned animals that are still dependent on a milk diet.
Is it true that many animals die from exhaustion on the journey?
Yes. This is true. Many spent laying hens, broiler, cattle or pigs die on transports during extreme temperatures or when being transported despite poor health. When transported via sea many animals are thrown overboard. As happened in 2021 with almost 200 animals from the vessel Elbeik and Karim Allah. Many animals also die days after the transport has ended, e.g. unweaned animals are particularly susceptible to diseases as they have an immunological gap in their first weeks of life. Numerous animals die during and after long distance transports of dehydration and exhaustion or because of diarrhoea and/or infections.
What are we doing to stop long distance transport?
Currently legislation on transport is being revised and we need your help to ensure a strong revision by signing our petition and join our actions on social media. Our key demands are to achieve a ban of long-distance transports, ban third country exports via road and sea and a ban transports of unweaned animals. We ask for a shift to meat and genetic material instead of live animals. We call for a maximum transport duration for poultry and rabbits of 4 hours and for adult animals of 8 hours. And we call for stricter, species-specific temperature limits.
At the European level FOUR PAWS is following the committee of inquiry. FOUR PAWS was speaking in one of the hearings concerning transport of animals within the EU. We also campaign at the national level. In Germany FOUR PAWS made 21 legal complaints as Competent authorities regularly approve transports to third countries that are not in line with existing legislation. As a consequence, several federal states in Germany stopped approving transports to third countries. Our teams in Bulgaria and Austria are also running local campaigns to lobby for better legislation.
What have we achieved to stop long distance transport?
In summer 2020, almost all federal states stopped approving third country exports of live animals, also due to public pressure following our legal complaints. The Netherlands have stopped third country exports that require a rest in a third country.
On EU-level, we achieved a committee of inquire has been set up, that is investigating problems of enforcement and will give recommendations for the revision of transport legislation. In June 2021, Netherlands, Luxemburg and Germany called for a ban of long-distance transports to third countries.
What is the alternative to long distance transports?
Trade with third countries has to shift to a trade in meat and carcasses and genetic material only and we need to go for local farming, rearing and slaughter. Decentralisation of farms and slaughterhouses is an important aspect to achieve an end of long-distance transports.
We also need to reduce the amount of animals farmed and change our eating pattern. The less dairy, eggs and meat is consumed, the less animals must be farmed and transported.
What can I do to help prevent animals suffering on long distance transport?
Through our own purchasing and eating habits, we can directly do something for the animals. By choosing more plant-based alternatives, we can help reduce the consumption of animal products and reduce the number of animals that have to suffer for the food industry. However, it is also important that certain things are simply banned. You can support us by signing our petition, joining our protests and sharing content online.
Does my food choice effect live animal transport?
Yes – the less animal based products we eat, the less animals have to be transported.
We recommend the 3R principle: reduce, refine, replace.
Reduce: Consume less animal products.
Refine: if animal products, then from good animal husbandry and with high transport and slaughter standards (such labels exist, but are still very limited).
Replace: replace animal products with plant based products as often as possible.
What can I do if I see a live animal transport where the animals are suffering?
Anyone who observes animals that are injured or e.g. appear apathetic or are licking the bars of the vehicle should inform the police immediately. These are signs of thirst and dehydration. Due to the lack of water, numerous animals die in agony in animal transporters time and again. It is important that you note the number plate and take a picture if possible. If the vehicle stands still on a parking place or else it is best to stay at the vehicle until the police arrives. If you are driving the car, it is important to tell the police where you are on the street so that the police can send a police car to this place, to either lead the truck out of the traffic jam or stop it in case the animals look dehydrated. The animals can then be watered and may be cooled by water from the fire brigade.