European Parliament – a missed opportunity

European Parliament vote on the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport

On Thursday 20th January MEPs voted on a number of recommendations and amendments that came from the 18 month ANIT committee of inquiry into the long distance transport of animals.

The science is clear. Long distance transport leads to stress, exhaustion, hunger and thirst. The transport guidelines from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine state “It comes as no surprise that animals find journeys stressful. Stress can be caused by both physiological factors (e.g. temperature variations, fatigue) and psychological factors (e.g. fear, anxiety).”

“As a general rule, the longer the journey the more stress an animal will potentially be exposed to.”

Investigations by animal welfare NGOs and audits carried out by the Commission are also clear. The current legislation, EC Regulation 1/2005, is inadequate and not enforced sufficiently, and there are no consequences for non-compliance. As a consequence, millions of animals are suffering appallingly every year.

The European Commission (EC) is due to revise the Regulation and will do it “based on the latest scientific evidence, creating a European database for official controls and auditing livestock vessels in Member States” as well as ensuring that existing rules will be implemented. A new legislative proposal is expected by late 2023 along with executive acts relating to controls on sea transport.

A vote by committee members in December 2021 proposed some ground breaking recommendations including a total ban on the transport of unweaned animals under 35 days, a limit to 2 hours travel for unweaned animals over 35 days, and a total ban on the transport of pregnant animals in their third trimester. However, it didn’t address several key issues linked to the live transport of animals both within and outside the EU, including a ban on export to countries outside the EU that do not have the same standards as ours, or a limit of 8 hours for all journeys.

There were some recommendations that were agreed by MEPs including raising the age of unweaned animals from 14 days to 28, where unweaned animals under 28 days can be transported for a maximum of 50km; CCTV cameras on transport vehicles; reducing transport time to 4 hours for pregnant animals in their last trimester. But this was a missed opportunity for MEPs to support real progress for animal welfare and they have failed their citizens.

MEP Kelleher was very proactive in garnering support for the watered down, revised amendments. MEPs from other countries that have high levels of live export also supported the weakened amendments. One reason MEPs voted against the ban on the export of unweaned animals is because there would be a glut of unwanted male dairy calves that farmers would be reluctant to care for, due to cost and possibly a lack of space, which could in itself lead to welfare issues. An increased number may go to slaughter at a couple of weeks old and there may be more on farm deaths. However, the amendment that got through is to increase the age to 28 days, which is not an improvement really. The bulk of calves exported from Ireland are aged 15 – 21 days old. At 28 days the calf is still unweaned and dependent on milk, still has an underdeveloped immune system and is still vulnerable and prone to illness and disease. Plus if a farmer has the infrastructure to care for calves for 14 days, or 28 days, it has the infrastructure to care for calves for 35 days. Farmers have a moral and legal obligation to fully care for the animals that they breed. That’s the simple truth. If you can’t look after them, don’t breed them.

 

It is extremely frustrating that MEPs voted against a ban on the export of animals to countries outside the EU that do not have the same standards as we do. Once animals leave the EU they have no protection and the brutal slaughter methods practiced in these countries are well documented. When broached on the subject, both the Irish authorities and the Commission state that they work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to strengthen the implementation of its international animal welfare standards, in particular on the protection of animals during transport and at slaughter. However, the OIE sets standards, it doesn’t enforce them. It is not a regulatory body. The OIE cannot dictate what happens in Libya or Lebanon any more than the Irish authorities can.

Slaughterhouse in Lebanon where the remains of Irish cattle was discovered October 2020

It was also disappointing that sea journeys were not limited to 24 hours. There have been numerous tragedies in recent years resulting in the deaths of thousands of sheep and young cattle that proves how dangerous these journeys are. During the last shipment from Ireland to Libya, the vessel hit a horrendous storm just before reaching Libya with gale force winds of 8 and waves peaking 30 feet. Two animals died, one had to be euthanised due to a back injury and the other died from respiratory illness which is the main cause of death during these journeys. A further 12 were sick or injured with conditions including inflammation of the legs, respiratory illness and bloat that is extremely painful and can be fatal. All of the 1,539 young bulls will have been subjected to the most brutal slaughter imaginable. MEP Kelleher claims that live export to third countries is a very important part of our agri-food industry. In 2021 a total of 6,466 bulls were shipped to Libya and 500 pregnant heifers were exported overland to Kazakhstan. To put it in perspective, around 35,000 cattle are slaughtered in Ireland every week. The industry is far from dependent on export to third countries.

 

All is not lost. The vote was on a list of recommendations that have been compiled into a report asking the Commission to act. The Commission can ignore the recommendations if they so wish.  Any legislative proposals will have to pass through EU Parliament and the Council, following the legislative procedure, so it is still possible for significant change to happen.

If you want to know how our MEPs voted on the main points see below:

Amendment allowing the transport of unweaned calves over 4 weeks old

For: Deirdre Clune; Frances Fitzgerald; Sean Kelly; Colm Markey; Maria Walsh; Barry Andrews; Billy Kelleher; Luke Ming Flanagan; Chris MacManus; Mick Wallace

Against: Clare Daly; Ciaran Cuffe; Grace O’Sullivan

Amendment recommending a maximum journey time of 24 hours for transport by sea

For: Clare Daly; Ciaran Cuffe; Grace O’Sullivan; Luke Ming Flanagan; Mick Wallace

Against: Deirdre Clune; Frances Fitzgerald; Sean Kelly; Colm Markey; Maria Walsh; Barry Andrews; Billy Kelleher; Chris MacManus

Amendment ensuring that export to third countries may only be authorised to countries on a commission list + ensuring no further export after that

For: Clare Daly; Ciaran Cuffe; Grace O’Sullivan; Luke Ming Flanagan; Mick Wallace

Against: Deirdre Clune;Frances Fitzgerald;Sean Kelly;Colm Markey;Maria Walsh;Barry Andrews; Billy Kelleher

We will continue our campaign against this unnecessary and inhumane trade that should be banished to history books. The fight continues….

 

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