A few dozen members of the European Parliament have joined several non-governmental organizations calling for a ban on live animal transport during the COVID-19 pandemic. Civil society groups argue that the reintroduced border controls have increased delays, which cause unnecessary stress for animals and heightens the risk for diseases.
The EU regulations require that animals would be transported without delays, increased border controls cannot ensure that. Civil society groups suggest banning live animal transport longer than eight hours. As a response, the European Commission has published guidelines for the implementation of “green lanes”, highlighting that checks or health screenings should not take more than 15 minutes, in order to guarantee the flow of goods and services. However, in a recent speech to the European Parliament, Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski acknowledged that the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated “how dependent our agriculture and food production system is on transport”, also noting that the food production “has become concentrated, local markets are weakening and disappearing, and the distance from farm to fork has become longer rather than shorter.”
Even though the EU has often prided itself on its animal welfare standards, live animal transport has been an issue for a long time. For instance, the parliamentary report on the protection of animals during transport within and outside the EU, has shown the much harsher reality: inappropriate vehicles, high temperatures, overcrowding, failures to feed and water animals, etc.
A big part of the problem is exponentially growing intensive agriculture and live animal export trade in the EU and outside it. Figures show that the number of live animals being transported thousands of km is constantly rising and has quadrupled over the last 50 years, causing high animal suffering and posing great risks to public health. Several organizations, including the European Food and Safety Authority, have raised the alarm over the years on connections between this growing and intensified live animal industry and the rise and spread of zoonoses, such as the most recent COVID-19.
A broader question of animal welfare in Europe has long been a concern or many civil society groups. Last year, the European Citizens’ Initiative “End the Cage Age”, led by Compassion in World Farming, has successfully collected over 1,5 million signatures of Europeans, asking the Commission to ban cages in animal farming. European Member States have legislation that, in some cases, prohibits the use of cages, but nevertheless, around 300 million farm animals are still locked up for all or most of their lives. Slow Food has been part of the broad 170 + civil society coalition supporting the initiative “End the Cage Age”. After the process of signature validation, the Initiative will be presented to the Commission, which in turn will have to decide on what action to take.
Civil society has great expectations for what concerns animal welfare and animal farming in the upcoming Farm to Fork strategy, which is part of the European Green Deal and is calling on the European Commission to develop a dedicated action plan towards less and better consumption and production of meat, dairy, and eggs in the EU, to shift away from industrial farming. According to the latest available updates, the Commission has only been planning on targets on antibiotic use, omitting many important issues relating to animal welfare, intensive animal production, and transport, not to mention overconsumption. With the likely postponement of the Farm to Fork initiative, hopes for a swift change in animal farming are fading away, but civil society is not letting go on the urgency of acting on this and many other sectors of the food system.