The EU is the world’s largest exporter of live farm animals. In 2019, the EU exported around 1.6 billion live chickens, pigs, sheep, goats and cattle. Most of the trade took place within the EU, but around 230 million animals were exported to non-EU countries – and for a lot of money: in 2019, the value of the EU’s live animal export trade was more than €12 billion.
Are EU rules around the export of live animals strict enough? This is one of the questions the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into the Protection of Animals during Transport is wrestling with. The recent case of a ship full of cattle stuck off the Spanish coast for three months pushed the issue into the spotlight, as have the hundreds of thousands of animal trapped by the recent blockage in the Suez canal. Meanwhile, the UK has announced it plans to ban the export of certain live animals from England and Wales. Should the EU also ban live animal exports? What impact could a ban have?
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from VG, arguing that the EU has quite strict animal welfare rules. But are the EU’s rules strict enough when it comes to the transport of live animals?
To get a response, we put VG’s comment to Tilly Metz, a Luxembourgish MEP who sits with the European Greens and is the Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into the Protection of Animals during Transport. How would she respond?
For another perspective, we also put VG’s comment to Pekka Pesonen, the General Secretary of COPA-COGECA, which represents the interests of European farmers and agri-cooperatives. What would he say?
Let me put it this way. First of all, let’s talk about global animal welfare rules. As a European agricultural lobby, we have advocated the development of these animal welfare rules in general. But when we look at the export rules, we also have to talk about international agreements and how we deal with our trading partners. Because they have to be respected. We have no legal means to dictate anything. However, we are seeing some good trends in the sense that at least some of the European Union’s animal welfare laws have been adopted or followed by our trading partners, so we are seeing good development.
But we can never have 100 percent security in all areas, and that is always something we have to respect. You may have seen a development lately that is completely out of our hands. And, according to at least some reports, there have been some transports of live animals, I don’t know to what extent, how many animals, but then how do you ensure that animals are well fed and cared for under such conditions so that they stay healthy. that is a challenge and then of course we have to deal with it.
Next up, we had a comment sent in from Marcel arguing that people would be more conscious about the meat they buy if they were better informed about the conditions under which farm animals lived. Could information about transport conditions in animal welfare labels help consumers in their choices?
What does Pekka Pesonen think?
Last year, the German Presidency proposed a Europe-wide label for animal welfare standards. It’s not very specific yet, but we’re also working on it. We have to ask ourselves: what role does animal transport play in an animal’s life? In terms of time it is of course a very short period of time and usually towards the end of the animal’s life. Usually the most stressful part for the animal is loading and unloading during transportation. We support the development of modern equipment, such as trucks, that must meet the needs of the species. How exactly this is done depends on the species, because I would say that the focus for exporting live animals is on cattle and sheep, mostly for meat purposes.
But in any case we have to move animals within EU borders and then we have initiated solutions that meet the expectations of consumers and citizens. For example, there is a need for local products, shorter supply chains, even local mobile slaughterhouses to facilitate this. we certainly support them. But the reality in many cases is that consumers may be progressive when it comes to animal welfare standards, but when it comes to cost, many consumers tend to go for the cheaper option. So the reality of the market is also very clear, but of course we want to serve all sectors in livestock production as well as possible.
Having well-fed, healthy animals under good housing conditions is our top priority in all of Europe. But then it is also the fact that most of the farm animals are there for human consumption. They are a valuable addition to our diet. And it is in our interests to make sure that we use this natural resource efficiently, but then we have to do so with animal welfare and health in mind.
Finally, we had a comment come from Gediminas, who believes that EU-wide bans on certain practices in the food industry can have unintended consequences. Could a ban on the export of live animals also have negative consequences?
What would MEP Tilly Metz say?
Should the EU ban the export of live animals? Does the EU need stricter animal welfare laws regarding the transport of live animals? Could a ban on exports also have negative consequences? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts!