Animal welfare: Parliament wants better protection for transported animals

Long journeys create stress and suffering for farm animals. MEPs want stricter controls, tougher penalties and shorter traveling times to increase animals' welfare across the EU.

Every year, millions of animals are transported long distances across the EU and to non-EU countries to be bred, reared or slaughtered, as well as for competitions and the pet trade. From 2009 to 2015, the number of animals transported within the EU increased by 19% - from 1.25 billion to 1.49 billion. The numbers for pigs, poultry and horses increased, whereas those for cattle, sheep and goats decreased. Over the same period, the number of consignments of live animals in the EU increased from about 400,000 to 430,000 per year.

There are already EU rules for the protection and welfare of animals during transport.  However, a resolution adopted by MEPs on 14 February calls for better enforcement, sanctions and reduced journey times.

“In formulating and implementing the Union’s […] policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”
Article 13, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
Source "“In formulating and implementing the Union’s […] policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”" Opens in a new window

Decreasing travelling times

Long journeys stress animals, which suffer from reduced space, changing temperatures, limited food and water as well as vehicle motion. Inadequate equipment or poor weather conditions may mean animals are injured or become ill during transportation. Crossing borders to non-EU countries, with long stops to check documents, vehicles and animals represents an additional problem.

Animals transported for more than eight hours within the EU every year

  • 4 million cattle
  • 4 million sheep
  • 150,000 horses
  • 28 million pigs
  • 243 million poultry

MEPs argue that journeys should be as short as possible, and recommend alternative solutions, such as the transport of animal products rather than live animals and the development of on-farm or local slaughter and meat processing facilities.

Additionally, they ask for a clear definition of animal fitness for transport to be set to avoid further risks.

Stricter controls and tougher penalties

MEPs recommend the use of modern technologies, such as geo-location systems, to allow for journeys to be tracked in real time. They also urge EU countries to carry out more spot checks to help reduce the number of infringements. The level of inspections varies widely across the EU, from zero to several million inspections per year. The incidence of infringements ranges from 0% to 16.6%.

Parliament is also pushing for tougher penalties to discourage bad practice, including sanctions for member states that don’t properly apply EU rules. Companies who breach the rules should face bans on inadequate vehicles and vessels, withdrawal of transport licences and compulsory staff training on animal welfare.

Higher standards abroad

To protect animals exported to non-EU countries, MEPs want bilateral agreements or a ban on the transport of live animals when national standards are not aligned with EU law. They also want assurances that appropriate resting areas where animals can eat and drink are provided at customs posts.

Next steps

Parliament established an inquiry committee on the protection of animals during transport within and outside the EU in June 2020.

The committee found systemic failures in the implementation of animal transport rules across the EU. The committee’s report was adopted during a plenary session in January 2022.