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Welfare during Transport

Many millions of animals are transported every day around the world. Most animals farmed for human consumption are transported at least once, if not many more times, during their lifetime. It is important that these journeys are kept as stress- and injury-free as possible.

The HSA maintains that:

  • Animals should be slaughtered as close to the point of production as possible;
  • Transport should be minimised by travelling from the farm direct to a slaughterhouse.

Historically, the HSA’s activities included pressing for a ban on live export of animals destined for consumption. A temporary ban was achieved although trade was resumed in 1975. The HSA also worked for many years to have cattle arriving in Glasgow by ship from Ireland transported to the abattoir by rail rather than walked through the city, and in 1941 this resulted in the necessary rail lines being laid.

The HSA released its first transport training video in 1989. ‘The Road Ahead’, was updated in 2000 and translated into ten languages. The award-winning video has become an industry standard in the UK for training drivers in the welfare of animals during transport. In 2012, the HSA supported the production of a new training video specifically for fire and rescue services dealing with livestock transport emergencies.

A new EU Regulation on the protection of animals during transport and related operations came into force in 2007. The HSA subsequently produced guidance on the new Regulation to assist those involved in the commercial transport of farm animals, horses, poultry and farmed fish.

The HSA organises workshops and conferences to enable exchange of ideas on best practice for live animal transport. The Association also supports and collaborates on research into the welfare of farmed animal species during transport, including investigations into vehicle design, journey times, and drive quality.

Long distance trade in live animals

Live animals of many species are transported around the world for zoos, for breeding purposes, as high value animals for sporting purposes, e.g. race horses, etc. Due to their high value/high prestige great care is usually taken to ensure that these animals are well looked after and protected from any welfare concerns, and some of these animals will be transported by air which can greatly reduce journey times. However, the bulk of live animals being transported long distances will, on arrival at their destination, be slaughtered for food. It is the welfare of these animals that often gives cause for concern, both during the period of transport and on arrival at their final destination. Most of these animals will be transported by either road or rail, but a significant proportion are also transported by sea (Australia to the Middle East; Brazil to Lebanon).

In many areas where the long distance transport of animals for slaughter takes place (e.g. North America, the EU, New Zealand, Brazil) there is legislation in place to protect their welfare while they are being loaded, transported and unloaded. Other countries (e.g. Australia) rely on voluntary national codes of practice, although in the case of Australia there is state and territory livestock welfare legislation. The extent of this protection, however, varies from area to area and to a large extent depends on the enforcement agencies in the counties and regions involved. In the EU there is legislation which covers the whole of the community, but national states are allowed to set higher standards if they wish. However, enforcement is the responsibility of the individual national enforcement agencies, and again the level of enforcement varies between member states.

In some countries there is no, or very limited, regulation of animal welfare during transport. In this situation, if these countries are importing live animals, their welfare may well be compromised. Irrespective of how comprehensive the welfare laws are in the exporting country, once the animals pass to the jurisdiction of the importing country their welfare can no longer be guaranteed. There have been numerous reports of the welfare of exported animals being severely compromised on arrival at their destination. In the case of animals transported by sea, the exporting country may well lose control of their welfare at the point of export if the vessel transporting the animals is outside their jurisdiction. There have been reports of this happening on a number of occasions. Even when the vessel remains within the jurisdiction of the exporting country, unforeseen problems may arise resulting in the welfare of the animals being severely compromised. For example, the case of 22,000 sheep from Australia being kept at sea for weeks because the importing country, Bahrain, rejected them due to fears that they were diseased.

Countries and regions may establish laws and regulations, which take into account the welfare of animals during transport, but inevitably, because of difficulties in enforcement, these laws will on occasion be contravened. Alternatively mechanical or unforeseen problems can arise that may compromise the welfare of the animals. Even with the most high tech methods of transport equipment failures can occur, as was the case with the death of 174 sheep from heat stress on a flight from Perth to Singapore in 2014. Finally, once the animals reach the importing country there is no guarantee that their welfare during transport, or subsequent operations, will be protected. Therefore, the Humane Slaughter Association’s position on the transport of food animals continues to be that they should be slaughtered as close as possible to the point where they are raised. This is the only way that any risk to their welfare can be kept to a minimum.

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