We have invited Tihomir Dimitrov, the Head of Programmes at FOUR PAWS Bulgaria and Ina Müller-Arnke, Expert for Live Animal Transports at FOUR PAWS International for an Interview to tell you more about the violations observed and the solutions we call for.
How do those investigations work?
Tihomir: We find and observe transporters carrying live animals going through the country. Sometimes violations are very obvious right away. If outside temperatures are very hot for example, we already know that the inside of the transport vehicle will be even hotter. This is because the animals' body temperature additionally heats up the vehicles and there is insufficient ventilation in the trucks to bring temperatures down. Other times we have to follow the trucks for a while to see if they adhere to maximum transport times, prescribed breaks and speed limits. We also look for signs of dehydration or other health concerns in the animals.
What is the biggest Animal Welfare Concern caused by the observed Violations?
Tihomir: One of the biggest issues we see, particularly in the summer months, are violations of the rules on maximum temperature. According to existing legislation the temperature inside the vehicle is not allowed to exceed 30°C for transports lasting longer than 8 hours. This means that transports should never be approved if outside temperatures at any section of the route are expected to exceed 30°C. However, this rule is frequently ignored. Temperatures inside the transport vehicles often exceed outside temperatures by several degrees Celsius, exposing the animals to brutal heat. Not only is this illegal, it also poses a severe threat to the animals' health and wellbeing. We observed animals being transported during extreme heat like 41°C outside temperature.
How could these situations be addressed?
Ina: Since we know that the temperature inside the vehicles always exceeds the outside temperature, we demand no transports to be allowed when the weather forecast is above 25°C on any section of the route. We also need much stricter enforcement of the existing regulations, meaning we call for much stricter action by the competent authorities, who should not allow transports at extreme temperatures. If transports are approved despite expected temperature violations along the road, the transporter and the authority that signed the transport off need to be held responsible. These stricter enforcements need to happen EU-wide. This, in combination to setting stricter rules would be a necessary step to improve the conditions and to reduce the suffering of the animals being transported alive. Furthermore we ask for all transport vehicles to be equipped with adequate ventilation systems, temperature sensors and automatic alarms that alert the drivers of excessive temperatures in the vehicle. Currently, this is only required for long distance transports for certain animal species, but for instance not for transports under 8 hours and not for the transport of poultry and rabbits. Poultry and rabbits transport vehicles are not even required to have any kind of ventilation. The animals are caught in boxes in several layers on top of each other and it is allowed to transport them for 12 hours in a row and to additionally let them wait in the vehicles in front of the slaughterhouse for another 12 hours. Numerous animals die during these unacceptable conditions.
Apart from the heat, what other violations have you observed?
Tihomir: We saw a truck that only had one driver, which unnecessarily extends the transport time, because he has to take long breaks more often. The same truck, like many others, had drinking devices (nipple drinkers) that were not suitable for the animals loaded: For cattle, sheep, goats and horses, only drinking devices are suitable which offer a visibly open water surface. We also observed that the driver did not provide the animals with water during the breaks. On other trucks we saw animals desperately licking the bars of the transport vehicle, a clear sign that they were severely thirsty and dehydrated, trying to find water. This got even worse when it started raining: the animals were stretching out their tongue out of the transport vehicle trying to catch a drop of rain. By the end of our investigation, none of the trucks stopped to give the animals water, despite the transports happening in the summer heat and with no suitable drinking devices. Several trucks were overloaded and had more animals on board than could comfortably fit, further increasing the heat production and risking injuries. We also observed speed limits that where exceeded. This not only exposes animals to an increased risk of accidents, but also people.
What are the consequences of these violations for the animals?
Ina: The lack of space of space is always an issue, as it increases the risk of injury and causes discomfort. However, it is particularly bad in combination with the heat. The more animals are stuffed in a vehicle, the hotter it gets inside, because the cramped conditions mean even less airflow and higher temperatures inside the vehicle. The situation is similar with the unsuitable drinking devices. The hotter it is, the more water the animals need. So while these drinkers are a problem all year round, it is even worse in the current weather conditions with temperatures above 41 degrees. When drivers are alone, they need to take more frequent breaks, which often means that the trucks are staying in the sun for longer periods of time, further increasing the temperatures inside, leading to even more suffering for the animals.
What solutions does FOUR PAWS propose?
Tihomir: We need clear prohibitions of transports during high temperatures, stricter rules and strong enforcement, such as frequent controls and dissuasive sanctions. All transport vehicles need to be equipped with ventilation, temperature sensors and adequate drinking devices. They also need GPS trackers that allow the responsible authorities to follow the journeys in real time and to sanction exceedance of journey times.
Ina: Those stricter requirements need to be enforced by each member state and if a responsible authority is not prosecuting violations, there need to be consequences. We also need to prohibit all long distance transports and particularly transports of live animals to third countries outside the EU, since those transports are especially prone to violations. The regulations that already apply to long distance transports also need to be applied to transports under eight hours. Currently, those shorter transports are subjected to very few regulations.
What can a person do if they see a truck that they believe violates regulations?
Ina: If you see a truck loaded with animals, when the outside temperatures are above 30°C or with animals that show signs of dehydration, like licking the bars of the transporter or seeming apathic, you can inform the local police department.
Tihomir: If the transporter is still on a parking lot, it would be ideal if you could stay nearby until police arrives. If you see it while driving, make sure you let them know where exactly you are, what direction you are driving and note down the license plate of the transporter. Most importantly: Don’t put yourself in danger! Never confront transporters or drivers and always alert authorities!
These findings were nothing new but show the ugly routine!
We strongly urge the Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport within the European Parliament to not only point out existing problems in its report, but also give clear recommendations of how the legislation can be improved.