Today, in the case C-469/14 “Masterrind” (1),the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) answered two questions asked by a German Court in the frame of a request for a preliminary ruling. Today’s decision emphasises the importance of taking animal welfare into account during transport and the necessity to limit long-distance transport involving live animals. The decision is likely to benefit millions of animals that are transported annually in the EU.
The case in question involved a German company who, in 2011, sent 6 live bovines from Germany (Hamburg) to Morocco, meaning a total transport time of 30h30 in the EU, which was divided as follows: 1 hour of loading, 8h30 of travel, 1 hour break, 2 hours of travel, 10 hours break and 9 hours of travel resulting in a total of three travel periods and three breaks instead of the two determined by EU Regulation 1/2005. The veterinarian at the starting point in Hamburg concluded that the transport plan conformed to the guidelines and approved the journey, allowing the payment of export refunds to the transporter, which were paid before the transfer occurred. The problem stems from the fact that the veterinarian at the EU exit point in France decided that the transport did not adhere to Regulation 1/2005 as it exceeded the maximum EU travel time permitted and as a consequence the German financial authority in Hamburg asked for reimbursement of the export refund received.
The first question addressed to the Court aimed to clarify how to interpret the rule of 29 hours of travel in the transportation of bovines outlined by Regulation 1/2005. According to EU rules, transport should take place as follows: 14 hours of travel, “at least” 1 hour of rest and 14 hours of travel, after which a resting time of 24 hours for the animals is required. In addition, the Regulation also states that the transport time can be extended by 2 hours, totalling an overall time of 31 hours, when this is in the interest of animal welfare because the end destination is close. In this case, the complete travel time (including rest time) exceeded the 29 hours but was below the 31 hours permitted as derogation on the condition that it is beneficial to the animals'well-being. Moreover, the 10-hour break was to respect the mandatory resting time of the driver and not the welfare of the animals.
Overturning a previous case on the live transport of animals during the previous transport legislation, the Court decided that the first objective of Regulation 1/2005 is to improve the welfare of animals during transport. Therefore, a resting time of 10 hours that doesn’t allow the animals to effectively rest violates this. The Court also ruled that, in this case, the limit of 29 hours was exceeded but not for the benefit of the animals’ well-being as permitted as derogation by the Regulation.
"This decision is a new step for the welfare of animals during long-distance transport, as it makes clear that the first and primary objective of Regulation 1/2005 is animal welfare before market consideration. However, there is still a lot to improve so that the legislation fully respects the well-being of the animals, starting with reducing the journey time of the animals."
Pierre Sultana, Director of the VIER PFOTEN European Policy Office
The Court however, decreed that the journey can be divided into several transport periods and resting times as long as they do not exceed 29 hours.
The second question addressed to the Court aimed to clarify the significance of a veterinary certificate and to determine if the German veterinary authority (the country responsible for the payment of the export refund) was bound by the certificate completed by the French veterinary authority at the EU exit point. The German financial authority in Hamburg agreed that they were linked to the French certificate, and therefore have to request the return of the export refund delivered in advance, even if the German veterinary authority approved the transport. Following a previous case ruling, the ECJ stated that a veterinary certificate is not a binding document, but that strong evidence is needed to contradict it and should be brought, in particular, by the exporter contesting this veterinary certificate. However, in practice, a transporter cannot be blamed for animal welfare issues noticed by a veterinarian, as long as the EU animal welfare rules had been respected during transport.
“This decision will clarify the value of the veterinary certificates requested by Regulation 1/2005. Practice has shown that in the case of control it is often difficult for veterinary authorities to contradict a veterinary certificate delivered by another authority”, said Pierre Sultana. “However, it is regrettable to see that the compliance with rules provided by Regulation 1/2005 is not always sufficient to prevent animal suffering”.
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in twelve countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org