European Commission says long distance horse transport needs improvement

Shorter journeys, more space and better training for those involved in the transport of horses are some of the recommendations welcomed by World Horse Welfare in a report by the European Commission’s scientific advisors. © World Horse Welfare

The European Commission’s scientific advisors recommend that welfare protections in horse transport law should be improved, a position which has been welcomed by international charity World Horse Welfare, which has long lobbied on the issue.

Shorter journeys, more space and better training for those involved in the transport of horses are some of the recommendations in the report on animal transport from the European Commission’s (EC) scientific advisors at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

In light of long-standing concerns about animal welfare during transport, in 2020 EFSA was asked by the EC to review the science in preparation for a possible update of EU laws governing the transport of animals for commercial purposes, including for slaughter, under the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy. World Horse Welfare, whose founding campaign seeks to stop unnecessary long journeys to slaughter in Europe, submitted its own evidence to the EFSA as part of this review.

The EFSA provided their recommendations to the Commission in five separate reports, covering all animals transported as livestock, one of which covers horses.

World Horse Welfare Chief Executive Roly Owers said the report acknowledged what the charity had been saying for years. “The longer the journey, the more horses can suffer, especially when conditions are not right. These recommendations echo many of our own, including the need for shorter journeys, increased space allowance and better training for everyone involved in transporting horses.

“The report is an irrefutable case for change, and I very much hope that their recommendations will be taken on board, alongside a specified maximum journey time limit,” Owers said.

“In the shadow of Brexit there is a real danger that animal transport requirements in GB and EU will differ significantly. World Horse Welfare is working to seek as close alignment as possible with animal welfare and health rules, including disease control. This will hopefully ensure the welfare of equines as they are transported between the EU and Great Britain, but also allow for ease of compliance for transporters.”

The report acknowledges that transportation carries risks and the potential for stress for the animals involved. The recommendations EFSA is making aim to reduce these by specifying the maximum temperatures the animals should be exposed to and the amount of space each individual requires while being transported. The research highlights that being fit for transport is of the utmost importance for an animal’s welfare but recognizes that despite its importance, no agreed scientific definition of the concept of fitness for transport currently exists and more research is required.

The recommendations state that horses should not be transported in temperatures inside the vehicles above 25orC (higher-welfare vehicles have temperature-controlled interiors, but many transport vehicles do not) and that each animal should have a minimum of 40cm space in excess of both its width and total length. Overall total journey times should be reduced, and stationary rest, feed and watering should be provided every four hours for a minimum of 30 minutes during each journey.

Unlike other species, a large number of equids are transported for reasons other than to slaughter, and these recommendations will affect all horses being transported for commercial purposes. However, it is recognized that horses being transported for slaughter are often subjected to longer journeys, and often in poorer conditions, and so these recommendations will benefit these animals in particular.

A key element of the recommendations, and one which World Horse Welfare has stressed from the beginning of the review that led to these recommendations, is the need for training for transporters and handlers to enable them to effectively assess the welfare of horses during transport.

If these recommendations are agreed upon, this will benefit equines moving into and out of the EU, ensuring their journeys before/after passing through borders into third countries – including Great Britain – will be of a higher minimum welfare standard.

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