EFSA issues its opinion on the welfare of animals during transport

The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW Panel) published today an opinion relating to the welfare of animals during transport. The Panel concluded that a variety of stressors involved in transport strongly contribute to poor animal welfare in particular for those species which are not used to human contact. Stress factors also increase the susceptibility to infections of transported animals and the shedding of infectious agents in those already infected. A high health status in the population of origin constitutes a major measure in preventing the spread of infectious diseases in relation to transport. Close inspection of animals is also required in order to select those fit for transport. Where transport is necessary, stressful conditions should be minimised and journeys should be as short as possible. The transport of animals which are not used to human contact should be avoided wherever possible. All persons involved in animal transport should be well trained as appropriate training has a remarkable positive effect on animal welfare. In its opinion, the AHAW Panel provided both general and species-specific recommendations in view of safeguarding animal health and welfare during transport.

While the report of the EU Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare “The welfare of animals during transport” adopted 11 March 2002 dealt in particular with horses, pigs, sheep and cattle, the EFSA Report and Opinion concern all other species of animals which are frequently transported. These include: poultry species, ratites (birds which are unable to fly such as ostrich), deer and reindeer, rabbits, fish, dogs, cats, rodents, primates, exotic and wild animals. General principles pertaining to all or most species concerned as well as the welfare of specific animal species during transport were taken into account by the AHAW Panel.

Commenting on the opinion, Professor Philippe Vannier, Chairman of the AHAW Panel explained: “Poor welfare in transported animals is caused by stressful conditions which they encounter during loading and transport and also by exposure to infectious and other diseases which may be exacerbated in this context. It is important to ensure the high health status of transported animals and minimise all stressful conditions in order to protect the health and welfare of animals. The collective and multi-disciplinary experience of the AHAW Panel was essential in order to address a complex and sensitive issue and to propose appropriate recommendations taking into account all scientific data available.”

The conclusions and recommendations of the AHAW Panel can be summarised as follows:

  • A variety of stress factors involved in transport strongly contribute to poor welfare in transported animals and increase the risk of infection and disease. Changes in the animal’s environment (e.g. food, exposure to humans, loading conditions, space…) constitute sources of stress for transported animals. All such stressful conditions should be minimised, in particular for those animals that are severely disturbed by human contact and unaccustomed to transport (e.g. wild caught animals, adult ratites, male deer).
  • Very poor welfare in transported animals is caused by bad treatment of animals during loading or unloading or by bad driving. In order to minimise these problems persons involved with animal transport should be trained and their remuneration should encourage good practice.
  • Transport of mammals, birds, and fish can result in the spread of both animal and zoonotic diseases. In order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in relation to transport, only those animals fit for transport should be selected. Clinical inspections of animals before transport and biosecurity measures such as cleaning and disinfection of transport vehicles and related equipment are also of importance.
  • Moreover, the practice of sending animals through markets on the way to slaughterhouses should be discouraged as this increases the length of the journey and possible exposure to infectious agents. Animals should not be unloaded from vehicles at staging points due both to increased stress and risk of infection. When transported, animals should be loaded carefully and kept at stocking densities and roof heights that allow for normal movements and resting positions. Contact between transported animals and other animals should be minimised and quarantine or isolation periods on farms are advisable after transport.
  • Animals which are unfit for transport, including female birds likely to produce an egg during the transport period and mammals during the last days of gestation should not be transported at all.
  • Although mortality is often used as an indicator of transport conditions, notably for poultry species, this is a very poor measure of welfare and provides no information as to the possible pain and distress suffered by animals.
  • Finally, the Panel strongly recommends that the routine use of behaviour-modifying drugs during transport should never be utilised as a substitute for good practice.
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