Driving animal welfare forward: the case of animal transport

In the last 10 years, EFSA has played an important role in improving the welfare of animals in the EU. Led by its Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW), a group of leading experts with experience in areas such as veterinary sciences and animal behaviour, EFSA provides scientific advice on the welfare of farm animals, including pigs, fish, broiler chickens and dairy cows. It examines a wide range of issues affecting the welfare of each animal species, such as housing and husbandry systems, nutrition and feeding, transport and stunning and killing methods.

The work on the welfare of animals during transport is one example of the important contribution the AHAW Panel has made over the last 10 years. In 2004, the Panel published two scientific opinions on the welfare of transported animals. The first outlined general principles related to all animal species as well as detailed conclusions and recommendations on the transport of individual species. The second looked at factors that affect the micro-climate of animal road transport vehicles, such as temperature and humidity of the air, air velocity or air quality. These factors are known to significantly influence welfare and health of animals if they are not kept within an appropriate range. The advice from both opinions had a direct impact on related EU legislation that came into force in the following year.

More recently, following a 2010 request from the European Commission for scientific advice, the Panel collected the latest scientific information in relation to welfare risks for transported animals and presented its findings and recommendations in a new scientific opinion. EFSA also organised a technical meeting to exchange views with relevant stakeholders, including transporters, livestock breeders and animal welfare NGOs. This exchange of information proved invaluable to the Panel as it helped to improve its understanding of stakeholder concerns and ensure that its advice and recommendations reflected current operating practices.

Importantly, the opinion also evaluated animal-based welfare indicators and their possible use as an alternative to the assessment requirements set out in the current legislation. Most of the current legislation on the protection of animals focuses on the assessment of factors that impact on welfare rather than on the animal’s response to these factors. In the case of animal transport, such factors might include the length of the journey or the number of times the animal is allowed to rest or take water. An approach using animal-based measures, on the other hand, focuses on the response of the animal to factors in its environment and can be used as an alternative or sometimes complementary approach to assessing the factors themselves. For example, if after inspecting an animal, an inspector believes it is suffering from high body temperature or making abnormal respiratory sounds, he or she could declare the animal unfit for transport.

The rationale for this approach is that animal-based measures aim to directly determine the actual welfare status of the animal and therefore include both the effect of the environment as well as how the animal copes with it. In the last couple of years, EFSA’s work in this area has not been confined to animal transport: by the end of 2012, it will have produced a series of scientific opinions on the use of animal-based measures to assess the welfare of the main farm species: dairy cows, cattle, pigs, and broiler chickens.