COVID-19: People, Livestock at Risk from Live Export, Says NGOs

Credit: Animals' Angels
Credit: Animals' Angels

Published Mar 29, 2020 5:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

Animal welfare NGOs across Europe are trying to get the live export industry suspended in response to risks they say the trade poses to both humans and livestock during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

An open letter has been sent to E.U. leaders, including the President of the Agriculture Council, signed by 38 NGOs, and another one has been sent by 42 members of the European parliament (MEPs).

The NGO letter raises concern over the Commission's call that the transport of livestock between Member States must continue, noting Council Regulation 1/2005 Article 22.2 provides that: “No consignment of animals shall be detained during transport unless it is strictly necessary for the welfare of the animals or reasons of public safety.”

The groups say that livestock vehicles have been refused entry to Croatia and some are getting caught in very long queues at certain borders. They say that continuing with the trade in live animals poses threats not just to animals but to public health. “We are faced with never-before seen measures to contain the spread. Schools, businesses, stores are closed, airlines have cancelled many flights, public transport is operating less frequently, etc. We are all asked to stay home as much as possible. Yet we allow animals to be transported everywhere, and these animals do not go there by themselves but are driven or shipped by people to many destinations. 

“Drivers, vessel crews, animal handlers, officials from the competent authorities and veterinarians, border crossing personnel, and loading/unloading personnel are all involved. There is a high risk for the drivers and animal handlers in the ports/borders and their families to get infected mainly because, unlike others who enter the E.U., crew members of vessels are not required to be in quarantine upon their arrival. All of these people interact with others for every consignment and are at risk.”

Some specific problems cited in the letter are:

• Croatia is not permitting livestock vehicles coming from high-risk zones to enter the country. So the animals are stuck at the border. However, the high-risk zones are not clearly defined, and they are changing from hour to hour.

• At Polish borders, there are currently long waiting times. There are traffic queues of 40 kilometers at the border between Lithuania and Poland and queues on the German side of the border with Poland of 65 kilometers leading to waiting times of 18 hours. The fire brigade is trying to help families in cars and provides water for livestock trucks. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the infrastructure of some border crossings in Poland does not enable animal transports to be prioritized.

• Animals’ Angels (AA) were at the Bulgarian-Turkish border last week and there were immense truck queues. Drivers of livestock vehicles told AA that they needed three hours to move 300 meters inside the border. Since last week the situation is likely to have got worse as Turkey and Bulgaria have now introduced further travel restrictions.

In their letter, the MEPs state: “We have received news from all over Europe about the increasingly worrisome situation of live animals stuck in long queues at borders between Member States and between the latter and third countries.

“We have noted that the Commission’s Guidelines for border management measures include the recommendation for Member States to set up ‘green lanes’ to ensure the unobstructed transport of ‘priority goods’, which may include ‘essential goods’, such as livestock. Unfortunately, it appears that these non-binding recommendations are at present not able to prevent severe delays in the transport of live animals.”

Both letters call on the E.U to:

• Suspend all exports by land and by sea of live farm animals to non-E.U. countries.
• Suspend all transport of live farm animals on journeys over eight hours between Member States.
• Ensure rapid communication between Chief Veterinary Officers and National Contact Points to help livestock organizers avoid border crossings with long queues or refusal of entry by certain countries.