Two votes in the European Parliament on Thursday disappointed animal welfare organisations and some MEPs that had hoped that they would ban exports of live animals to outside the EU and regulate the online trade with pets.
As previously reported, the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport (ANIT) has analysed the implementation of EU rules by member states and the correct enforcement of them by the European Commission. The NGOs claimed that the recommendations fall far short of the measures needed to end the suffering of animals during transports.
MEP Pär Holmgren, (Greens/EFA) told The Brussels Times after the Committee vote last December that he thought that there may be a political majority in the Parliament for tightening of EU legislation on animal transport.
The Parliament did vote with overwhelming majority (20 January), 557 votes to 55 and 78 abstentions, to step up their efforts to respect animal welfare during transport, update EU rules and appoint an EU commissioner responsible for animal welfare. But on other issues the Parliament seemed to prioritize economy over animal welfare.
The Parliament often acts to push the Commission to tighten rules and enforce regulations but, in this case, it might be the other way around. Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, who opened and closed the debate, reminded the MEPs that animal welfare is a priority within the Farm to Fork Strategy and, at the same time, a priority of her mandate and personally for her.
The Parliament voted for restricting journey time for domestic animals, to put CCTV cameras on transport vehicles and to allow live animal export only if it complies with European animal welfare standards. Ideally, there should be a transition to a system that favours the transport of semen or embryos over breeding stock, and carcasses and meat over live animals being moved for slaughter.
As regards journey time, the Parliament voted against amendments that would have called for a definition of the time as the entire time of movement including the time of loading and unloading, against the Commission interpretation that “time spent for loading and unloading should be included as to establish maximum journey time” (8 hours limit).
No ban on live animal transport
To support the transition to another transport system, the Parliament urged the Commission to urgently present, no later than 2023, an action plan, including a proposal on a specific fund to minimise the socio-economic impacts of the changes that need to be made.
“The EU has serious problems in terms of enforcing its animal welfare standards within its own borders, and in third countries it has no jurisdiction,” Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU, commented.
“The reality is that most third countries to which the EU exports live animals have few if any welfare standards for farmed animals, and none come close to matching those of the EU. The absence of a ban on exports will simply allow the violence perpetrated against animals abroad to continue unabated.”
According to Compassion in World Farming, over three million live animals are exported from the EU to third countries each year. Journeys by road and/or sea are particularly long and stressful to countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Libya and Algeria which are considered high-risk for animal welfare. Recent reports in media have also disclosed that Israel is a destination for live animal transport by sea.
At the plenary meeting, Commissioner Kyriakides announced some short-term measure that will be implemented before the regulation is revised, such as enhanced checks and inspections including vets. Audits will also be carried out on vessels and on unweaned calves by road.
“These immediate measures will hopefully contribute to prevent suffering while the Commission is working on the much-needed revision of legislation which needs to include a drastic reduction of maximum transport times to 0 hours for unweaned animals, 4 hours for poultry and rabbits and 8 hours for all other animals,” commented Pierre Sultana, Director of the European Policy office at FOUR PAWS.
On-line trade of pets not protected
The other vote on the Digital Services Act was indirectly linked to animal welfare and concerns the online trade of pets.
In the vote, the MEPs adopted a set of measures to tackle illegal content, to ensure online platforms are held accountable for their algorithms, and to improve content moderation. The measures, approved with 530 votes to 78 and 80 abstentions, will be used as the mandate to negotiate with the French EU presidency.
The Digital Services Act (DSA) proposal defines responsibilities and accountability for providers of intermediary services, and in particular online platforms, such as social media and marketplaces.
The DSA establishes a “notice and action” mechanism, as well as safeguards, for the removal of illegal products, services or content online. Providers of hosting services should act on receipt of such a notice “without undue delay, taking into account the type of illegal content that is being notified and the urgency of taking action”.
Very large online platforms will be subject to specific obligations due to the particular risks they pose regarding the dissemination of both illegal and harmful content. Micro and small enterprises, however, are exempted, from certain DSA obligations. Although illegal animal trade is included in the scope of the proposal, this opens up loopholes.
Small and mid-sized platforms will not be required to verify the identity of sellers advertising on their pages. Most online pet sales are happening through platforms falling into this category, allowing the illegal trade in companion animals to continue uninterrupted. The trade is largely anonymous and illegal sellers use platforms of all sizes to trade, leaving consumers equally exposed.
In an op-ed ahead of the vote, Reinike Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals, warned against the health risks in the illegal online pet trade and called on the Parliament to ensure that the DGA would offer better protection against these risks. She urges now the member states to strengthen the DGA provisions:
“All online marketplaces shall ensure that the trade applies only to cats and dogs that are microchipped, registered under and offered by their owner and registered breeder to ensure that no online trader can anonymously advertise animals.”
The trade in pets has been increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic and it is estimated that some 438,000 dogs and 80,000 cats are offered online at any given moment in the EU.
The Brussels Times