Shocking new evidence has emerged of the serious welfare problems in the export of farm animals from the EU to Turkey, a trade which broke the million-animal mark last year.
Two European animal welfare organisations, Eyes on Animals and Animal Welfare Foundation, carried out an investigation from 22nd to 29th June at the border between the EU (Bulgaria) and Turkey.
They found many animals being transported in ways that breach EU regulations. The findings mirror those of an investigation last year, which were highlighted by Compassion and the two organisations in January.
Out of 31 vehicles checked at the border, an alarming 18 (58%) contravened EU Regulation 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport; in six cases this led to serious suffering and even death of the animals.
The problems include severe overcrowding, limited supply of water and insufficient and dirty bedding, leading to high ammonia levels which make it difficult for the animals to breathe.
The EU Regulation says after 28 hours travel, cattle and sheep must be unloaded and given food, water and 24 hours rest. In some cases this crucial requirement is ignored. The investigators found animals being carried for around 60 hours from Austria to their destination in Turkey without being unloaded for a 24 hour rest break.
The problems are made worse by delays often lasting hours, sometimes even days at the border. These are caused by EU exporters arriving at the border with defective paperwork or missing ear-tags. In one case the Turkish authorities report that the paperwork stated 400 sheep were on a truck that in fact was carrying 600.
A total of 61% of the vehicles checked at the border were subject to delays lasting from 9 to 48 hours. During these delays the animals are generally forced to stay on the trucks in sweltering heat, often without sufficient food and water. They are usually unloaded for less than two hours to be weighed and for their ear-tags to be checked.
Huge numbers, huge distances
In 2011 over one million cattle and sheep were exported from the EU to Turkey. Every day on average ten trucks carrying animals continue to pour over the border between the EU and Turkey. Most of the animals are being sent for slaughter, though some of the cattle are going for fattening or breeding.
The sheep and cattle, including young calves, come from Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The transport companies carrying the animals are from these countries but also from the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Croatia.
Once the animals make it through the border, their ordeal is not over. Many face a further gruelling journey to distant destinations in Turkey.
Peter Stevenson, Compassion's Chief Policy Advisor, says: "We are calling on the European Commission to suspend the export of live animals to Turkey in order to prevent further suffering by EU animals.
"This trade contravenes a core principle of the EU Transport Regulation which is that 'for reasons of animal welfare the transport of animals over long journeys should be limited as far as possible'. Animals should be slaughtered in the EU near to the farm of rearing with EU exports to Turkey being in meat and carcass form."
In some cases the long journeys and poor conditions result in animals becoming ill or getting badly injured or dying en route. In a seriously overcrowded truck carrying sheep from Bulgaria to Turkey the investigators found two sheep with severe leg injuries as a result of their legs being crushed between the floor and the outer wall of the truck.
The animals were left in pain for hours before their legs were released. The investigators alerted the Turkish Head Veterinarian and insisted that they be unloaded and given veterinary care. The leg of one of the sheep had a deep open wound; s/he appeared to be in much pain and did not try to get up again.
The other sheep did not move after her/his crushed leg was released. In addition, three sheep in this truck had died. A fourth sheep was very weak and seemed to be dying. Another dead sheep was found in a second truck operated by the same company.
A sick calf needing immediate veterinary care was found on a truck coming from Austria. The animals had already been on board for over 47 hours by the time the investigators could get him help.
- You can write to European Commissioner John Dalli and let him know that, given the suffering in the live transport of animals between the EU and Turkey, the trade should be suspended. In the meantime you can urge the Commission to ensure the trade is being carried out in accordance with EU Regulations and work with Turkey and the member states involved to resolve the situation at the border.