Ireland has joined with seven other EU countries to affirm support for the continuation of live animal transport and live exports within and outside the EU.

In the run-up to a Council of the EU meeting of agriculture ministers next Monday (January 30), the delegation from Portugal has prepared a document defending animal transport, which it will present to the meeting on behalf of itself as well as Ireland; France; Greece; Latvia; Lithuania; Romania; and Spain.

Live animal transport has come in for intense scrutiny in the EU in recent years, with a number of members states and political groupings calling for tighter regulations and for limiting distances and even destinations to which animals can be transported.

The EU’s current legislation on animal transport is in the process of being reviewed.

In the new document, the eight member states say: “Animal transport is a critical activity in animal production systems in Europe and, worldwide, [is] necessary for the smooth functioning of the animal production sectors.”

They also said that animal transport is an activity that demands high standards and attentive oversight.

The document points out that an earlier review of the current legislation, carried out by the European Commission, found that the present rules on transport had improved the welfare of animals, compared to pre-2005 when the legislation was implemented.

“This acknowledged progress recognises that the current EU animal welfare legislation continues to deliver an appropriate response to the animal welfare needs and challenges identified at the time of its adoption, based on the best available science,” the paper said.

However, the eight member states also noted that there are now other factors to be accounted for, including increasing societal expectations and ethical concerns; scientific and technological developments; and future sustainability challenges.

These member states support the need to revise the legislation to include better definitions of responsibilities; better harmonisation of the training of drivers; and a better definition of the primary responsibility for animal welfare by the transporters, among other issues to address.

They have called for any revised legislation to contain “clear and precise definitions” of any requirements or standards aimed at improving welfare conditions during transport.

The member states have also said that any legislation should be based on strong technical and scientific knowledge, and should draw on the experiences and good practices of member states in implementing and enforcing the legislation so far.

Ensuring the economic competiveness of EU agriculture needs to be taken into account, the document said.

“Recalling that the transport of animals is fundamental to the normal functioning of the European animal production sectors, we also stress that the primary objective…should be the continued facilitation of high welfare…trade and export of live animals, but not be focussed on measures aimed at prohibiting or limiting certain types of transport,” the document stated.

It also highlighted the seasonal nature of the need for animal transport, particularly in the cattle and sheep sectors.

“Failure to continue this facilitation will have an unintended consequence of impacting overall animal welfare negatively. For example, citizens in nearby third countries will be obliged to source animals from likely more distant non-EU suppliers with less developed animal welfare provisions.”

It went on to say: “We believe that member states and the council of ministers should continue to work towards improved implementation and enforcement of EU legislation and share with third countries our expertise and knowledge to improve animal welfare globally.”

In Ireland, live exports are of particular importance for both the dairy and beef sector, and a number of Irish MEPs have been vocal in backing continued animal transport with stronger regulations.