Transport of live animals in the EU
Most farm animals in the world are transported alive at least once in their lives when they are taken to slaughter, meaning that globally an estimated one billion live animals are transported every week. Increasing specialisation in farming systems means that many farm animals are now transported several times during their lives. Cattle, pigs and sheep may be moved from the farm where they are bred to a separate rearing farm, then in some cases on to a separate finishing system, and then to slaughter. At each stage they may be transported to and from markets where they are bought and sold. Poultry reared for meat are usually transported twice in their lives, first as one-day-old chicks and again for slaughter. Egg-laying hens are likely to be transported from the hatchery to the rearing farm as one-day-old chicks, then again to the laying farm, and finally to slaughter.
Animals may be transported by road, sea, rail and air, often across borders, on journeys which can last up to several days or even weeks. The reasons for transporting live animals long distances include economics, the suitability of different countries and regions for rearing animals and producing fodder or grain for feed, traditional trade and meat consumption patterns and also a lack of refrigeration facilities for transporting meat in some countries. In many developed countries, the number of small local slaughterhouses is declining, with most animals now travelling further to a few large centralised slaughterhouses. Animals with little economic value, such as ‘spent’ laying hens are often transported long distances because few slaughterhouses will accept them.
Examples of long journeys
Each year almost 1 million young calves are transported on very long journeys across Europe. The Netherlands imports over 700 000 calves for its veal production industry, including over 100 000 from Poland, over 70 000 from the UK and over 40 000 from each of Ireland and Lithuania in 2007. Poland also exports around 200 000 calves each year to Italy and around 100 000 to Spain. Each year, Ireland exports over 100 000 cattle, mostly weanlings (aged 6-12 months), to Spain and Italy for fattening. The journeys to southern Europe are over 2000km in length and take between 42 and 50 hours. The EU exported over 60 000 heifers to Russia in 2007, mainly from Germany and the Netherlands. Some are transported as far as Siberia on journeys of up to 6000km.
Cattle are transported long distances within North America, both for fattening in feedlots and for slaughter. In 2007 the USA imported around 2.5 million cattle, including around 850 000 animals for immediate slaughter from Canada. Australia exported over 700 000 live cattle in 2007. These animals may travel hundreds of kilometres just to reach the port before they are exported.
The Netherlands exports around two million pigs a year to Spain, Italy and eastern Europe. Some are going for slaughter but most are young pigs sent for fattening. Piglets are also exported from Denmark and Germany to southern Europe, including around 300 000 from Germany to Spain and around 180 000 from Denmark to Italy in 2007.
The USA imported over ten million pigs in 2007, including over three million animals for immediate slaughter from Canada. Around 400 slaughter pigs a week are transported by truck and sea from Canada to Hawaii via California, a journey that can take up to eight and a half days.
Italy imports around 1.5 million sheep and lambs for slaughter each year,
mainly from Hungary, Romania, Poland and Spain. Some are as young as four weeks old. Hungary, Romania and Spain also export sheep and lambs to Greece for slaughter.
Around 3.8 million sheep were transported by ship from Australia in 2007, mostly to the Middle East, on sea journeys taking two to three weeks or more. China a
lso exports live sheep by sea to the Middle East.
Italy imports around 50 000 horses for slaughter each year, mainly from eastern Europe. The USA exported over 100 000 horses for slaughter in Mexico and Canada in 2007, often involving very long journeys.