Mass suffering and neglect in heatwave exposed by major investigation into live-export trade – and crisis is due to worsen after Ireland signs new deal
A COW licks at the metal bars of the lorry, desperate for any precious drops of water; behind her, another sits helpless with painful skin sores, too sick and helpless to even stand. Some animals are foaming at the mouth from dehydration and hunger. A heifer shakes from heat exhaustion.
They are among the hundreds of thousands of animals exported each year from Europe and abandoned for days on end in sordid, illegal conditions just inside Turkey.
While the world’s attention is on migrants using Turkey to get into Europe, a five-year investigation has revealed how bureaucracy and neglect at the country’s border leave large numbers of live sheep, cattle and goats suffering in overcrowded lorries parked in soaring heatwave temperatures for a week or more.
European Union chiefs are being accused of turning a blind eye – and British campaigners on both sides of the EU debate claimed the crisis proved their case.
Deprived of food, water and veterinary care and forced to lie in their own dung, many animals die of disease, dehydration and stress.
European Union chiefs are being accused of turning a blind eye and ignoring repeated reports welfare activists have sent them about the crisis.
Subsidised but secretive
Europe’s live exports to Turkey, which began in 2010, are little known outside EU farmers – but are indirectly subsidised by taxpayers through generous EU subsidies to the farmers.
The animals, mostly from Eastern Europe, are destined for rudimentary slaughterhouses in the Middle East and north Africa, where they are killed without stunning.
By law, they should be offloaded from lorries after 28 hours of travelling, to be given water, food and rest – but this rarely happens.
Investigators from British charity Compassion in World Farming (CiWF), together with others from the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, carried out a major five-year investigation. The disturbing 1,000-page dossier reveals “immense and horrific” suffering.
The animals were illegally kept in cramped trucks at the Turkish border for days as the thermometer rose as high as 107F (42C). They reported how, after journeys across the Continent that had already lasted days, the lorries were parked at the border in the full sun.
The delays were caused by Turkish officials being absent; delaying inspections; demanding paperwork that drivers did not have or refusing to let trucks through because import taxes had not been paid.
During one week of intense observation by investigators, the animals faced an average wait of 17 hours. In one case, a lorry was left for a week unattended. The sheep, heifers – some pregnant – and goats were deprived of food and water, with many showing extreme dehydration.
The footage also shows cattle:
- lying dead or dying, in trailers with still living animals
- shaking and panting continually from sickness or heat stress
- suffering with barely enough room to move in cramped lorries and insufficient head room
- with lesions on their skin
- being forced to stand or lie on their own dung because bedding is scarce
- forced to eat hay or bedding contaminated with their own dung
- forced to drink from small buckets of filthy water
One animal was filmed with a leg stuck between bars because of the overcrowding; when the leg was freed, blood poured freely from it. No vets were on hand to tend to the injured and dying animals and those giving birth.
That UK taxpayer money funds animal cruelty like bullfighting or the awful treatment of farm animals going for slaughter is appalling
— MP Henry Smith
CiWF, which carried out the investigation with Dutch group Eyes on Animals, Germany’s Animal Welfare Foundation, and Swiss group Tierschutzbund Zürich, says the four welfare organisations complained many times to European health commission chiefs in Brussels as well as the relevant farming ministers – but nothing changed.
In the five years, 900,000 sheep, 850,000 cattle and 5,000 goats were exported to Turkey. During the week of intense observation, seven out of 10 transporters – 247 out of 352 – broke one or more EU regulations.
Irish deal ‘will make crisis worse’
The worst offenders were lorries from Hungary, Bulgaria and France, with Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Estonia not far behind.
But campaigners say the suffering will worsen after Ireland signed a deal with Turkey to export farm animals. Peta is collecting signatures for a petition to ask Irish ministers to drop their plans in view of the investigation’s findings.
“This will result in the unacceptable suffering of even more animals,” said a CiWF spokeswoman.
She said the trade with Turkey exists to relieve Europe’s own market of “unwanted, surplus” farm animals, to keep prices high.
Extreme dehydration and heat exhaustion causes foaming at the mouth
Former shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy said: “Britain should be leading efforts within the EU, pushing higher standards as a minimum across member states, and challenging the EU’s trading partners to match us. We must have zero tolerance for poor animal welfare.”
MP Roger Gale, president of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation,said the crisis required an internationally agreed solution. Speaking before the referendum on EU membership, he said that if Britain remained in “we have a voice in discussions, and out we do not”.
TV vet Marc Abraham condemned the “horrific ordeal” the thousands of animals are subjected to, calling for a ban on live exports and for the trade to be replaced by one in frozen meat. “It’s totally unacceptable,” he said.
Mr Abraham, who was the resident vet on The Paul O’Grady Show, said: “These animals have to undergo a horrific ordeal. Pain, stress, suffering, which in my view, is completely preventable by pre-export slaughter. We’re subjecting these animals to so much suffering and I think if the general public knew this, a lot would be very angry.”
And he had a message for EU decision-makers: “We should stick you in the lorries with the sheep and cows and let them do these journeys without food or water and see how they enjoy it because animals are intelligent and feel pain and suffer. There’s not a massive difference with how it would feel to us in these conditions.”
Ukip’s farming spokesman, Stuart Agnew MEP, said: “The answer is very simple: enforce existing legislation. The problem is one of culture and attitudes which we are not going to change, in or out of the EU. Leaving the EU means we can at least prevent live exports of our own animals.”
The animal groups said the Turkish government and the exporting countries should take the law seriously.
Iris Baumgärtner, of the Animal Welfare Foundation and Tierschutzbund Zürich, said: “This practice is not only a systematic violation against EU animal transport regulation 1/2005, but also against Article 13 of the Treaty of Lisbon, according to which the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings are to be fully respected.”
Last year, a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice said that EU animal-welfare laws on livestock transport apply to animals even after they have left the union’s borders.
This story is as important as any other issue in the EU referendum debate
– Stanley Johnson
The overcrowding alone would cause severe distress
Stanley Johnson, founder of the European Parliament’s all-party intergroup on animal welfare, and father of Boris Johnson, who quit the Tory leadership race, branded the neglect “scandalous”, and joined Ms McCarthy in calling for Europe to urgently crack down on the squalid conditions.
“It’s totally scandalous that animals exported from EU countries are so abysmally treated when they have left European territory. In European treaties animals are defined as sentient beings, and it’s high time that Europe’s partners in all parts of the world realised it,” he said.
“This story is as important as any other issue in the EU referendum.”
Mr Johnson pointed out that most improvements in animal welfare across the board had come from Europe.
But Brexit supporters said leaving the EU meant British taxpayers would stop subsidising live exports and Britain could at least prevent its own animals being part of the grisly trade.
MP Henry Smith, co-chairman of Britain’s All-Party Group on Animal Welfare, said being in the EU meant Britain having no control over issues such as live exports and puppy farming, but these could be ended after Brexit.
“The fact that UK taxpayer money goes to fund animal cruelty like bull-fighting in Spain or the awful treatment of farm animals going for slaughter is appalling and I think many would be shocked,” he said.
“The UK, where it has the power to do so, has a good record of animal welfare, although this can and should always be improved. We may not be perfect in this respect but better than practices the EU allows and even funds.”
British and European citizens are being asked to protest to their MEPs against live exports.
The European Commission’s London office declined to comment.