The report reveals differences of enforcement between member states, which has had a negative impact on animal welfare in some cases, as transport companies sometimes plan longer journeys in order to avoid countries with tougher rules, particularly Austria.
However, the EC noticed an increase in the number of ventilation and watering systems installed in vehicles, and 80% of stakeholders surveyed said the 2005 regulation had improved transport quality. No significant improvement has been made in feeding systems, but most member states said long-distance vehicles were already equipped with such facilities before the regulation came into force in 2005.
Moreover, the cost of transportation increased by 2.2 euro cents per kilometre for vehicles carrying cattle, sheep and pigs, mainly because of the regulation’s requirements on watering and feeding systems, artificial ventilation and satellite navigation, added to various administrative costs. But due to the continuing competition of companies that do not comply with the regulation, this increase in costs has not been reflected in market prices, meaning that transporters operating by the rules have seen their profit margin diminished.
The EC recommends harmonising the definition, interpretation and enforcement of the regulation to level the playing field for transport companies. Increasing transport prices would improve animal welfare, as the EU expects trade flows to shift partly from livestock to meat transportation if long-distance journeys become more expensive. It also advised member states to apply a uniform level of penalties, and encouraged them to support good practice guides.
However, the EC said it would not consider changing the regulation until it has been strictly enforced in most member states. The report added: "Better implementation and enforcement of the existing regulation should be preferred to changing the present regulation. The present progress and developments, which are evolving slowly, will slow down if discussion starts on changing the regulation."
The NFU agreed with the decision, stating that the biggest issue is implementing the rules. NFU Vice President Gwyn Jones said: “[The report] has found a serious problem of non-compliance with existing regulations in certain member states. The EC rightly asserts that the focus of attention should therefore be on better enforcement of current regulations rather than any new regulations. We believe the current regulations are based on sound science and when enforced do not compromise animal welfare."
But the RSPCA, which has pushed for a change in export welfare rules, said it was "hugely disappointed". Julia Wrathall, head of the organisation's farm animal science team, said: "The current state of play is a catch 22 situation. Enforcement is so poor and penalties are so pitiful there is little incentive for hauliers to stick to the rules, but even if every driver complied with the legislation the RSPCA does not believe the rules go far enough to prevent some animals suffering severely.
"We believe eight hours is the absolute maximum time that animals should have to cope with being transported and we are disappointed the EC seems to be ignoring this key issue."
In the UK, Agriculture Minister Jim Paice has announced that livestock export welfare rules would be reviewed, after activists complained about delays in loading times at the port of Ramsgate.