DEFRA consultation on improvements to animal welfare in transport


DEFRA have just published their consultation document with the changes they propose to the regulations concerning transport of live chickens, pigs, cattle, sheep – and, of course, horses are also included in this. This has partly arisen due to Brexit and began in 2018 with DEFRA launching a “Call for Evidence” (Click here to see the DEFRA document).

Dr David Marlin reviews the published information

The Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) were then asked to review this evidence and provide recommendations on improving the welfare of animals during transport. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the makeup of FAWC includes any experts on horse transport! Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the University of Edinburgh conducted a systematic review of scientific research on the welfare of animals during transport and at markets but it’s not clear how much of this focused on horses. To date this has not been available to view.

The stated aim of the consultation is to “end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening”. However, for a decade there have been no official/legal shipments of horses or ponies from the UK to the EU for slaughter or fattening and it’s clear that this legislative review is aimed at farm animals, not including horses, although the consequences for horses could be far-reaching. Horses are transported often and for short to moderate durations within the UK, usually in very good conditions and at low stocking density. This is clearly very different from farm animals which may only be transported once or twice in their entire life and often at high stocking density.

It should be pointed out that under COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations and amending Directives 64/432/EEC and 93/119/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1255/97, horses come under the regulation only if they are being transported in connection with “an economic activity”. Nor does it apply to horses being transported directly to or from veterinary practices or clinics, under the advice of a vet.

The new DEFRA consultation mirrors the EU legislation but proposes to make the regulations applicable to ALL journeys, irrespective of length. In EC 1/2005 there was differentiation between SHORT (over 65km and less than 8h) and LONG journeys (over 8h).

What is concerning is that major stakeholders such as World Horse Welfare have not been consulted on these proposals and that the FAWC does not appear to include anyone with equine transport expertise. The definition of “economic activity” is also vague.

Some of the conclusions and recommendations from the FAWC report are also of concern. For example, under Thermal Conditions and Ventilation it is stated that “Ventilation needs to be optimised in transporters by increasing the level of flow. More work is needed to find the optimum temperatures for travelling.” This is not the case. A large volume of data and evidence already exists. Furthermore, under Long Journeys, “Horses should not be transported longer than 24 hours during hot weather conditions and without water. Journeys over 28 hours lead to fatigue, it is suggested that a rest stop every 4.5
hours with electrolytes in the water.” So you can travel a horse for up to 24h without water? Fatigue can occur in 12h. “Electrolytes in water”? Seriously? Provide clean fresh water and forage. Finally, under Identified Welfare Risks During Transportation, “Horses prefer to travel aligned with direction of movement for all modes of transport”. Not consistent with published peer-reviewed scientific papers.


Original EU Regulation COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations and amending Directives 64/432/EEC and 93/119/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1255/97 

DEFRA Consultation Document


About Author

Dr David Marlin is a physiologist and biochemist who has worked in academia, research and professional sport. He has worked in the equestrian and veterinary world and in human sport, healthcare, medicine and exercise science. In 1989 David obtained his PhD from the UK’s leading sports university, Loughborough University following a four-year study on the responses of Thoroughbred racehorses to exercise and training, undertaken at the renowned Animal Health Trust in Newmarket. You can read David's full biography in the Our Website section.