EFSA has provided a scientific opinion on the welfare of equidae (horses and donkeys) during transport, to assist with the EU Commission’s evaluation of animal welfare legislation, as part of the Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy.
Based on severity, duration and frequency of occurrence, thirteen negative welfare consequences, linked to equidae experiencing pain, discomfort, distress, fear, and fatigue, were found to be particularly relevant to the transport of equidae:
- Gastro enteric disorders
- Handling stress
- Heat stress
- Isolation stress
- Motion stress
- Prolonged hunger
- Prolonged thirst
- Respiratory disorders
- Resting problems
- Restriction of movement
- Sensory overstimulation
- Separation stress
These welfare consequences were found to be associated with factors such as:
- Inexperienced or untrained handlers
- Lack of training of the animals
- Horse temperament
- Horse breed
- Use of sedatives
- Structural deficiencies of vehicles and facilities
- Poor driving skills and conditions
- Separation from other horses
- Regrouping with unfamiliar horses
- Unfavourable microclimatic and environmental conditions
- Poor transport and husbandry practices
Key implications and recommendations in the Opinion include the following:
- Current rules and practices need to be revised to include requirements for more space, lower temperatures, and reduced journey times.
- The term fitness for transport requires a proper definition.
- Professionals involved in the transport of equidae should be well educated and trained.
- The temperature inside vehicles transporting equidae should not exceed the Upper Critical Temperature (UCT), which is estimated to be 25°C.
- Future research should be conducted in relation to the development of systems to maintain the microclimatic conditions in stationary as well as moving vehicles across different compartments and deck heights by e.g., air conditioning.
- An individual stall should be a minimum of 40 cm wider than the width of the widest point of a horse.
- An individual stall should be a minimum of 40 cm longer that the body length of the horse.
- Horses must have the ability to lower their head below the wither height to clear their respiratory tract, and therefore should not cross-tied or tied excessively short.
- Unhandled horses should be transported in a small group consisting of compatible animals free to move around with a density of < 200 kg/m2.
- During transport, horses should be provided with feed and water ad libitum or at least at regular intervals (of no more than 4 hours) for a period of 30 minutes while the vehicle is stationary.
- During transport horses will experience thirst after 3 hours if not watered and hunger after 12 hours if not fed, clinical respiratory disorders can occur after journeys of 10–14 hours and gastroenteric disorders such as gastric ulceration may be observed after 12 hours in unfed horses.
Source: EFSA Journal 2022;20(9):7444