Do drivers’ hours rules assist with animal welfare?

Should an exemption from the requirement to comply with the tachograph and drivers’ hours rules be extended to cover livestock wholesalers who collect animals from farms and take them to slaughter?  That was the question recently put to the European Court.

The case was brought by a firm which transported fattened pigs from a farmer in Lower Saxony in one of the firm’s vehicles to a slaughterhouse.  The driver was not using a tachograph but relying on the exemption set out in Regulation 561/2006 that vehicles used for the carriage of live animals from farms to local markets  and vice versa or from markets to local slaughterhouses within a radius of 100km are exempt from the drivers’ hours rules.  The firm was fined by the local German authorities but appealed to a higher German court who asked the EU for a ruling.

The important factor in this case was that the pigs were being transported direct from the farm to the slaughterhouse, cutting out the local market.  The court looked at the wording of the exemption and said that the wording does not use the generic term “markets” but rather specifically specifies the term “local markets”.  The court held that it could not be said that a farm was the same as a “local market” as “local markets” were precisely determined locations distinct from farms or agricultural holdings.  The court was not minded to allow interpretation of the exemption to cover the situation where a livestock wholesaler collects animals from a farm and transports them direct to the slaughterhouse, as to allow the exemption to cover this type of situation would encourage livestock wholesalers to overuse high powered vehicles to transport for several hours and without interruption,  live animals from different farms,  to the local slaughterhouses with no regard to the social protection of drivers given by the Drivers’ Hours Rules.  Furthermore the purpose of the exemptions granted under the Drivers’ Hours Rules are to encourage activities where transport is only incidental to the operation’s main activity and where the transport operation involves only a short distance.

The court considered an argument that as the number of local livestock markets is decreasing,  that a more flexible approach should be adopted and to respect animal health and  welfare by allowing the exemption to cover the transportation of animals direct from farms to local slaughterhouses.  The court rejected these arguments for allowing the extension of the exemption.  It said that the point regarding the reduction in number of local markets had already been addressed by extending the radius from 50 to 100kms and that animal health and welfare was not one of the objectives of Regulation 561/2006 but that improved animal welfare may be obtained by refusing to extend the exemption.  Vehicles travelling without interruption between several agricultural holdings and local slaughterhouses not only affects drivers’ working conditions and endanger road safety but may also have a negative effect on the animals’ health and welfare.

The decision shows that the European court continues to take a restricted view of how it interprets the various exemptions offered under the Drivers’ Hours Rules.  Operators need to be sure that they not only understand the rules themselves  but how any exemptions relate to their particular field of business.  If you would like to discuss the scope of any exemption, please contact me on 01756790631.

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