The situation is similar for cattle farmers in Romania. Sebastian Ile, who has a herd of 28 Angus cows, is trying to increase his negotiating power with exporting firms by forming a cooperative with eight other farmers. This means he can sell at a higher price per kilo – €2.5 compared to €1.8 – which is how much smaller farmers receive. But his ambitions go further than that.
“Not only is this extremely cruel, but there’s also a solution that would please 99.99% of people, that is, the consumers and the farmers in the importing countries, as well as the Romanian farmers,” Paun explains. “The only ones who would not benefit from this solution are the exporting firms.”
That solution involves replacing live animal exports with meat and carcass exports, both of which Romanian and European policymakers are now discussing. In December the European Union called for an update on current legislation on animal transport over long distances, as well as discussions on the sustainability of live transport versus meat trade. At the moment, EU regulations dating from 2005 make EU countries responsible for exported animals only on EU territory, rather than until they reach their destination.
The Romanian government has convened an agriculture commission to draft a new law regarding live animal exports, which would make Romania responsible for the state of the animals not only until the point of export, but all the way to the animals’ destination. If adopted, the law would be a first for the EU.
The new law would also make it compulsory for ships to have a vet on board. Inspired by the legal framework for slaughterhouses in the UK, some members of the commission suggested CCTV to monitor the animals until they reach their destination.
“This is a definite positive step in the right direction,” says Mary Pana, president of farmers’ union Acebop, which is part of the agriculture commission. The new proposal is aligned with Acebop’s current main priority – animal welfare.
Within five years, Pana also hopes Romania can move towards exporting meat rather than live animals. “In order to do that, we want the government to approve the construction of two or three big capacity abattoirs by the seaside, with freezer storage, and then a large part of the problems will be solved,” she says.
Romania’s minister of agriculture and rural development, Nechita-Adrian Oros, appears to agree. Commenting on the Midia incident, the minister said he hoped the tragedy would not be repeated, adding: “For Romania, it would be more economically advantageous not to export live animals but to export meat instead.”
For the farmers – who are battling harsh, low-paid conditions as well as corruption over EU subsidies and land ownership – these improvements could provide some inducement to stay on their farms.
“Shepherding is a tradition we’ve had for hundreds of years in Romania and [economic and political elites pursuing their selfish interests] are slowly managing to destroy a national treasure,” says a pessimistic Dănulețiu. “I’m a patriot and I’m trying to hope that something will change for the better in this country. But if not, we’re coming to London, we have no option.”