| Each year, around 30,000
horses are exported from Central and Eastern Europe for
slaughter in Italy, France and Belgium in what can fairly
be described as one of the cruellest and least regulated
aspects of Europes live animal trade.
Poland is the biggest exporter of live horses for slaughter
in Europe. Ten years ago there were one million horses
in Poland but that number has now been reduced to 500,000.
Nevertheless, each year, 30,000 leave Poland to be slaughtered
for meat. 90 per cent go to Italy and 10 per cent to
France and Belgium. Horses endure horrendously long
journeys. One of the furthest destinations is Sardinia,
a journey of 2500km (1500 miles) which may take as long
as 95 hours. Roads are often extremely pot-holed and
drivers usually travel too fast.
Where do the horses come from?
Horses of all shapes and sizes are sold for slaughter
but the majority are heavy working horses, chestnut
in colour and gentle in nature. Most horses are owned
privately. There are also many racehorses and riding
school horses. Often horses come from Lithuania and
as far as Russia through Poland and on to Italy. Many
horses are old, diseased, injured and even blind and
because of the high demand, even fit and healthy horses,
and youngsters are sold. Foals are thought to be a health
food so are highly sought after. Paperwork for
horses is often false so it is impossible to ascertain
horses true backgrounds. Horse theft is common, as thieves
know that they can easily obtain false certificates
of origin. The biggest horse market is in Skaryszew,
South of Warsaw where thousands of horses are sold .
Who owns the trade?
The major registered horse traders in Poland are:
Animex SA Warsaw (Owned by Smithfields Foods USA) and
Cosmos Czestochowa. The average price a horse fetches
Why Polish horses?
Consumers in Italy demand vast amounts of horsemeat
- thousands of tonnes. Italys terrain is unsuitable
for horses as much of it is mountainous. Polish horses
pay the price as they are relatively cheap to buy and
laws and regulations are easily broken. Polish drivers
are told not to water their horses. Italians demand
unsaturated meat so drivers are told that
watering the horses will give them colic. This has no
scientific reasoning and is a complete fallacy. There
is clearly no consideration for the welfare of the horses.
The dangers the horses face include overcrowding, which
can result in them falling and being trampled on. These
dangers increase as the journey progresses because of
the practice of loading additional horses en route through
There is a notorious lack of veterinary inspection,
so by the time the horses reach the Czech border, they
are often ill or injured. It is supposedly illegal to
transport diseased or injured animals from Poland and
these horses should be off loaded. Viva!s investigation
reveals however, that sick and injured horses are being
transported and rest periods are being ignored. After
just a three hour break - rather than 24 hours required
by law - horses are reloaded onto the lorries to continue
their last journey regardless of their condition.
From Cieszyn, the horses are trucked all the way to
Slovenia through the Czech Republic and then onwards
through Slovakia and Hungary. This circuitous route
is to avoid the stricter veterinary controls presently
in force in Austria. Although common this practice is
illegal and prolongs the travelling time for many hours.
The swaying trucks make it difficult for the horses
to remain upright, especially when they are tightly
tethered to the vehicle bars. This is carried out to
stop them biting each other and is prohibited by law.
Often horses lose their balance inside the lorry and
fall. Once down, they are likely to be trampled and
wounded by their companions. For injured horses and
smaller ponies and foals, this combination of overcrowding
and lack of segregation by size can be deadly. Downed
horses may be unable to rise again, resulting in their
struggling desperately to regain their feet, being urinated
and defecated on and stood on, often trampled to death.
Upon arrival at staging points, fallen horses are either
dragged off the truck with chains or are subjected to
violent treatment to induce them to stand. This can
involve brutal kickings, beatings with heavy sticks
or having an electric cattle prod inserted into their
rectum. By the time horses reach Hungary, just half
way through their journey, most are injured, exhausted
and dehydrated. Some are already dying or dead.
Horses enter the EU at Goriozia in Northern Italy,
on the Slovenian border, by which time increasing numbers
are in an advanced stage of physical and mental deterioration
or dead. Many still face long journeys - on to the west
coast of Italy and onwards by ferry to Sardinia.
At the slaughterhouse
Arriving at the abattoir, horses are again brutally
treated, driven are dragged into the killing factory.
The normal process of slaughter is stunning - required
by law - followed by throat cutting. The method of stunning
is the captive bolt pistol, which drives a metal bolt
into the forehead. All too often this process is ignored
or done incompetently and the horses regain consciousness
while their throats are being slit. Many are slaughtered
in full view of their companions, which is a further
contravention of the law.
Animal Welfare Act of Republic of Poland (August
21, 1997) states:
Art.5. Every animal requires humane treatment
Art.6.1. a. It is not allowed by the law to hit animals
with hard and sharp objects or made to cause extraordinary
pain, hitting their head, belly, lower parts of their
b. Transporting animals - including farm animals , animals
destined for slaughter and animals destined for market
- by carrying them or making them walk in such a way
that causes unnecessary suffering or stress.
Ordinance by the minister of transport and maritime
economy of the republic of Poland of June 30, 1998 on
specific rules and conditions of carriage animals
1. In the carriage of animals the carrier
is obliged to use means of transport suitable for
the given animals species and age group.
2. They should: Provide enough space for each
animal, allowing it to stand or lie down;
3. Have insulated walls and roofing to protect
animals against weather impact;
4. Provide sufficient ventilation, and if necessary,
5. Have enough bedding material to absorb excreta
and ensure animal comfort and safety;
6. To be fitted with facilities making animal
feeding and watering possible and ensure access to
All these laws have been seen to be broken.
Effectiveness of EU laws
Viva!s research shows that the EUs Transport
Directive is little more than a cynical device which
allows a largely uncontrolled trade to continue without
regulation, inspection or sanctions. As virtually no
independent inspection is carried out throughout the
entire EU, live exports are an uncontrolled free-for-all
and animals crossing into the EU from Poland and other
countries can expect no better welfare controls than
exist in Poland. Just as Polish laws are routinely ignored,
so are EU laws.
The conditions in which animals are transported demeans
all those who participate in the trade and all those
who allow it to happen in their name without protest.
Legislators in all EU countries have quite clearly placed
the profits of the livestock industry above the suffering
The profitability of this uncontrolled and unregulated
trade is dependent upon defying the law. The implementation
of Polands existing Animal Welfare Act would go
a long way towards protecting the horses and would make
the industry unprofitable. This in turn would cause
an end to the live export of horses for meat.
There must be a proper implementation and enforcement
of permitted journey times, strict guidelines for those
operating the border controls and an immediate implementation
of the EU Directives eight-hour maximum journey
time by France.
Viva! believes that by campaigning in Poland and in
the UK, a ban on this barbaric trade can and will be
brought about. People of Poland do not eat horsemeat
and are outraged about the horsemeat trade. The majority
support a ban.