By Tony Wardle, Viva! ~ With thanks to Kat Macmillan
(BSc Zoology, horse expert and campaigner at Viva! for her
A trade in Polish horses, transported live to Italy and France
by road where they are slaughtered for meat, has developed
without the knowledge of the mass of Polish people. It is
being carried out in their name by their government but without
their approval. It is a trade which causes appalling suffering
and has grown and prospered only by ignoring existing legislation
and veterinary controls. Despite this illegality and immorality,
it operates with the connivance and encouragement of the Polish
The Italian taste for horse, foal and donkey meat has encouraged
a world-wide trade in both the living bodies and the frozen
flesh of these animals. Meat is imported into Italy frozen
from Argentina, USA and Australia, amongst other countries.
Animals are exported live from Eastern and Western Europe
to satisfy the demand for fresh meat.
The majority of the live export trade is from Eastern Europe
- and in particular Poland with a lesser trade from Lithuania.
It amounts to about 100,000 animals a year, of which about
87,000 originate in Poland, which is, therefore, clearly the
key to this international trade in misery.
The conditions in which the animals are exported have been
well documented through video footage and eye-witness accounts.
Many of the allegations are given credence by Polands
own bureaucracy which has documented the almost complete absence
of controls on trucks leaving the country and on those transiting
through it. In the EU, also, there has been a consistent lack
of interest in live animal exports, a refusal to police them,
a confusion of laws and a failure to enforce those laws that
do exist. And this has been the case over many years.
The outcome is that horses have virtually no protection from
the moment they are bought in Polish or Lithuanian markets
until death, many days, many kilometres and many countries
later. The laws governing their deaths also appear to be ignored
so that even in their final moments they are subjected to
unlawful and unnecessary fear and brutality.
Transport times for the journeys to France, Italy, and Sardinia
can last as long as five days, involve ferry crossings and
they cover in excess of 2,000 kilometres. The abuses that
have been identified appear to be commonplace and are allowed
to continue simply because the relevant authorities, including
veterinarians, in both Eastern Europe and the EU, close their
eyes to them. The importance of satisfying markets and earning
foreign currency has almost entirely superseded humanitarian
and animal welfare considerations.
Abuses include failure to protect ill, injured and unfit
animals from being exported; forcing seriously injured animals
to continue their journey; brutally beating them during loading
and unloading; failing to provide veterinary inspection either
before, during or after the journey; mixing animals of different
sizes in the same truck, ensuring that the smaller run the
risk of injury by the larger; using old and unsuitable vehicles;
overloading; ignoring rest, feeding and watering times; tethering
animals too tightly by their heads to the sides of the trucks;
failing to remove dung and urine from the truck; and lengthening
journey times in order to avoid what few border controls exist,
particularly in Austria.
It is difficult to imagine a longer, more comprehensive or
more barbaric list of abuses nor a more detailed catalogue
of humans inhumanity to other, sentient and defenceless
creatures. It is, of course, not the first time living cargoes
have been transported across Europe in cattle trucks,
in cruel and filthy conditions, to face death at journeys
end. Even when it was human beings who were the victims, a
catalogue of deceit and excuses were used to justify the slaughter.
The response even then for many was to suspend belief, avoid
criticism, accept the assurances of authority and bow to the
inevitable. This is what is still happening and
it is part of the same continuum which promotes all abuse
- animal or human. Viva! refuses to accept this inevitability.
Eye Witness Accounts
Viva! has originated video footage of the Polish horse trade
and has obtained a considerable quantity from other sources
- principally the International League for the Protection
of Horses (UK) and Animals Angels (Germany) - which
provides disturbing visual evidence of the maltreatment handed
out to horses and brings home its true horror. Filming took
place over many months and at various places in Poland and
en route to Italy. The consistency of the abuse reveals that
it is an integral part of the trade.
- The back doors of a transporter are opened to reveal a scene
of collapsed horses. Some are on their side, others are on
their backs and they are tangled up with one another. Some
are struggling. A man pulls fiercely on their tails and legs
to try to move them.
- A horse has collapsed on the ramp of a truck. A man is
pulling her tail hard to try to get her to stand.
- Hay is fed through the narrow ventilation slats in the
lorry at a rest stop. The hay is very dusty and
it takes a long time to push just small amounts through the
- Exhausted horses stand together in a market. One is so
tired that his tongue hangs out of his mouth. This is before
the journey to Italy has even started.
- A horse market and a white horse is being loaded into a
very old truck with a rotten ramp. It is clearly afraid to
go up the ramp so a man beats him with a long, heavy stick.
Another man pulls the horses tail while a third pulls
at his head. The beating continues, on his head as well as
over his entire body. The horse struggles and crashes down
on to the ramp. Additional men become involved and a metal
bar is used to force the horse in to the truck. The reason
for this abuse was entirely the steepness and condition of
- Horses are tied in stalls in a line, waiting to be loaded
into a truck. A man walks behind, counting them and hits each
one with a stick as he does so.
- A horse with a severe chest injury is prostrate and struggles
to move but is stuck under the bars of a pen. A vet administers
a lethal injection.
- Extremely weak horses are surrounded by flies. One horse
has an eye injury while another is beaten with a stick in
an attempt to move him.
- A white horse has collapsed inside a truck. He lies there
covered in sweat and filth and tries pathetically to nibble
soiled hay. Workers arrive and force him to stand and he is
shown to have a swollen, bloody eye.
- Horses have collapsed inside a transporter. Others are
coughing and one has a bloody nose injury. Another animal
is led out of the back of the transporter covered in excreta
and collapses on the ramp. He is dragged off by his tail -
first by men and then by a machine. He is destroyed.
- A prostrate horse struggles in the back of a truck while
other horses trample over his body.
- a horse transporter is unloaded to gain access to a downed
and struggling horse whose hoof has become wedged between
the ventilation bars. Her leg is bent back double from the
hock and is so badly broken that both bloody ends can be seen.
Workers try to free her and after a long period of time a
vet arrives to destroy her. Her hoof has to be severed before
she can be dragged from the truck.
- A baby donkey lies dead under a layer of excrement. His
body is then thrown out of a window in the side of the truck.
Other donkeys lie, collapsed, while more are beaten up a steep,
slippery ramp. They cannot manage it and struggle and fall.
- A collapsed donkey is forced to stand by having his tail
pulled over his back.
- A dead horse lies with an eye ripped open revealing her
eyeball, amidst a bloody mass. One of her ears has been ripped
- A collapsed horse is made to stand and is then led out
of a truck covered in excreta. The next horse collapses as
he tries to negotiate the ramp and is beaten and his tail
pulled. At first he does not respond but then falls backwards
off the ramp, trapping his leg under it. He is forced to sit
up when his ear is pulled and eventually is made to stand
- A prostrate horse is stuck in the corner of a truck and
is clearly panicking and struggling to stand. Workers force
him to stand but when being unloaded he stumbles out of the
lorry, falling down again and again.
- Many horses have collapsed inside a lorry. When the doors
are opened, one horse stands on another to get out. Others
exit from the truck trembling and shaking but more are trapped
inside and continue to stand on the collapsed horses. A man
pokes at them through the bars. They are covered in sweat
The organisation which has most doggedly pursued live export
transporters is Animals Angels of Germany. They have
offered what comfort they can to the horses and have charted
and logged every movement of particular trucks. One such journey
which they monitored involved a consignment of 20 horses handled
by a Polish company. In this instance the horses originated
in Lithuania, were transited through Poland but their final
destination was Sardinia. They were subjected to a road journey
time of 95 hours, which included an eight-hour ferry crossing.
The distance covered was 2,530 kilometres (1,520 miles). This
is Animals Angels log.
2.00 pm. (hours travelled in brackets)
The horses, one of which is blind, are loaded in Kaunas, Lithuania,
and the truck departs with two drivers in the cab.
6.15 pm (4 hours 15 min.)
The truck reaches the border crossing at Kursiai.
9.00 pm (7 hours)
It departs the border and heads into Poland.
3.55 am (13 hours 55 min.)
The truck stops for one hour to refuel at a service station
near Plotrkov Tryb. When it leaves, there is only one driver
in the cab.
8.35 am. (18 hours 35 min.)
It arrives at the main Polish lairage at Zebrzydowice near
to the southern border. The horses are unloaded, given water
and fresh hay. After only a short rest they are reloaded but
in a different order so that animals which are incompatible
are placed next to each other. They are later seen biting
11.25 am. (21 hours 25 min.)
The truck departs Zebrzydowice lairage.
11.45 am. (21 hours 40 min.)
It arrives at the Polish/Czech border crossing.
1.30 pm. (23 hours 25 min.)
Departs and heads into the Czech Republic.
2.20 pm (24 hours 15 min.)
Arrival at the Czech/Slovak border crossing.
3.25 pm. (25hours 20 mins.)
Departs and heads into Slovakia.
5.30 pm. (27 hours 25 mins.)
The driver takes a short food break on a large parking lot
about 80 kilometres from Bratislava. The horses appear increasingly
exhausted. The two incompatible animals both have bitten mouths
and nostrils, which are starting to swell. They cannot get
out of each others way in the oppressive confinement
of the truck. One is a mare and it is she who appears to suffering
the worst wounds.
7.00 pm. (28 hours 55 mins.)
Arrives at the Slovak/Hungarian border crossing.
7.45 pm. (29 hours 40 mins.)
Leaves the border and heads for the Hungarian Vamosszabadi
rest stop five minutes away. The workers are all
in the bar next door. When they arrive, just six small hang-on
watering bowls are suspended inside the truck from the ventilation
slats - for 20 horses. The hay, which is supposed to be stuffed
through the same slats, is of very poor quality and the driver
rejects it, saying he is afraid it will cause colic. So the
horses go hungry. The worker refuses to stamp the drivers
feed supply certificate and it leads to a heated discussion.
In the end, the worker demands a pack of cigarettes, the driver
supplies it and the certificate is stamped. After just a 40
minute rest, no feed and, for many of the horses,
no water, the truck departs.
10.30 pm. (32 hours 25 mins.)
Driver stops at a gas station, has a look at the horses and
takes a short break.
11.40 pm. (33 hours 35 mins.)
Arrival at the Redics rest stop. The quality of the hay is
good and water is offered, but only a few of the animals drink
(an indication of acute stress). All of them are clearly exhausted.
The blind horse is particularly nervous while the animal loaded
onto the vehicle last is engaging in stereotypical rocking
motions (a sign of mental collapse).
The condition of the bitten mare has worsened. Her mouth
is extremely swollen and again she is covered with fresh bite
wounds on the left side of her, the side which faces the aggressive
horse. She has also sustained a bleeding injury above the
right eye, presumably caused by trying to get out of the way.
She is obviously frightened and distraught and eats only a
little hay and drinks a few drops of water. The rest
lasts just one hour and the truck departs for the border crossing
just 1 kilometre away.
2.05 am. (36 hours).
Departs from the Hungarian/Slovenia border crossing and heads
into Slovenia. The driver now drives markedly slower and smokes
incessantly, apparently in order to stay awake.
3.20 am. (37 hours 15 mins.)
In Maribor, the truck remains standing at a traffic light
through two green phases - presumably the driver has fallen
asleep. There is a loud thud from the horse box and the truck
sways violently. The driver proceeds through the traffic light
and pulls on to the hard shoulder. The two incompatible horses
have fallen and are lying on the ground on their sides, with
their abdomens towards each other and their legs entangled.
They do not move. Eventually the driver forces them back on
to their feet by beating them with a stick and using an electric
All the horses tethers are checked and the two fallen horses,
whose tethers had pulled loose, are retied. The driver clearly
looks overtired and exhausted.
4.20 am. (38 hours 15 mins.)
The journey continues and the weather is partly foggy and
cold along this mountainous route. Like most of the vehicles
used to transport horses, this one has no heating and no forced
ventilation or humidity controls.
6.20 am. (41 hours 15 mins.)
The truck stops at a rest area near to Pestojne and the driver
takes a break. Liquid manure is running out of the body of
the vehicle and puddles of it form on the ground.
9.50 am. (44 hours 45 mins.)
The journey continues down the twisting mountain roads towards
Gorizia on the Italian border. The road continually bends
back on itself in sweeping serpentines and the driver proceeds
very slowly and stops regularly to check on the animals -
presumably he can hear noises from the box indicating that
the horses may have fallen.
12.30 pm. (46 hours 30 mins.)
The truck arrives in Gorizia and the driver unloads the horses.
There is no veterinarian present and no sign of any workers.
It is all done single-handedly. This the third day the horses
have been on the road and there is still 1,700 kilometres
to go to their final destination in Sardinia.
7. 45 am. (65 hours 45 mins.)
Not until more than 19 hours after their arrival do the workers
arrive to begin feeding the horses. One worker hits a horse
at least 10 times on the head with the back of a pitchfork.
8.05 am. (67 hours 5 mins.)
The windows to the veterinary office are opened, presumably
meaning that the vets have arrived to begin work. Half-an-hour
later, a Dr Demerin and another vet take a quick walk through
the three stables where the horses are kept. They do not inspect
any of them closely.
9.35 am. (68 hours 35 mins)
Reloading of the horses begins.
12.55 pm. (71 hours 55 mins.)
The truck leaves Gorizia and begins its journey down through
Italy. This will probably be the last time the horses are
rested, fed or watered despite the fact that they will be
on the road for almost a further 24 hours.
1.30 pm. (72 hours 30 mins.)
The driver stops at the North Gonars gas station. The horses
appear to be somewhat rested and the swelling on the injured
mares face has started to go down. It appears that the
truck was not cleaned out and straw was laid on top the accumulation
of excreta because liquid manure is again beginning to pour
out of the box.
10.35 pm. (81 hours 35 mins.)
The truck arrives at the port of Piombino and fortunately
for the horses, the ferry is waiting. The truck drives straight
on. This is where observation ends but timings for the rest
of the journey are known.
7.00 am. (90 hours)
The ferry arrives in Olbia, Sardinia and the driver heads
across the island towards the slaughterhouse, which is the
final destination for the horses.
12.00 midday (95 hours)
The horses arrive at the slaughterhouse, where they will are
all killed for meat. There is no way of knowing how long they
had to wait to face their death but all were in an acute state
of stress, dehydration, fear and utter exhaustion. It is not
uncommon for horses to arrive dead or to have collapsed. When
this happens, they are dragged off with chains and those still
living are killed for meat.
This was just one of thousands of shipments of horses which
travel the roads of Europe. A group of 20 unnamed and anonymous
creatures travelling through seven countries - Lithuania,
Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy
and finally the island of Sicily - and covering over 2,530
kilometres. The pain and suffering is profound, all so some
people can indulge their taste for a particular kind of meat.
It is cruelty without justification.
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