Laws not enforced
Farmed animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain.
After years of campaigning by animal rights activists, this
simple fact has now been recognised and accepted by the European
Union in the Treaty of Rome.
The real paradox of the current situation is that existing
Polish animal welfare regulations could be used immediately
to ban this cruel and inexcusable trade in live horses (see
Mr. Wojciechowski, chairman of Polands Supreme Control
Chamber (NIK), in a debate in Polands Parliament on
20 July, 2000, described the countrys failure to implement
its animal protection laws with these words: The Animal
Welfare Act is practically a dead letter ... because it is
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the transport of horses
for slaughter, where virtually every single legal requirement
Chapter 2 (Animal Welfare Act)
Specific rules and conditions on the carriage of animals
Para. 4. 1. In the carriage of animals the carrier is obliged
to use means of transport suitable for the given animal species
and age group.
2. The means of transport referred to in section 1 above
should ensure safe and humane carriage. In particular, they
1) provide enough space for each animal, allowing it to stand
or lie down;
2) have insulated walls and roofing to protect animals against
3) provide sufficient ventilation, and if necessary, heating;
4) have a floor preventing animals from slipping and ensuring
hygienic conditions during carriage;
5) have enough bedding material to absorb the excreta and
ensure animal comfort and safety;
6) be fitted with catches strong enough to fasten hoofed animals
7) be fitted with facilities making animal feeding and watering
possible; and ensure access to each animal.
On the available evidence, almost every single one of these
legal requirements is not met.
In 1999, the EU stated that Poland needed to make the greatest
improvements in veterinary legislation among all new accessing
countries. There are few signs that such a requirement is
being fulfilled amongst any farmed animals and particularly
not for horses.
The Polish Supreme Control Chamber (NIK.), which controls
the live horse export trade, found that (15):
- none of the Polish border crossing points is equipped to
the necessary standards to meet the humanitarian requirements
for animal handling;
- a large part of the Polish horse trade and transportation
is illegal, with private businesses operating without permits,
without paying taxes and with no veterinary control.
- even those businesses acting legally, frequently ignore
animal welfare codes by overcrowding trucks, using vehicles
not suitable for transporting animals, transporting animals
who are unrestrained and keeping animals for days without
food and drink in order to reduce costs. As a consequence,
70 per cent of all transports result in some fatalities during
- animals are beaten to speed up the loading and unloading
- the certificates of origin required by law for each animal
(including in the EU) are a joke. It seems that anyone can
obtain them, even those not actually running a relevant business.
False data is readily accepted and a similar situation pertains
with the filing of journey plans, where all stops and journey
times are supposed to be approved by a vet. This simply isnt
As a result, in 70 per cent of the transports controlled
by NIK., it was impossible to determine the identity of animals
and their owners. In the event of disease (and the history
of BSE provides a prime example), the authorities would be
incapable of tracing the outbreak to its source and would
find it impossible to take effective action to control the
The present lack of controls provides a foolproof opportunity
for animal theft. According to NIK., this worrying situation
has been tolerated and exacerbated by the Polish veterinary
service because of its refusal to enforce the laws requiring
dealers and transport companies to provide authentic certificates
Much of the loading takes place without the presence of veterinarians
- in 1999, 37 per cent of horses exported from Poland were
not checked for infectious diseases by vets. Supposedly, the
law does not allow export without such an examination (15).
It follows that there is a similar lack of inspection to ascertain
whether animals are sick or too weak to withstand the journey
and if the vehicles are suitable for animal transport or if
they are loaded according to the regulations.
The law requires that all exporting companies should be licensed,
which in theory means that the license can be revoked if the
regulations are ignored or broken. Sadly, this remains purely
theoretical even though all the laws governing the transport
of horses are enforceable in Poland.
According to NIK, 69 per cent of Polands border crossing
points have no facilities and technical equipment for veterinary
control and inspection or to ensure animal welfare standards
are met. EU experts have stated that none of the border crossing
points meet EU standards and in one voice with NIK., have
described the functioning of Polands veterinary services
as incorrect and ineffective (3).
During control procedures, NIK found that in two selected
controlled crossing points, in the years 1997-99, 103 animal
transporters exporting from Poland were never inspected by
NIK also found that at every one of Polands road crossing
points, some 48 per cent of the facilities and 40 per cent
of transporting firms failed on basic sanitary, veterinary,
feeding and animal safety requirements.
It established that the majority of transports are overloaded,
which is the cause of death in many cases; that 70 per cent
of those involved in the trade - and even the state itself
- had inadequate procedures for checking animal certificates
NIKs analysis of 1,036 certificates of origin for animals
exported from the Tarnow region of south-east Poland revealed
- there were no legible signatures or stamps on 1,004 certificates
(97 per cent of the total) and 123 were not signed at all;
- ages of animals were not shown on 404 certificates (39
- there were no dates of validity on 894 certificates (86
per cent). Certificates are valid for two weeks but if undated
they can be used many times for many different animals;
- dates on 61 certificates (six per cent) had expired between
12 and 24 months earlier
- 83 certificates (eight per cent) had no issuing date;
- eight certificates (0.8 per cent) failed to mention the
type of animals being transported.
- on 12 certificates (one per cent), the written name of
the community of origin was different to that of the stamp.
This catalogue of failures, incompetence, disinterest and
fraud shows that Polish claims that the horse trade is well
regulated are nothing more than rhetoric. Not only do these
failures represent a welfare disaster but they also have serious
implications for the spread of diseases throughout Europe
(as foot and mouth disease has shown) and ensures that the
animals are almost invariably not traceable (a factor in the
spread of BSE in Britain).
Again Mr. Piotr Kozerski, at the London embassy, appears
ignorant of the facts when he said to Viva!: The export
of horses from Poland is subject to rigorous regulations which,
among others, refer to humane transportation of horses. The
reasons for that are not only natural and historical - i.e.
a traditionally great respect for horses - but also Polands
will and obligation to comply with the requirements laid down
by the EU with regard to humane conveyance of animals.
We are forced to ask how Poland would treat its horses if
it had no respect for them.
To show just how easy it is for anyone to obtain a certificate
of origin for animals, in October 1997, two veterinary doctors
applied for one in the town of Nowy Sacz. Although all the
data they supplied was false, the certificate was duly issued
The Parliament of the Republic of Poland, in the last few
years, has consistently failed to enforce the legislation
which is at its disposal and has effectively legalised the
suffering and barbaric treatment of hundreds of thousands
of horses. The passage of the Animal Protection Act in 1997
can perhaps be seen in retrospect as a cynical attempt to
claim civilised standards of treatment for animals which it
was never intended to enforce.
Such widespread flouting of the law could only come about
through the large-scale connivance of members of parliament
and ministers and by their placing illegal profit above and
beyond the civilised and humane treatment of animals. It provides
a stark warning for Polish democracy when elected members
of parliament and government ministers choose which laws they
will enforce and which they will ignore. The Polish people
have the right to demand that all laws passed in their name
are enforced with equal vigour otherwise democracy becomes
nothing more than a shallow pretence and a cover for greed
and self interest.
The stark facts behind the trade in horses does not communicate
the emotional impact that first hand experience of it invokes
in those without a vested interest. Some of those who have
worked the hardest to defend these animals are unashamedly
emotional as a result of their experiences. Their reports
also give an indication of the heartlessness which drives
Again it includes veterinarians, who consistently seem to
identify themselves with the meat industry rather than the
welfare of the animals and are far more interested in inspecting
paperwork than the animals themselves. This is not a criticism
of Poland, Germany, Italy or any of the other countries involved
but a criticism of veterinary practice in the developed world.
These people could stop the live export trade tomorrow if
they were to enforce existing laws and regulations. They have
chosen not to do so for financial reasons, both corporate
Although the EU boasts of high animal welfare standards,
its regulations on live transportation vary from country to
country with no coherent policy. Even those policies which
are in existence are rarely policed and so Polish horses are
offered no additional protection once they enter EU countries
(see Effectiveness of EU Laws).
The Scale of the Problem
Each year, around 100,000 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 and its annual total amounts to 87,000 animals exported
to the EU - 90 per cent going to Italy and 10 per cent to
France and Belgium.
Ten years ago, there were one million horses in Poland but
that number has now been reduced to 500,000. Nevertheless,
each year, the drain continues (1). The majority come from
small farmers who sell them to middlemen who then deliver
them to the collection points of the principal transporting
The breed most favoured is the handsome and powerful Polish
working horse, easily identified by its broad chest, chestnut
body and flaxen main and tail. It bears a strong resemblance
to the British Suffolk Punch horses, once common in the Fenlands
of Eastern England.
The biggest horse market takes place in March at Skaryszew,
where Viva! filmed in the winter of 2000. Other major markets
are Kiekrz near Poznan, Malbork, Kolobrzeg and Czestochowa,
south of Warsaw, where thousands of horses are sold in a single
day. The major registered horse traders in Poland are Animex
SA, Warsaw (owned by Smithfield Foods Inc., USA) and Cosmos
Czestochowa. Because of the high demand for horse meat, the
trade is not only merely a means of disposal of old or unwanted
horses. The financial rewards have encouraged farmers to sell
fit and healthy horses, from four to seven years old, with
a working life ahead of them. Other farmers are breeding horses
additional to their needs in order to profit from the trade.
The average weight of the horses sold for meat is 600kg and
the price fetched is approximately (US) $0.60 cents per kilo.
Therefore the average total value of a live horse is $360
(approximately £240 sterling).
Most of the exported horses are sent from Poland to Italy,
which involves an horrendously long journey. One of the furthest
destinations is Sardinia, a journey of 2,500 kilometres (1,500
miles) which may take as long as 95 hours.
Both from Polish markets and those in Lithuania, horses are
taken to the border crossing at Cieszyn, between Poland and
the Czech Republic. The dangers the animals 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 Poland.
There is an almost complete absence of veterinary inspection
so by the time the horses reach the Czech border, they are
already 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 the 24 hours required by law - horses
are reloaded onto the lorries to continue their last journey
regardless of their condition.
The relentless nature of the trade is revealed by the export
Live exports through Cieszyn crossing point 1999/2000
Month 2000 Horse numbers Truck numbers
1 Jan 5,204 212
2 Feb 4,625 191
3 March 4,485 187
Total for this quarter 14,314 590
Same period 1999 19,863 800
4 April 3,093 131
5 May 3,845 164
6 June 3,503 152
Total for this quarter 10,441 447
Same period 1999 17,667 738
7 July 3,173 137
8 Aug 3,095 131
9 Sept 2,896 122
Total for this quarter 9,164 390
Same period 1999 17,184 717
(Source: Agrosped Zebrzydowice, October 2000)
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 practice is carried out to stop them from
biting each other and is prohibited by law. Article 6, 7 of
the Animal Welfare Act states: Tightly tethering animals
in a way that forces them into an unnatural position, causing
unnecessary pain, injury or death, is forbidden.
Every time the vehicle brakes, negotiates a corner or even
changes gear, the horses have to shift their weight to avoid
falling. Sometimes they lose their balance and do 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, stood on and, not infrequently, being trampled
to death (3).
Upon arrival at the staging points, these downed 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 being goaded
with an electric cattle prod, inserted into their rectum (4).
Even the healthiest of horses are liable to fall under the
prevailing conditions of transport because the long journey
times - commonly as long as four days without rest which invariably
leads to exhaustion.
The effect of these conditions is that by the time the horses
reach Hungary, just half way through their journey to the
Italian abattoirs, many are already in a dreadful condition
- exhausted and dehydrated (5). Numerous injuries have been
observed, such as eye, head, chest or leg wounds and some
horses are already dying or dead. By this stage of their journey,
all the horses are experiencing profound stress.
They enter the EU at Gorizia in northern Italy, on the Slovenian
border, by which time increasing numbers are in an advanced
stages of physical and mental deterioration or are dead. Many
of those who have survived this far still face long journeys
- as far as Bari in southern Italy, to the west coast of Italy
and onwards by ferry to Sardinia, where they are driven across
the island to be slaughtered in Cagliari.
On arrival at the slaughterhouses they are again brutally
treated and are either driven or, because of their poor condition
and inability to stand, are frequently dragged from the lorries
into what can only be described as killing factories. The
normal process of slaughter is stunning - required by law
- followed by throat cutting. The usual method of stunning
is the captive bolt pistol, which drives a four inch metal
bolt into the animals foreheads. The concussive effect
of this impact supposedly renders them unconscious. All too
often, this requirement is either ignored or done incompetently
and the animals regain consciousness while their throats are
being slit. Many are slaughtered in full view of the others,
which is a further contravention of the law on slaughter (5).
Some of the slaughter-bound horses from Poland were originally
bred for racing but are either no longer competitive or have
failed to make the grade. Many of the horses used to entertain
Polish children by providing rides at summer camps, ranches
and riding academies are also sold for meat when they can
no longer perform. Other horses who make up the export trade
include a large number of retired agricultural working horses,
camp, show and rental horses and urban carriage horses.
It is often impossible to ascertain the true background of
horses because of the lack of reliable animal origin certificates
in Poland. This lack of control can result in consumer fraud
and horse theft, the thieves knowing that they will easily
obtain a false certificate of origin with no questions asked
and no investigations carried out.
As a consequence, many old, weak, tired and injured horses
- even blind horses (6) are forced to endure interminable
journeys in appalling conditions. There is no peaceful end
or retirement after a life times labour for Polish horses.
Seemingly, loyalty plays no part in the final chapter of their
lives and they are condemned to face death in cramped trailers
often with no food or water. Their suffering is acute and
- unevenly loaded lorries
- transporting young animals with adult stock
- transporting chronically diseased horses
- fitting ventilation bars so closely together that it is
impossible to feed or water animals through them.
Transit of horses trough Poland (mostly from Lithuania to
First half of 1996 5,024
First half of 1997 2,245
First quarter of 1998 1,830
First quarter of 1999 2,413
First quarter of 2000 2,489
Viva! believes that the consumption of horse meat is unnecessary
and retrograde in terms of animal welfare, morality and human
health. However, the live horse trade begs the question why
does it exists at all? Why are animals forced to endure such
terrible suffering over such long distances simply to be killed
on arrival? This almost certainly has more to do with the
way in which the meat is sold after slaughter - labelled as
French, Belgian or Italian rather than Polish or Lithuanian
and commanding a higher price. Clearly, what begins as an
abuse of democracy ends in a similar way.
Horse slaughter for human consumption is not inevitable and
does not have to be accepted in a civilised society. It has
already been outlawed in California when, in 1998, the people
of California became the first in the US to ban it. They went
further and the legislation prohibits any California horse
from being shipped out of the state for the purpose of slaughter
for human consumption. Californians voted overwhelmingly for
this humanitarian law under a state initiative - Proposition
In Britain, although it would be considered a restriction
of trade under EU regulations to ban the export of horses
for meat, a series of minimum value requirements has limited
the trade - placing the minimum value at which a horse can
be exported above that which makes the horse meat trade profitable.
There has been an erosion of this restriction as horse meat
prices have risen and a limited trade is underway. Most British
people have consistently shown their revulsion at this trade
and believe that it was banned some years ago. They are unaware
that it still continues but at a lower level and it is something
Viva! will be addressing in the future.
Polands situation is that existing laws which could
be used to ban the trade are simply being ignored despite
protests from numerous animal welfare groups all over Europe.
In the EU, transport of live animals is regulated by Directive
91/628, issued on 19 November 1991, and all animal transport
within the EU and for export and import, is supposed to be
in accordance with these regulations. In theory, no animal
- from cattle to horses - should travel for more than eight
hours in basic vehicles without being unloaded,
fed, watered and rested for 24 hours. Transport firms are
supposed to, provide a written commitment to respect the directive,
including providing a travel plan. In reality, protection
for animals in the EU are little better than in Poland, as
will be shown later.
Dr Franz Fischler, member of the European Commission responsible
for agriculture and rural development, declared that animal
welfare will be his major priority:
The new Treaty of Amsterdam promotes animal welfare
as an objective to be given full regard in the Community's
agriculture, transport, internal market and research policies.
This was laid down in a supplementary protocol complementing
the Treaty in the field of animal welfare. (14)
US Transnational Involvement
In April 1999, a giant of the US meat industry, Smithfield
Foods Incorporated - the biggest meat corporation in the US
which slaughtered 11.6 million pigs in 1999 - acquired Animex,
Poland's largest live animal exporter and meat producer (13).
It was previously a state meat-trading monopoly with nine
processing plants located across the country and export trading
offices in Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain, Austria,
the US and Japan. Export markets make up about 26 per cent
of Animexs sales. Since the acquisition, Smithfield
Foods Inc. now controls most of the horse export trade and
has the power to exert influence over government policies
According to the Washington Post, (July 3, 2000), Andrzej
Lepper - leader of the Polish farmers trade union Samoobrona
- is accusing Animex of offering him a $1,000,000 bribe to
end his activity against factory farms (8).
Smithfield Foods head office is at 200 Commerce Street,
Smithfield, VA 23430, Phone: (757) 365-3000 and the organisation
is headed by Joseph W. Luter, III, Chairman and CEO. Its
growth has been phenomenal over the last four years, making
it the largest pork producer in the US.
Number of Sows
The vast majority of these sows are kept in close confinement
stalls and gestation (farrowing) crates for their entire lives.
They are unable ever to turn around. This is factory farming
at its worst.
Sales in 1999 totalled $3.8 billion and gross profits amounted
to $540 million.
According to the environmental monitoring group, Hogwatch,
the company has become a world leader in pork production by
systematically acquiring pig production and processing facilities
in the United State and overseas. It became the world's largest
producers of pigs when it acquired Murphy Farms in 1999 for
$460 million. Today Smithfield owns 695,000 sows on industrial-sized
operations in North Carolina, Virginia, Utah, Missouri, Oklahoma
and Illinois. These sows give birth to an average of nearly
38,802 piglets every day making it a major producer of pigs
for the entire market. In North Carolina, Murphy Farms, Carroll's
Foods, Brown's of North Carolina and Quarter M farms are all
subsidiaries of Smithfield Foods Inc.
Smithfield Foods is also the world's largest processor of
pork. In fact, the company operates the world's largest processing
plant strategically located in Bladen County, North Carolina,
which slaughters on average 28,000 hogs a day. During peak
periods it can be up to 32,000 hogs a day. The company also
owns two other processing facilities in the Southeast and
two in the Midwest, which gives it an aggregate slaughter
capacity of 78,300 hogs a day and represents 72 per cent of
the slaughter capacity in the South Atlantic region.
Smithfield Foods has succeeded in creating a network of pig
producers and processors that ensures a steady supply of animals
for slaughter. This strategy has resulted in record profits
for the company over the past three years (36).
It was found to have egregious and pervasive
federal labour law violations during two campaigns by trade
unions to recruit workers at the Tar heel slaughterhouse in
the 1990s, according to another environmental monitoring group,
Sierra Club. It was also found to have conspired with the
local sheriff's office to physically intimidate and
assault union supporters, held meetings to intimidate and
threaten workers for supporting the union and illegally fired
workers during union recruiting campaigns (35).
Smithfield Foods was also fined $12.6 million by the Environmental
Protection Agency for sewage discharges and other violations
Smithfield's slaughterhouse in Tar Heel discharges three
million gallons of treated waste water every day into the
Cape Fear river. Again, according to the Sierra Club, between
January 1993 and October 1997, state regulators documented
at least 120 violations of pollution as set forth in the plant's
operating permit. Officials have issued at least 34 Notices
of Violation for permit violations or for spills and discharges
involving either animal waste, blood and grease, airborne
blood, animal remains, sludge or caustic substances. To date,
Smithfield has paid approximately $54,452 in fines for the
environmental violations at this plant (35).
John Morrell & Company, who operate a pig slaughterhouse
in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was bought out by Smithfield
Foods in 1996. This slaughterhouse also had a history of fines
and a penalty of $3 million for criminal violations of the
Clean Water Act. They admitted to violating the Act 130 times
during a 17-month period between August 1991 and December
States such as North and South Carolina have created moratoriums
on the creation of more pig farms. Due to concerns about large-scale
pollution from animal waste, the governor of South Carolina
imposed a moratorium on these large scale farms until their
environmental regulators could consider the permits. Smithfield
is applying for permission to open two farms containing 32,000
pigs. They already have 30 factory farms in South Carolina
with about 5,000 pigs on
The Threat to Human Health
Horse meat is frequently sold as a low-fat, healthy alternative
to other meats. The evidence does not support this claim and
horse meat can be a serious threat to human health. Many drugs
commonly given to horses can be extremely dangerous to humans.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that there are few,
if any, controls governing most slaughter horses and little
is known of their background and history.
More than 400 people in the Toulouse region of France were
stricken with a potentially life-threatening intestinal parasite
after eating imported horsemeat. It emerged that the victims
had contracted trichinella threadworms, which are fatal in
five out of 1,000 cases (7).
On January 31, 2000, the BBC reported on the growing controversy
and concern over the use of growth promoting hormones and
other drugs used in US meat production, including horsemeat.
Currently, Polish horsemeat is considered safe despite the
almost complete absence of veterinary control. However, there
is ample evidence to show that poor control leads to gross
abuse of drugs and animals. The resignation of the Bavarian
agriculture minister in January 2001, following a scandal
which involved a major trade in providing illegal drugs for
use in farmed animals, reveals the potential scale of the
problem. With numerous and increasing threats to human health
from eating meat (BSE, E.coli, salmonella, antibiotic resistant
superbugs, etc.,) Viva! intends to highlight this absence
of control and the threat it poses.
Drugs dangerous to human health are regularly administered
to all horses, including race and show horses. It is clearly
written on every worming medication label that it should not
be administered to horses who are to be slaughtered for human
The lack of controls and unreliable certificates of origin
ensure that all types of horses are used in the horse meat
trade, regardless of their health status, medical background
or recent exposure to highly-toxic medications.
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