The horse populations of Europe are at risk because of this seemingly endless desire for animal flesh and in particular horse meat. Until recently, the horse population of Poland was estimated at one million. It is now believed that the total has reduced to 500,000 as a direct result of the horse meat trade. Most are of a working breed of horse - heavy and chestnut in colour with flaxen manes and tails. They are truly magnificent-looking animals, extremely hardly and a part of Poland’s culture and history. The pressure on their numbers is relentless.
Other East European horses which are part of the horse meat trade enter Poland from Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Belarus - the latter from Brest and the northern crossing. The number of Polish horse involved is estimated at between 80,000 and 100,000 - 80 per cent of which go to Italy and 20 per cent to France, Germany and Belgium. As soon as one source of live horses dries up or reduces, the traders immediately seek another source.
The trade has devastated Greece’s national breeds of horse and has led to the call for a moratorium. Heading it is professor Theo G. Antikas, DVM, PhD, of the Aristotelian U Physiology Department, Secretary General of the Hellenic Pony Club and father of the Olympic equestrian Heidi Antikatzides. He issued a powerful demand for a complete moratorium on live horse transports in April 2001, addressing his demands to Anna Diamantopoulou EMP, European commissioner. He said:
“As you may know, the EU has issued directives concerning the transport of slaughter animals from as early as 1978 and Greece is amongst the countries which signed and ratified these directives. However, due to lack of enforcement by local authorities, several thousands of suffering animals destined for slaughter across Europe have been subjected to conditions which are cruel and unacceptable by any standard. Of these victims of man, over 100,000 horses are subjected to immoral transport conditions by road, rail and sea so as to enter the food chain of Europeans. With the exception of Greece and Portugal, practically every European country slaughters or consumes horse meat.
“The decline in Europe’s demand for beef due to BSE has caused an enormous rise in horse and pony exports, which has doubled. In the UK 12,000 horses were exported in the year 2000 alone. There has been an increase in horse meat consumption in Belgium of 240 per cent. The total horse flesh consumption in Belgium is now 2,400 tons, 9,400 tons in France and 18,000 tons in Italy. In lay terms this means that 100,000 horses are being transported or slain before reaching the tables of European horse ‘connoisseurs’.
“From the 12,000 animals exported from the UK, some New Forest, or other breeds of ponies, are sold to meat traders for as little as $2 at auction. Greece exports sporadically - via Igoumenitsa to Italy by ferry - over 1,000 equines annually. Moreover, there are non-European countries such as Poland and Romania which are the main sources of horse meat. The Polish government has actually been promoting horse as the ‘healthy meat option’ for consumers concerned by BSE. Poland now exports as many as 90,000 horses annually.
“In addition to these sad statistics, there are unforeseen effects on the indigenous equines of Europe, such as the near extermination of Greek ponies due to the export trade, the Albanian/Serbian native breeds due to warfare, the theft of horses for meat in Italy and the easing of bans on the export of horses for slaughter.
“The sad situation described above may soon result in the extinction of native horse breeds in parts of Europe. Hence we urge you to help the Commission take immediate steps to save our national inheritance. Since the Lord himself rode a donkey once, for Christ’s sake (both literally and metaphorically speaking) please help the EU to impose a three-year moratorium on live horse export for slaughter, starting this year (2001) and ending in 2004.
“We count on your intelligence to help achieve this goal, which honours both Greece and Europe.”
Viva! supports this call for a moratorium wholeheartedly but only as a first step to ending this shameful trade entirely.