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 appendix A).
Mr. Wojciechowski, chairman of Poland’s Supreme Control Chamber (NIK), in a debate in Poland’s Parliament on 20 July, 2000, described the country’s failure to implement its animal protection laws with these words: “The Animal Welfare Act is practically a dead letter ... because it is not enforced”.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the transport of horses for slaughter, where virtually every single legal requirement is ignored.
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 should:
1) provide enough space for each animal, allowing it to stand or lie down;
2) have insulated walls and roofing to protect animals against weather impact;
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 to;
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 the journey.
- animals are beaten to speed up the loading and unloading of vehicles.
- 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 isn’t happening.
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 disease.
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 of origin.
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 Poland’s 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 Poland’s 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 veterinarians.
NIK also found that at every one of Poland’s 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 of origin.
NIK’s analysis of 1,036 certificates of origin for animals exported from the Tarnow region of south-east Poland revealed that:
- 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 per cent);
- 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 Poland’s 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 (3).
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 this trade.
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 and personal.
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).