The transport of living horses over such long distances and in such appalling conditions is, amongst other things, a cultural issue. Horses are an integral part of Polish heritage and culture and have been favoured animals throughout the country’s history. The close relationship between horses and Polish soldiers has always been a very special one - so much so that traditionally, horses were always present at the funeral of their fallen rider. On the land, they have always been seen as hard-working helpers of farmers.
Poland has attained great respect among the countries of the world, largely because of its strenuous efforts to build a society founded on humane principles. The horror of live exports strikes a serious blow against this image.
Following the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act two years ago, there have been no noticeable improvements in the way farmed animals are treated, especially so in the treatment of horses who make up the live export trade.
Poland’s background is different to that of any other western country. The history of the past 200 years has been one of invasions, wars, uprisings, holocaust and totalitarianism. Violation of human rights became commonplace and perhaps this has been reflected in the way farmed animals were treated. Fortunately, all that is now changing as the country prepares for access to the EU.
There is now a legal and moral imperative to accept and implement international standards for the treatment of animals. It is not simply a question of laws, codes of practice and regulations, it is also essential to take account of public opinion. It is public opinion which has brought about improvements in animal welfare and public opinion in the EU is still ahead of both its legislators and the law. The people of Europe are increasingly demanding and end to the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals in every area and Poland must take cognisance of this.
In Poland, the traditional differences between village and city life and mentality is disappearing fast. In rural areas, levels of education for young people are the same as in cities. The younger generation is forsaking its traditional, rural occupations, which clearly has some negative aspects. However, moving away from traditional farming societies has altered their traditionally low image of and respect for farmed animals. The new young generation no longer sees farmed animals solely as a food source. They are establishing emotional links with animals, no longer see them merely as objects and are beginning to embrace the language of animal rights.
These changes may rapidly increase through the introduction of animal rights debates into high school and college education. The Animal Welfare Act of 1997 obliges all types of Polish schools to have classes in animal rights - but this is another part of the Act yet to be implemented. A growing understanding of other’s people’s attitudes to animals cannot help but inform the debate which is taking place.
In Poland, eating horsemeat has traditionally been frowned on and yet the common denominator for all horses is the slaughterhouse. However, the unspeakable levels of pain and suffering involved in long-distance transportation of living horse are simply not acceptable. Young, old, healthy, sick - they are all sent on these agonising journeys. Slaughter has become an easy way for Poland to get rid of its surplus horses, quickly and for a profit.
We say that Poland’s horses deserve better than this. Poles owe it to their horses to respect them and to retire them rather than subject them to these horrific journey’s to the slaughterhouse. We believe that the practice of slaughtering pregnant mares and foals and forcibly prolonging the suffering of sick, dying, and injured horses is, quite simply, inexcusable. The few pounds earned from it can be seen as, literally, blood money.