Vegetarians International Voice for Animals

Hypocrisy and Laissez Faire Feed the Horse Meat Trade

Use of horse meat a symptom of an industry that is almost untouchable

Further Viva! comment on the horse meat scandal by Associate Director Tony Wardle:

"Viva! can take some of the blame (or credit) for the current horse meat scandal – during which not a single word has been spoken about the welfare of the horses. Ten years ago we discovered that 100,000 horses annually were being shipped from Poland to Italy by road - often in dilapidated lorries with a single driver. Journeys could take days, with horses not rested, fed or watered for its entire duration.

Veterinary inspection at Gorizia, the port of entry, was abysmal and the horse’s suffering would often continue as far as Sicily, where some would have to be dragged from the transporters with chains as they were incapable of standing. Other horse transporters from further east – Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus - were transiting through Polish veterinary check points without hindrance. 

No one gave a damn – not the Polish or Italian authorities, not the dealers, not the handful of EU inspectors and certainly not the vets. This disinterest was not specific to horses but reflects their attitude to all live animal transportation. They all see themselves as part of the industry and there to facilitate it not censure it.

Viva! decided this appalling abuse of animals had to be challenged and opened offices in Warsaw to campaign against the trade. We filmed in Polish markets where the horses were bought and watched them being uncomprehendingly loaded onto the-long distance transporters with no sign of food or water. 

The German Group, Animals Angels, worked with us and filmed these transporters along the route, recording on camera the injuries, death, despair and sickening abuse of the animals. Viva! cut this footage into a heart-breaking film and used it as the central plank in our Polish campaign. It shows scene after scene of abuse and despair and can be viewed here. You’ll need a strong stomach.

This shocking Viva! film was shown on Polish TV more than 30 times and caused a public outcry. It ended with the trade collapsing by more than two-thirds and Poland’s chief vet blaming Viva! for its decline. The strong public criticism provoked by our campaign made the Polish authorities concentrate on properly monitoring the trade for the first time and demanded far better facilities and modern lorries but the trade still continues at a much lower level.

The outcome of Viva!’s campaign was not only to choke off the outlet for live horse exports but also to decreased its profitability. We suspect that many of those horses that were being exported are now being slaughtered in Poland and other European countries and new markets have been sought for the chilled and frozen meat.

One disturbing aspect of the trade was the involvement of criminal gangs who, we believe, use the stench of the transporters to camouflage illegal cargos of cigarettes. It is also believed that hard drugs are secreted in the vaginas of mares. Impossible to prove, particularly as the various authorities seem to have no interest in investigating it.

Hard to prove but there is little doubt that the mob is involved and it maybe one reason why the illegal use of horse meat is so widespread – why wouldn’t they be active when it can be increased in value five-fold simply by labelling it beef? Almost as good as drug profits!

As with anything that threatens the meat and dairy industry, the Government’s instant reaction is always to offer reassurances that everything is alright (John Gummer and BSE - it wasn’t alright but fortunately for him, not as bad as it might have been). And so it was with Secretary of State Owen Patterson, a man who made his millions from the leather of livestock.

Like the proverbial rabbit caught in headlights, he immediately claimed that everything was okay and it was just a question of labelling. He had no idea how or where the horses were slaughtered and under what conditions or what their drug regime had been. He leant of Jeff (Baron) Rooker’s assurances (just resigned as head of the Food Standards Agency), a man who also cosied up to the livestock industry by heading up the dairy farmers body.

We live with the pretence that farming and slaughter in the UK is the gold standard and it is only Johnny Foreigner who’s cruel to animals. And it continues no matter how frequently groups such as Viva! go inside factory farms and slaughterhouses and show the abysmal reality.

There is a huge stench of hypocrisy emanating from this whole frenetic news story. We fill our cheap pies and pasties with macerated mush, refuse to insist of proper health labelling for our own consumers, allow multinationals to continue diseasing our children with their fatty, sweet products, drag in cheap meat from every corner of the planet and pretend that cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, obesity and all the other degenerative diseases are an act of God and can only be tackled only by giving money to charities to aid their research. Prevention through diet is almost a foreign concept because of the impact it might have on the livestock industry!

We are a society where the promotion and protection of this industry is paramount because it is the largest industry on Earth. The panic over horse meat has nothing to do with the treatment of horses or even public revulsion – it is because they do not want a spotlight shone into the dark recesses of meat and dairy production because the reaction of intelligent people is increasingly to reject the whole lot." 

Read more about Viva!'s campaigns for horses. We have helped save some 70,000 horses a year from the horror of live export.

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