The Expert’s View | Viva!

The Expert’s View

Jeremy James, consultant to the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) and one of the authors of its 2000 field report, The Slaughter Horse Trade in Eastern Europe (33), has tracked the trade over many years. His knowledge of horses is profound, having been brought up with horses in Kenya, travelled long distances on horse back - from Turkey to Wales and from Bulgaria through Eastern Europe to Berlin - and having kept horses for most of his life. He has worked with horses in 22 different countries, mostly as a nutritionist dealing with marginalised equine user groups and their working horses. Jeremy has been a consultant with the ILPH for 10 years, has published numerous scientific papers and three books and holds an MSc and is an associate lecturer at the University of Wales in Bangor. Jeremy has established close contact with the different interests who constitute the live horse export business - horse owners, breeders, studs, transport companies, government officials and veterinarians.

In June, 2001, he addressed Equus, an animal welfare conference hosted by the Swedish Presidency of the European Union in Stockholm. He revealed that the further horse transporters have to travel, the lower the price that is paid for each horse. The outcome is that minimal standards of welfare are observed, truck operators need to return to the source outlets as frequently as possible to retain commercial viability, they load as many horses as possible in as short a time as possible and frequently allow for no stops at all for food and water.

He went on to say that existing legislation failed to provide proper welfare for transported animals from a scientific and a practical point of view. Because of this, the traffic should not be permitted at all.

The evidence for this demand, he said, came from his own observations and he suggested that a first step in achieving such a goal would be to introduce a law preventing animals from being transported for longer than 24 hours from their point of origin, after which time they could not be transported live for slaughter. He added that future developments in the trade, which unless dealt with now, would lead to the likelihood of horses being sourced from as far afield as China.

His views on the trade, based on his first hand experiences and set out in correspondence with Viva!, raise many concerns. He says:

“If Polish horses, or any of the transiting horses, travel non stop to Italy, I should not be surprised. They are supposed to stop at Zbrzydovice lairage to be unloaded, fed and watered. However, each time I have been there, trucks have been full, horses have been standing waiting in them and there has been little evidence of any being unloaded or fed and watered en masse.

“But there is another problem, which any person with a knowledge of horses would immediately identify. Under normal circumstances, if a limited amount of feed is taken into a group of horses - in a field for instance - it provokes immediate aggression. The same thing happens on transports, except, of course, that the horses are tethered. Water has a similar effect and the result can be terrible injuries.

“It is in the horse's basic nature to fight for food when there is a shortage. Feeding and watering them en route in the way that it is done - where no one wants to unload them - possibly has more ill effects than good. Ipso facto, transporting horses in groups creates a situation which immediately imperils them and precludes them from either eating or drinking. Since animals are supposed to be fed and watered every eight hours by law, this naturally compromises their safety.

“No rational human being could stand beside a horse transporter at a feed and watering station, watching horses rip each other’s backs open for a pitiful amount of food and water, and claim that this trade is morally, ethically or scientifically acceptable.

“It is another clear reason to outlaw the transport of live horses for slaughter in groups. My own view is that the trade is barbaric. Any government prepared to condone such an act by silent acquiescence, or to legislate for it, is the root cause and can, therefore, rightly be accused of barbarism”.

These are extremely strong words from a man who has dedicated his life to horses. They are clearly aimed at several governments, including Italy, France and Poland.