The Veterinary View | Viva!

The Veterinary View

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the abuse of horses exported live to Italy - some of which is detailed in this report - Poland’s chief veterinary officer, Dr. Andzej Komorowski, refuses to accept that there are any problems (33). He has stated that the horses sourced in Poland are all exported in good condition and therefore their transportation is not an issue. Dr. Komorowski has strongly implied that the live horse trade is of no concern to the Polish authorities and moreover provides valuable revenue for the country. He has also expressed no concern for the plight of horses entering Poland from third countries such as Lithuania and certainly there appears to be no attempt made to monitor or control the condition of these horses while they are on Polish soil.

Despite the failures of veterinary inspection and control identified by one of his own government departments (see Laws not Enforced) there is no apparent intention to improve veterinary inspection at border crossings and no intention to increase the cost of horse ‘inspections’, currently costing about $2 per animal, to fund an improvement in veterinary services - both of which have been advocated by different, concerned organisations. Clearly, the official view is that the trade is fair, the animals are well cared for while they are on Polish soil and what happens to them once they cross the border is of no consequence.

Poland, it seems, is very happy to profit from the trade in live horses, but prefers to close its eyes to the abuse involved. It refuses to enforce veterinary requirements while the animals are on Polish soil, disclaims all responsibility for them once they cross Poland’s borders - despite the animals having been reared in Poland, sold by Polish people, often exported by Polish companies, transported in Polish trucks and the trade contributes to Poland’s foreign currency earnings. Dr Komorowski sees this trade as Poland’s right but ignores the responsibilities which should always accompany rights.

It is a view which ignores all the available evidence that the trade is not fair, animals do suffer in Poland and Poland’s eagerness to promote the sale of horse meat abroad actively encourages the mass abuse of exported animals. To allow foreign trade to blind a whole administration to this cruelty is, Viva! believes, unacceptable in a world which claims to be civilised.

In essence, the well-documented problems of stress, dehydration, travel exhaustion, injury, terror and physical collapse are all someone else’s concerns. Had these been the views of a politician they would have been more understandable. The fact that they are the views of a senior civil servant who is not just a veterinarian but the country’s senior veterinarian - and therefore custodian of Poland’s animal welfare conscience - is little short of chilling.

It is impossible for Dr. Komorowski to claim ignorance. In the last 10 years, the stark facts behind the export of horses has been brought to the attention of the authorities through petitions delivered to numerous Polish institutions, including by the Dutch Animal Protection Union (3), Compassion in World Farming and Viva!. Graphic articles have appeared in magazines such as Paris Match and Stern and footage has been shown in countries throughout Europe. Viva!’s latest campaign adds considerable volume of knowledge and new weight to this position so that no legislators or civil servants can claim ignorance of what is happening.

Dr. Komorowski’s views, however, are reiterated by Mr. Piotr Kozerski, commercial councillor and minister plenipotentiary, at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, London, in a letter to Viva! dated August 22, 2001.

Mr. Kozerski claimed that Poland is not a leading exporter of horses to Italy (despite being the principal European country involved in live horse exports) and that it is surpassed by both Argentina and Brazil. He maintained that Lithuania and Latvia are significant exporters (despite the comparatively small numbers of horses which emananate from those countries) and that these horses are frequently mistaken for horses from Poland. Similarly, Italian transported horses may be mistaken for Polish horses.

This dismissal of Polish responsibility is also repeated by Mr. Zdzislaw Sytymin, Director of the Zebrozydowice lairage, through which all horses are supposed to transit. Paperwork for July, August and September shows that the majority of horses deemed unfit to travel and removed from transporters, were Polish - 18 from Poland and four from Lithuania/Belarus (33). Sadly, this small total number of unfit horses says more about the lack of adequate inspection than anything else.

However, it enables Dr. Komorowski and Mr. Kozerski to ignore the findings of Poland’s own bureaucracy, which is far more critical than these minimal figures would suggest (see Laws not Enforced). Mr. Kozerski went on to say that horses from Poland are subject to rigorous regulations. They receive detailed veterinary examination and only healthy animals are allowed to travel - and all are covered by ‘positive’ certificates. The horses are subjected to further tests, he maintained, at the border crossings where they are also given water. In the case of long journeys, they are also fed at border crossings. None of these claims are supported by the available evidence.

In effect, Mr. Kozerski wipes his hands of the problem by claiming that only 30 per cent of the horses exported from Poland to Italy are carried by Polish haulage contractors, the remaining 70 per cent being carried by Italian companies. Any failures by the Italians, he maintains, might wrongly be attributed to the Polish transporters. He expressed no concern for, nor intention to control, the failures of Italian companies transporting Polish horses either when they are on Polish soil nor after they have left it. He added that there may be a few occasions when Polish transporters infringed the accepted standards for the humane treatment of animals and concluded: “Such, however, would be singular and isolated cases.” Mr. Kozerski quotes no official figures to support his contention - mostly, we presume, because they don’t exist.

While Dr. Komorowski and Mr. Kozerski may claim to be unaware of any welfare problems, MVDr Anton Dorstal of the Administration of Veterinary Treatment, Ministry of Agriculture, Slovakia, is clearly not. He has acknowledged that horses suffer greatly from the stress of transportation and believes it necessary to ban the trade (33). Slovakia does not produce horse meat nor export horses for slaughter but most of the trade transits through that country.