Our positions 2800 x 1000_0015_Imports and exports

Horse smuggling to/from Great Britain

Horses need to be better protected when they are imported in to and exported from GB.

Horses need to be better protected when they are imported in to and exported from GB.

What is horse smuggling? 

Horse smuggling describes the illegal movement of horses, ponies and even donkeys. These movements are often across country borders and put horses at high risk of injury, disease and neglect.   

Why does it happen? 

When horses are moved in violation of laws that exist to protect their health and welfare, it is challenging to truly understand all the reasons as to why this happens.  Primarily there is a monetary driver to this trade, and they may be linked to organised criminal activities.  

Is it profitable? 

The traders involved see horses as mere commodities. They do not care for their welfare and look to cut costs at every opportunity. Horses are crammed into vehicles, not fed or watered and not allowed to rest. As many horses are not declared as they are imported and exported to and from GB, the traders can evade taxes whilst also hiding their journeys. Incomplete paperwork and non-compliance with biosecurity requirements, further saves them money. The horses can be given new identities, hiding their history which allows them to be sold on for more money than they were bought for.  

What happens to these smuggled horses? 

This is a very worrying aspect of the trade. These horses can end up anywhere as they are just not traceable. We know that horses and ponies are being moved on fraudulent passports and some end their lives in slaughterhouses abroad. We also know that a lot of these movements involve travelling long distances in sub-standard conditions. Many of the horses involved will not be fit for their intended journey, perhaps due to injury or underlying health conditions. Some may be luckily enough to end up in a caring home but for the vast majority their fate is unknown – perhaps the slaughterhouse or yet another dealer to continue their never-ending ordeal. 

Why is horse smuggling able to continue? 

Unfortunately, the whole system is too open to abuse as well as being unenforceable. The current equine identification paper passport system allows duplicate passports to be issued easily and amendments to be made to existing passports – meaning that passports can be illegally re-used for multiple horses. If a horse is signed out of the food chain on the UK databases they may still be slaughtered in the EU if they arrive with a “clean” passport. Falsely re-identifying a horse who has been signed out of the food chain with a fraudulent ‘clean’ passport makes a horse appear eligible for slaughter. This means the trader can still make a profit from them if they don’t sell for riding or breeding purposes. 

Undeclared horses, exported out of the UK, are rarely noticed as relevant authorities are not present 24/7 at ports.  Smugglers know this and travel at times when they are less likely to have in-depth checks at border controls.  Should they be caught then there are not the resources to pursue prosecution, meaning there is no deterrent or repercussions for illegal trade.   

What is World Horse Welfare is doing? 

  • We will continue to gather evidence of the illegal trade in horses.   
  • We have campaigned for a ban on live exports to slaughter, making it illegal and allowing for stronger control measures to be put in place to disrupt this trade.  
  • We are applying pressure to law makers to improve animal welfare legislation to better protect equine welfare – for example we are proposing that a 12-hour maximum journey time (half the current limit of 24 hours), with a 9-hour rest, should be introduced in Great Britain and the EU to better protect those horses who are being moved as part of this trade (and not going to slaughter).  
  • We will continue to campaign for a digital equine identification and traceability system to be put in place in GB and EU. 
  • We will work in collaboration with other animal welfare organisations and local authorities to identify solutions to the lack of enforcement of animal welfare laws.  
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