End the long-distance transportation of horses across Europe for slaughter

Protection of equines during transport

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end long-distance transport of equines across the EU for slaughter.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end long-distance transport of equines across the EU for slaughter.

Transportation can be very stressful for many horses, but we can take steps to reduce this.

Equines (including horses, ponies and donkeys) stand apart from other livestock species as they are often transported for reasons other than breeding, fattening and slaughter and may be transported many times throughout their lives. Since the introduction of Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 and the various EU guidance on the transport of live animals, there have been some improvements in the care of equines during transport. However, significant welfare hazards still remain, mainly due to practical difficulties in ensuring the levels of welfare required are attained. 

Transportation can be a stressful and exhausting experience for equines, and it increases the risk of disease, injury (cutaneous, muscular, and skeletal), exhaustion and dehydration. Equine welfare during transport is impacted by multifactorial challenges. These can relate to the fitness of the equine for the intended journey, the preparation for the journey, the means of transport, the space allowance, the transport practices, the duration of the journey, the watering and feeding intervals and the feasibility of enforcing the rules established, among others.

In 2020, the European Commission launched the Farm to Fork Strategy, which aims to make food systems fair, healthy, and environmentally friendly. This includes reviewing the whole EU Animal Welfare legislative framework – including Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve equine welfare during transport and reduce the negative outcomes of current rules.

There are improvements that we believe need to be addressed to improve the welfare of equines during transport. These include:

  • Journey times – A maximum, finite 12-hour journey limit for horses intended for slaughter should be established. The journey should start when the first equine steps onto the vehicle and end when the last equine steps off. As well, we believe there should be no further onward journey as the final destination should be a slaughterhouse. Moreover, the duration of the journey should be redefined for all equines. Journeys between 4 to 12 hours should be defined as long journeys, while short journeys should be those over 65km and up to 4 hours. 
  • Access to water and forage – Prior to the start of the journey, equines should have access to adequate forage and to an unrestricted and constant supply of clean drinking water for at least six hours before the start of the journey.  Post-arrival, equines should have immediate access to water, forage, and a place to rest, alongside an obligation to report any serious injuries or illness which, in the opinion of a veterinarian, are associated with transport. On a 12-hour journey, short mid-journey rests should be given every 4 to 6 hours. Equines should be given access to water and forage for at least 45 minutes during these mid-journey rests. 
  • Training – the provision of adequate training to anyone involved in the transportation and/or handling of equines – such as drivers, handlers, veterinarians, enforcement officers, control post personnel, and others. This includes that all personnel involved in the transport of equines must be trained on how to undertake a risk assessment and identify whether the equines they are transporting are fit for the intended journey.
  • Fitness for transport – we believe the concept of ‘fit for the intended journey’ should refer to whether an equine is fit to be loaded and transported for any purpose, for the duration and in the conditions of that particular journey.  
  • Space allowance – the requirements on space allowance should be reviewed in order to include the latest scientific evidence. For instance, we suggest that the space allowance for equines in the vehicle should be 1.9m2 per equine (compared to the current 1.75m2) and 1.2m2 for young equines (from 6 to 24 months).  
  • Compliance and enforceability – non-compliance with Regulation (EU) No 1/2005 rules is a direct contributor factor to poor welfare of horses during transportation. For instance, we have evidence that equines are being transported that aren’t fit for their intended journey and vehicles that don’t meet the higher standards are being used for long-distance journeys which means that welfare is compromised as there is not adequate space allowance or ventilation. 

    We advocate for the EU to move forward to a digitalised system to improve the compliance with the rules. Indeed, we advocate for full traceability of equines. To be effective, this would require implementation of an equine ID system that works, registration of premises and a Member State central database that records certain movements on and off premises across the EU which is accessible by authorities in other Member States. There should be a central database with all information on official registered abattoirs prepared to accept equines. This information should be made available to all operators. As well, full traceability of equines is essential to ensure the enforceability of the transport rules. 
  • Derogation for registered equines – we recognise that ‘high performance’ equines being transported specifically for BEF/FEI and BHA events may be of a higher value, at that point in their lives, and the conditions they are transported in, are more likely to meet high welfare standards as it is in their owners’/keepers’ interests that they arrive at their destination in good condition. In addition, these horses are also inspected before competing. However, it does not mean these horses are not at risk. 

    If the derogation for  these ‘high performance’ horses is to be maintained then we believe the industry regulatory bodies need to ensure that those competing at their events are putting the welfare of their horse first, including considering mandatory rest-periods before / after an event for equines that have travelled long distance and developing a transport code of practice. 

    Those equines which are ‘registered’ but are not ‘high performance’ should be covered by all aspects of this legislation. All horses have the potential to become ‘low value’, e.g. through injury or reduced performance, even if they are registered. 

Given the multifactorial drivers of welfare problems during transport, there are still gaps in knowledge regarding how to maintain equine welfare during transport. Some of the most concerning areas are the lack of evidence relating to maximum journey times, the effects of sea transportation on animal welfare and the establishment of species-specific and within-species requirements. Governments should consider supporting research in this and other key areas.

You can find out more about the main factors posing equines during transport at risk and recommendations to address those challenges in our report on ‘The transport of equines: challenges and recommendations for amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005’ here.

Download the executive summary

Black and white image of horse looking through bars of a truck
Executive summary of challenges and recommendations for amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005

Download the executive summary of ‘The transport of equines intended for slaughter: challenges and recommendations for amending the Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005’

Download the full report

Black and white image of horse looking through bars of a truck
Full report on challenges and recommendations for amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005

Download the full report on ‘The transport of equines intended for slaughter: challenges and recommendations for amending the Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005’

Commonly asked questions

Which legislation regarding transport of animals is in place to protect welfare? 

Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations is the main piece of legislation that regulates transport of equines as part of economic activity. This legislation is designed to ensure that animals are transported under the adequate conditions and terms. The Regulation applies to transporters and drivers and all other personnel involved in the transport of animals which have to be according to the regulation appropriately trained. 

What does the term long-distance transport mean? 

In EU law, long-distance transport of animals refers to a distance of over 65km or more than 8 hours in duration. We are recommending a maximum, finite 9-12-hour journey limit for horses transported for slaughter as scientific evidence indicates that horse health and welfare can be negatively impacted by journeys of longer duration.  Such a maximum, finite journey limit would also harmonise relevant legislation with driver working and rest times, which would benefit transporters and enable better enforcement. 

Under the current legislation, domestic equidae may be transported for a maximum period of 24 hours. During the journey they must be given liquid and if necessary fed every eight hours. 

After the journey time laid down, animals must be unloaded, fed and watered and be rested for at least 24 hours.  The horses can then be transported again for another 24 hours. And so on. 

Is there any evidence that Transport Regulation fails to safeguard animal welfare? 

Compliance with and enforcement of the law is inadequate. Investigations carried out by World Horse Welfare have revealed serious and routine violations of Regulation (EC) No 1/2005. These investigations have proven that most of the horses are not provided with adequate rest, water and food during transport and are being shipped through Europe under unacceptable transport conditions. Horses have arrived at the destinations with injuries, open wounds and nasal discharge. These animals also exhibit the signs of stress, exhaustion and dehydration. 

How can I help? 

If you are in the UK, please check back regularly on how you can support the next stage of our campaign. 

In Europe, you can write to your Agriculture Minister asking them to support a review of the current regulation EC 1/2005. We are committed to extending this campaign and gaining support from other groups of people through a variety of means. You can also support Eurogroup for Animals’ #stopthetrucks campaign here. 

By raising awareness of the origins of the horse meat they purchase, we aim to highlight the suffering horses endure under the current Regulation and encourage the consumer to demand a higher-welfare product. It is also vital that we are able to use up-to-date, relevant evidence in support of our campaign for changes to the law. This evidence is gathered during field investigations in Europe, along the road routes used by those transporting horses long distances. We are committed to effecting change but also mindful that all of the work described above is only possible with the support of voluntary donations. If you are able to, please support our campaign with a donation to help us reach our goal of ensuring no horse is transported long-distance across Europe to slaughter.  

What else is World Horse Welfare doing? 

In addition to pressuring law makers, World Horse Welfare is actively working to improve conditions for these horses by working with other organisations and the industry to improve understanding of and compliance with current transport law among all those involved in the trade.  We are also researching the slaughter process to inform our own understanding of the trade to ensure our recommendations are practical and help improve horse welfare. We have published: 

  • Practical Guidelines on the Watering of Equine Animals Transported by Road follows extensive research and consultation from a range of industry experts, supported by the European Commission and sets out straightforward, user-friendly recommendations and best practice when transporting equines to avoid dehydration and its problematic consequences. 
  • Practical Guidance to Assess Fitness for Transport of Equidae was produced through a collaboration of agri-food, transport, veterinary organisations and animal welfare groups supported by the European Commission to set out clear and simple methods of assessing the fitness of equines for transport. 
  • We are also involved in the European Commission’s Animal Transport Guidelines Project.
Why are horses being transported long-distance across Europe for slaughter in the first place? 

There are a number of factors that we believe contribute to the trade. Firstly, horsemeat can be labelled as the product of the country in which the animal was slaughtered – therefore, a Polish horse slaughtered in Italy can be labelled as an Italian product. We believe that this may mislead consumers and are calling for ‘country of origin’ to be included on all horse meat labels on EU horse meat. 

Other reported factors probably play a part: 

  • A higher price can be achieved by selling to slaughterhouses in Italy.
  • Production costs (the cost of raising the horses) are cheaper outside of Italy. 
  • Consumer demand for ‘fresh’ horsemeat. 
  • Live horses can be slaughtered to suit demand whereas meat must be used within a short time. 
Why are you campaigning against long-distance transportation to slaughter, but not against slaughter itself? 

Humane slaughter has a place, even if the concept of a horse being slaughtered may be something many people feel uncomfortable about. In Europe, many horses are bred for slaughter and a reared with the same principals that cattle, sheep or pig production have in the UK.  It is a legitimate trade and we believe that for the welfare of these horses to be truly protected from birth to death, we must work alongside those involved not against them.  

Long-distance transportation to slaughter causes massive suffering, and that is why, as a welfare charity, we oppose it. We are concerned with the welfare of the horse throughout its whole life, from birth to death – what happens to the horse after that point is not a welfare concern as the horse can no longer suffer harm. Therefore we do not oppose humane slaughter. 

What do you mean by humane slaughter? 

‘Humane slaughter’ means slaughter carried out in full compliance with the legislation designed to protect animal welfare, without causing suffering or distress to the horse. 

Where do these horses come from? 

The horses transported long-distance across Europe to slaughter can come from different sources, but as a general rule they are draft horses specifically bred for slaughter, or they may be surplus farm horses. The main route for long-distance transport is Eastern Europe to Italy. 

Are horses exported for slaughter from the UK? 

We have been investigating the movement of horses into and out of the UK, including reports of possible export for slaughter, for several years and have always passed any information that we have onto the proper authorities at the earliest opportunity. Official figures show that no horses are exported for slaughter from the UK, but this, we believe is because of the additional requirements for health certification which can be bypassed, declaring horses as being exported for leisure or production. Unfortunately, it has become clear that in many cases, proper preventative action from the authorities and enforcement of the law was simply not taking place despite the information that we were providing, and that horses and ponies were being left very vulnerable to abuse as a result. 

Why is it taking so long to change this? 

In order to end the long-distance transportation of horses across Europe to slaughter, we have to change EU law – and also ingrained attitudes and behaviours as new legislation is only the first step in the journey – people need to enforce and comply with the law too. This is a long and complicated process, and this campaign was always going to be a long one – we knew that from the beginning. As well as convincing MEPs, we also have to convince the European Commission and the governments of the 27 Member States, and overcome opposition from those who are involved in the trade. However, we have seen successes on the way and we know that we are making headway. 

We are as frustrated as anyone else by the slow pace of change, but we know that we are making progress and we will continue to campaign tirelessly until no horse is transported long-distance across Europe to slaughter.  

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