EQUINES HAVE A UNIQUE PLACE IN EUROPEAN CIVILISATION AND HISTORY. FOR 5000 YEARS, THEY HAVE BEEN USED FOR TRANSPORT, HAULAGE, CONSTRUCTION, LEISURE, THERAPY, SPORT, ON FARMS, AND FOR COMPANIONSHIP. THIS DIVERSITY OF USE HAS ENSURED THAT EQUINES HAVE REMAINED CLOSE TO HUMANS, BUT IT HAS ALSO CREATED PROBLEMS WHEN SEEKING PROTECTION FOR THEM IN LAW.
Depending on where and how they are used, equines may be legally defined as farm animals, companion animals or even wild animals.
Furthermore, a single equine can cover several of these classifications within their lifetime.
As a result, there are a number of serious equine welfare challenges across the EU, including overpopulation, irresponsible breeding, illegal trading, fly grazing, poor levels and over-use of transportation, and inhumane slaughter.
We have focused on the following policy goals in the previous years.
PROMOTE RESPONSIBLE OWNERSHIP
Despite the many differences between the roles and perceptions of equidae across the EU, the welfare problems that they face are often remarkably similar. An equid is as likely to be kept in an unsuitable environment in Bulgaria as it would be in Germany. Ignorance and a lack of knowledge may be reported in Lithuania or in Denmark. Concerns on neglect are just as likely to be raised in the UK as in Cyprus.
It is clear that no Member State is entirely free of welfare issues, and no Member State should be complacent about the welfare of their equines.
IMPROVE THE TRACEABILITY OF EQUINES
We believe that robust equine traceability measures must be at the heart of good equine welfare and health. Without proper identification and registration, equines cannot be linked to a person responsible for their welfare.
The failure of the European equine passport system over the past 20 years has led to overpopulation crises in many countries, irresponsible ownership, illegal trade, food fraud and poor breeding practices.
Despite forthcoming improvements to the system by way of a new “Equine Passport Regulation” (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/262), challenges remain regarding enforcement and the ability of Member States to limit the issuing of equine passports to a single Passport Issuing Office (PIO). Single PIOs remain as the final missing component in ensuring effective traceability of equines.
IMPROVE TRANSPORTATION AND SLAUGHTER PRACTICES
Existing checks on farmed animals, including equids, during long-haul transportation and at the time of slaughter, are under threat. At the same time, equids are being slaughtered in unsafe and inhumane conditions around the globe for consumption on the European market.
Within the EU, these existing checks are governed by Council Regulations (EC) No 1/2005 and (EC) No 1099/2009 respectively. While they fall short of prevailing scientific evidence, and levels of enforcement are variable across the EU, they offer the animals better levels of protection than they would experience in many other territories.
HIGHLIGHT THE NEED FOR SPECIES-SPECIFIC LEGISLATION
More often than not, equines are considered as farm animals at European level, although they could also be covered by legislation relating to wild animals. Furthermore, there are at least three different official definitions of ‘equidae’ in existing EU law, three sub-categories of equid, and several context-specific definitions that depend on how the animal is being used.
Equine welfare is not properly protected in current EU law. The versatility of their roles –even simply as ‘farm animals’ – means that their welfare is often compromised as they change from owner to owner and from role to role.
The treatment of working equines, for example, is a serious cause of concern in a number of Member States, as is a lack of access to professionals such as veterinary surgeons, farriers and saddlers.