Equines should have good homes and responsible owners. Sadly, many equines are being abandoned, condemned to live in inappropriate conditions or neglected. Some of these equines are also sold for meat production, which increases the risks for their welfare.
All categories of equines transported in the framework of the intra-EU and extra-EU trade suffer from the current Regulation 1/2005 serious shortcomings: its contradiction to scientific recommendations, unenforceable provisions and its poor implementation and enforcement system. While the impact of these flaws varies depending on the category of the equines transported, it is without discussion that equines of low value, such as equines intended for slaughter, suffer the most. All equidae have the potential to become “low value”, e.g. through injury or reduced performance, therefore they all must be protected.
Poor welfare during transportation is normally caused by multiple factors, however, journey time can exacerbate the situation, meaning that something that may only cause minor stress or discomfort during a short journey can become even life threatening if an animal is subjected to it for long periods of time. Hence, duration and quality of the journey are both crucial to maintain the welfare of animals during transport.
In 2019, the EU Member States traded 55,692 equines with the majority of them being horses for slaughter. Every year, around 24,000 horses are transported long-distance across the EU for slaughter. Travelling for days over thousands of kilometres with little chance to rest, eat or drink, these horses arrive at their destination exhausted, in pain, stressed, severely dehydrated and broken in spirit. The biggest exporters of horses for slaughter are the Netherlands, Poland and France. In the same year the EU exported to non-EU countries 32,125 horses, asses, mules and hinnies for breeding, slaughter and other purposes with the main importer of horses for slaughter being Japan. Transport of equines leads to increased cortisol release and changes in heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV), indicative of stress. The degree of these changes is related to the duration of transport. The current maximum journey limit is too high and numerous studies suggest that 8 hours is the maximum transport-time.