In an effort to understand the French equine market in more detail, we have been researching the origins of horsemeat available in supermarkets within the different departments of France. Our findings so far indicate that France is a mass producer of horses for meat, but a fair proportion of those are not slaughtered here in France, but transported to Italy.
The largest import of live horses into France comes from Poland….the largest export of live horses from France goes to Italy. Horses in the UK are still being exported to the rest of Europe live via the Ireland-France route, some taking the onward 4 day trip to Italy (or 2 day if EU transport regs are ignored).
It goes without saying that if the labelling directives were changed to read product of the EU, the need to slaughter animals in Italy just to receive the ‘Produced in Italy’ stamp would be reduced thereby reducing the need to transport equines over long distances.
As a natural progression, the research has led to looking into the leather trade using the hides of horses, foals and donkeys. Products sold in top London designer stores include shoes made from Cordovan leather, Italian foal leather shoes, handbags, and horse and donkey skin rugs. This research is still in early days but we are being helped by French and Italian speaking volunteers. We are trying to find out the age of the foals that end up as these accessories. That may come as a bit if a shock to many people who have not considered where their lovely soft Italian leather comes from.
We have made a huge effort this year to attend as many horse sales/markets here that we can. We have been horrified at the condition of many of the equines being offered for sale. Many are sick, unhealthy animals, some close to collapse. There are no welfare bodies in attendance monitoring them nor are there market regulations set up for equines’ welfare and furthermore there is often a clear disregard for all EU transport legislations. Horses were being crammed into unsuitable lorries with no partitions or regard for sex/age. We saw at least eight assorted horses and ponies being forced like sardines together into one small transit-style truck the size of a double horse trailer. If prosecuted, these infringements could lead to a fine of €450 – €1500 or a 2 year prison term and €30,000 fine for cruelty however we have yet to see any enforcement body at any of the fairs or markets we have attended.
So whatever your views on horses being slaughtered for consumption, hopefully you agree that the least that should be given to them is a short and painless final journey….this is one of the areas that we are focusing our attentions on in the short term together with other animal welfare groups.