France is no different to any other country in that each year there are many horses, ponies and donkeys that are unwanted, sick, old, injured or simply unrideable. In France it is expensive and very unpleasant to have a horse euthanased, whereas the carcass has a value. Rural France is not a wealthy area, and the practicalities of gaining some money from an animal (injured, old, unwanted) whose future is only death overrides sentimentality.
The price of euthanasia is governed by the following; it is illegal to not use a vet, or licensed slaughterman, and the vet is only allowed to inject with fatal doses of drugs, not use a gun. Hence part of the cost lies in the vet’s callout charge, and the price of the drugs. Having the carcass collected is also expensive, and the body is usually not collected for several days. It is left lying at the end of the road to the property, bloating and being eaten by wild animals, a horrible and upsetting sight.
In the UK, there is a network of ‘knackermen’ and hunts to quickly slaughter and dispose of such animals. However, France is a country that traditionally eats horse and donkey meat and so mostly every equine has a price tag and therefore a different solution has evolved. France has a network of over 150 approved abattoirs which process over 24,000 animals annually. Healthy carcasses end up on the table and the rest go to the rendering plants.
The reality in France is that many horses are bred specifically for meat, in fact, many of the traditional heavy breeds have only survived by being bred for meat. These animals are really the same as cattle in their outlook on life and have had little or no human contact, barring being herded into a cattle crush to be microchipped. Often these horses are powerful older animals and have no comprehension of even basic handling. In attempting to save these animals from slaughter, the safety of both the horse and the human is endangered as we have seen on many occasions. Whilst often docile, they are clearly frightened and have no idea of leading. They are powerful enough to be impossible to control in a normal manner from the ground. There are dangers of horses falling off ramps and breaking limbs, or running loose across the countryside, possibly into traffic or even badly injuring the well-meaning people who want to try and find them a new life. Commercial transporters for the meat trade have specially designed lorries with very strong metal ramps and fixed gates to prevent the horses falling to the side or getting free when loading. Most commercial private horse transporters do not have suitable equipment for dealing with what are essentially wild horses, weighing at least a ton apiece.
Whilst as horse people we find it very sad, at ERF we believe that we cannot be opposed to the slaughter of equines at local, regulated abattoirs as the other options are unworkable and unthinkable. At the very least, 24,000 horses are locally slaughtered and avoid the horrendous long journeys to Italy which face nearly 10,000 others. At the same time, we need to work to reduce the number of ill, abandoned and unwanted equines through education and responsible ownership.