British horses and ponies are slipping through the cracks to possible slaughter on mainland Europe, made possible by inadequate border checks, an international charity says.
At the time of writing, a BBC television programme, Inside Out, was about to air details of the findings by the international charity, World Horse Welfare.
The charity said its investigation revealed that horses and ponies were leaving British shores under the pretence that they were for leisure or sport, but may in fact be sold for slaughter.
It said horses and ponies were being exported without any checks on welfare or the paperwork, sometimes legally required to confirm their health status.
Without any physical or documentary checks, these horses and ponies could be going anywhere, for any purpose, in any condition, the charity said.
The absence of welfare or documentary checks meant that the agriculture agency Defra and local authorities had no information whether horses exported, or imported, were in good health or suffered from disease – causing a risk to human and equine health.
Across a 48-hour period, the Inside Out team joined World Horse Welfare in monitoring the port of Dover and following known horse dealers across the continent with the aim to find out their end destinations.
In the short time that the organisation was based at Dover, the French-Belgian border, Belgium, and surrounding areas monitoring horse movements – the charity saw 91 horse boxes, some with the capacity to carry more than 20 horses, moving through just one port, without any of the authorities checking on their welfare. The ferry company was seen to check paperwork once, the charity reported.
During the programme, which was to air in the East and Southeast region, there was also to be an exclusive interview with a British transporter who goes on the record to say that he is rarely, if ever, checked by Defra animal health officers, whose responsibility it is to undertake these checks when he moves shipments of horses across the border.
“We have discovered this really murky trade in low value equines across Europe,” the charity’s chief executive, Roly Owers, said.
Owers said it was not only a matter of equine welfare; it was also a huge problem for equine health.
“And, as we have seen because of the relation with the food trade and the food industry, it is also an issue for human health as well.
“We know that over one 48-hour weekend there were 51 shipments exported from Dover to France and 41 imports, with these vehicles taking between 2 and 22 horses, so you can get a feel of the scale … and what we do know is that there was not a single check done by the authorities during that weekend.
“Dealers from the UK are trading at markets in France and Belgium and Holland.
“Everything we have found we have shared with the authorities and our evidence is now the subject of an ongoing inquiry.
“We will continue to support that inquiry and we will continue to carry out our field research until we are sure that there is effective enforcement in place and horses and ponies leaving this country are not suffering.”
Defra says that, based on export applications, no horses or ponies have been exported for slaughter. World Horse Welfare’s investigation shows that Defra could not possibly know this was actually true because they were not performing basic checks for compliance with the law or welfare of the horses and ponies passing through the ports.
A British ferry company called P&O backed up the charity’s findings.
P&O had become concerned about a large consignment of horses travelling in a poor state of health and with possibly the wrong documentation, and so refused permission for the trader to board.
It also told Inside Out that it had caught this dealer twice trying to travel on its ferries with a large consignment of horses. The charity knew that the dealer simply used another ferry company to carry on with their journey.
World Horse Welfare said that it had long shared its findings with the relevant authorities. However, because of the lack of action to address its concerns over horse exports, the charity believed it had little option but to share its findings with the public, and media, in the hope that something could be done.
The charity’s evidence is now part of an ongoing inquiry with other authorities.