In a letter published in the Veterinary Record, Dr David Marlin and others reveal the extent of welfare problems suffered by such horses.
The study was carried out between March and September 2008. Groups of horses were inspected in Romania before being transported to Italy. Other horses were inspected on arrival at slaughterhouses in Italy. A few were observed both before and after transportation.
Many of the horses observed in the study, either at the start of their journey, or on arrival at the slaughterhouse, showed evidence of poor health and welfare.
The researchers observed 1519 horses being loaded on to lorries in Romania. They judged that 14 per cent of the animals were not fit to travel in accordance with European Union Council Regulation 1/2005 on the Welfare of Animals during Transport. Both recent and long-term injuries were seen. Lameness was common.
Of the 1271 horses were observed on arrival in Italy, the observers considered that 37 per cent were not fit to travel. Many horses showed clear signs of disease, including coughing and nasal discharge, which would have rendered them unsuitable to enter into the human food chain.
One in three had recent injuries that were likely to have arisen on the journey. Grazing to the skin from friction with the partitions in the transporters was common.
To improve the welfare of horses transported long distances for slaughter, the charity World Horse Welfare is campaigning for:
More information: D Marlin, K Meldrum, J White, H Westen, T Parkin, D Broom, M Kennedy, B Johnson, S Coombs, C Heard.
Welfare of horses transported long distances in Europe.
Veterinary Record(2009) 165, 270.