Conference to ponder the future of Europe’s equine industry

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stock-eyeHealth and welfare issues affecting Europe’s horses cannot continue to be overlooked, the chief executive of British-based charity World Horse Welfare says.

Roly Owers was commenting ahead of a conference set to disucss the challenges facing Europe’s horses, donkeys and mules.

Next week’s meeting, hosted by Julie Girling, an MP in the European Parliament, will discuss many of the issues raised mid-year in a major report prepared by World Horse Welfare and Eurogroup for Animals, entitled Removing the Blinkers: The Health and Welfare of European Union Equidae in 2015.

Removing the Blinkers represents the first attempt to map out the sector and examine the laws, health and welfare problems facing Europe’s 7 million equines.

The report highlights several gaps in statistical information about equines across member states, despite the industry contributing an estimated €100 billion or more to the European economy every year. The sector provides employment for at least 896,000 people across the EU and uses at least 2.6 million hectares of land across thecontinent.

The report also reveals wide variations in their legal status across Europe, which can switch from farm animals to companions depending on their use.

Whilst the equine industry is not the most animal-intensive in Europe, it is one of the most effective in terms of creating value and jobs, particularly in rural regions that may lack other types of economic activity.

Equines fill roles as leisure and companion animals; working animals in tourism, forestry, agriculture and food production; as well as animals used for therapy and training and elite athletes in sports.

Owers, who was one of the authors, said he was delighted that the issues raised in the report would now be discussed at European level.

“We cannot allow the equine sector to continue being overlooked, either in terms of the health and welfare issues, or in terms of securing a sound future for a sector that has traditionally been one of the prides of Europe, that is proving to be such a valuable export industry and that is still so relevant to European society today.”

Girling said the economic value of the equine sector to the European economy was huge, yet equines had largely been ignored in comparison to other animals.

“It is time to take stock of the equine sector within the EU, and to examine how we can protect the health and welfare of Europe’s horses, donkeys and mules, and at the same time maximise the value of this sector for Europe’s economy through some very simple initiatives.”

World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers.

The conference will feature key speakers from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the equine sector, who will respond to the conclusions and suggested next steps on key issues which feature in Removing the Blinkers.

These issues include equine identification and registration, welfare in transport, welfare at slaughter, responsible ownership, and rural development.

The conference will be hosted by Girling, in cooperation with Eurogroup for Animals and the European Horse Network. It will be held in the European Parliament next Wednesday.

The authors of Removing the Blinkers urged the European Commission to initiate a study to analyse the economic and social impact of all aspects of the equine sector.

They called for species-specific equine welfare legislation. Equidae often fell between the cracks of legislation designed for farm or companion animals, they said.

Equine welfare in sports and leisure should be given a priority equal to that of the safety of the rider, and higher than other considerations, the report said.

The authors also recommended better slaughterhouse monitoring.

Removing the Blinkers can be downloaded here.
Earlier report

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