Organisations from across Europe have urged MEPs to back proposals aimed at “dramatically improving” equine welfare throughout the EU.
UK MEP Julie Girling outlined her initiative to members of the European parliament’s animal conservation and welfare group, in Strasbourg.
Her proposed actions cover circulating guidance on caring for horses throughout their lives, based on the “five freedoms”, which include freedom from pain, hunger, thirst and fear.
She also wants to use “innovative” funding schemes to reward responsible ownership of horses, and to empower tourists to reward businesses which use equines in a responsible way.
The initiative follows the publication of Removing the Blinkers, a “ground-breaking report outlining the challenges facing Europe’s equine sector”, produced by Eurogroup for Animals in 2015.
“More often than not, it’s mere ignorance rather than cruelty that leads to poor welfare conditions for individual horses and donkeys in Europe, however the animals may be used,” Mrs Girling said.
“Sadly, this ignorance also carries a financial cost, often leading to under-productive or sick animals that all too often become a burden.
“Yet it should be the other way around – happy, healthy equines should only add value to rural businesses and bring joy to their owners too.
“The equine sector already adds over €100bn to the EU’s economy each year, and is a leading rural employer in many member states. Yet it could do so much more if our equines were better cared for.
“Europe’s citizens want to see more action on animal welfare, and I believe we have a golden opportunity to improve the lives of millions of equines across the EU, which can improve the lives of their owners too.”
World Horse Welfare communications director Jessica Stark also spoke at the meeting.
She said: “Eurogroup for Animals’ members, including World Horse Welfare, have been delighted to work with Mrs Girling on her report, and to take forward many of the recommendations from our seminal report, Removing the Blinkers.
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“This draft report, if adopted by the European Parliament, will go a long way to addressing some of the most basic welfare concerns facing equines in Europe, and particularly with regards to the treatment of working equidae.
“Whether it concerns donkeys who are farmed for their milk, or horses used on farms or sent to slaughter, much can be improved through better training, handling and access to professional care.
“Given the importance of the equine sector to economies and jobs, having good guidance and support for equine welfare will help not only horses but the millions of people who rely on them.
“We will support Mrs Girling’s efforts in whatever way we can to ensure that her initiative is a success, and ask all Members of the European Parliament to support it in the same spirit.”