An online petition was launched last week as the first part of a major campaign by international charity World Horse Welfare (WHW) to halt the live transportation of horses across Europe for slaughter.

WHW — formerly known as the International League for the Protection of Horses — has been campaigning to put an end to the live slaughter trade since its foundation by Ada Cole in 1911.

The petition calls upon the European Commission to end the trade during its review of animal transport laws next year.

“The EC has requested we lobby them hard on this issue — if they have a very strong show of public support it will be easier for them to speak to member states,” said Emma Cook, WHW head of campaigns.

Under existing regulations — EU Council Regulation No1/2005 — horses destined for slaughter travelling for more than eight hours must be offered food and water every eight hours. They must also stop for food, water and rest after 24hr on the road for a period of 24hr, and must each be separated by individual partitions. There is no maximum journey limit.

“We have evidence that the regulation is routinely flouted with lorries not stopping during the journey, and horses travelling in mixed groups of stallions, mares and geldings of all sizes,” said Jo White, WHW director of campaigns.

“As well as working to end the trade, we’re lobbying for a short, finite journey limit meaning that no horses are transported for days across Europe.”

Miss White added: “In the short-term we’re campaigning for rigorous enforcement of existing legislation so horses are properly rested, fed and watered during these journeys.”

At present, the biggest exporter of horses for slaughter is Poland, followed by Spain and Romania, the majority of which — 84 per cent — travel to southern Italy.

WHW wants to gather at least 100,000 signatures to present to the Commission, and is asking the British public to write letters to their own MPs and MEPs requesting them to raise the matter urgently.

WHW already has the support of a number of cross-party MEPs and the government.

A Defra spokesman told H&H: “The UK will be taking an active part in the regulation review, and will work with equine and welfare organisations on how best to take things forward.

“The government’s preference is for a trade in meat rather than the long-distance transport of animals for slaughter — but a ban on the export of animals for slaughter is not an option because it breaches EU free trade rules.”

The spokesman added that Defra has no record of horses being exported for slaughter from Britain for “many years”.

During a recent debate “Transportation of Horses for Slaughter” in the House of Lords, government spokesman Lord Davies of Oldham said there are “weaknesses [in the t legislation], such as the length of time for which horses are in these vehicles without any rest or relief. We should have maximum limits on the length of time that horses travel.”

The petition and a sample letter to send to MPs, together with more details on the campaign — Make a Noise — is online at www.makeanoise.co.uk

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (5 June, ’06)