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Wednesday, 9 February, 2000, 02:23 GMT
Italy urged to halt horse imports

donkey being pulled Romanian donkeys are exported to Italy to make salami


By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Animal welfare groups in the United Kingdom and Germany are calling for a halt to the import by Italy of horses and donkeys from eastern Europe.

A statement by the UK group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), which is working with the German organisation Animals' Angels, describes the exports as "one of the cruellest aspects of Europe's live animal trade".

The groups say about 100,000 horses a year are exported by road to Italy, mainly from Poland and Lithuania, and about 7,000 donkeys, most of them from Romania.

Four-day journeys

After journeys involving several border crossings and lasting 90 hours or more, the animals are slaughtered in Italian abattoirs.

injured horse An injured horse is removed from a truck
From north-eastern Europe the vehicles travel through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, before entering northern Italy at Gorizia. There the animals have still further to go - one recorded journey, from Lithuania to Sardinia, was 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) long and lasted 95 hours.

CIWF says: "By the time they get to Hungary, which is just halfway through their journey, many of the horses are in a dreadful condition. Many are exhausted and dehydrated, some are injured, some are dying or dead."

Justin Wilkes of CIWF told BBC News Online: "There is no welfare check at most of the border crossings, because the animals are simply in transit."

Starting from scratch

"And when they do reach Italy, the hauliers have to reset their clocks to zero - the European Union has to insist on this, under the World Trade Organisation's rules.

"So the vehicles can legally drive on for another 24 hours, however far they've already come."

CIWF says the donkeys imported from Romania to make salami "suffer terribly during the long journeys and are treated with brutality". It says many of the animals are very small.

dead horse Some animals die in transit
It wants the trade policed to make it conform to European welfare rules, and ultimately stopped, with the animals being slaughtered in their home countries and exported as meat.

In a letter to the Italian Ambassador in London, CIWF praises Italy's earlier support in Brussels for animal welfare, and calls on it to stop the horse and donkey trade from eastern Europe.

It also calls for the enforcement of EC welfare rules at Gorizia, where it says they are "regularly ignored".

'Abhorrent'

CIWF and Animals' Angels have made a film of the trade and television presenter Wendy Turner and the BBC's former racing commentator Sir Peter O'Sullevan will present a copy to the ambassador.

Sir Peter said: "Every man, woman and child who has respect for the horse will be forever haunted by the abhorrent traffic depicted in this film. It dishonours both the EU and the human race."

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See also:
30 Sep 99 |  UK
Horses 'suffer needlessly' on journey to death
28 Jan 99 |  Europe
European parliament votes to ban battery hen farming
25 Sep 99 |  Europe
Hague demands ban on Danish bacon

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