VEGA News Item

The Horse Deserves Better Than This - 31/05/2005
The hunting fraternity threatened the nation with a vast cull of horses and dogs if their activities were banned. Now, banned as they are, DEFRA in harness with the British Horse Industry Confederation comes up with a gungho draft consultation resonant with big business plans for an industry enjoying continuing success, the punters being of the domineering 2-legged ominivorous variety.
Out of all of this will the horse end up on slab and plate like, say, the deer, whose potection form the bambi image collapsed before the onslaught of another farming industry? Are British butchers vying for the dubious destinction of actually flogging a dead horse? Impossible? Not necessarily: look how the supermarkets abandoned their assurances and began selling halal meat, now one of most lucrative parts of the meat and Livestock Commission's dominion. VEGA neighs in.

We have been able in a brief search to find a paper entitled Horses and the rural economy in the UK by RH Suggett ( Equine Vet J Suppl 1999, Apr, (28): 31-7) but available to us only in abstract. Arguments and claims thrust into the business over the Hunting Bill probably amplify further relevant information.

1. Proposals 25 to 30. Aim 4. Horses must be allowed adequate environments for safe exercising, socialising, leisure, and being ridden, as part of the environment, economy , and diversity. This provision will include areas for use by walkers but forbidden to any vehicle or machinery bigger than a pedal cycle. Any exceptions must be temporarily allowed after due warning for farming purposes or, in emergencies, for police, rescue, or fire brigade work. Use of bridleways and on roads and on woodland areas for domestic animals and wildlife must be dominated by interests of the least mechanized species. Restrictions must apply similarly to aircraft ( including hot-air balloons), airborne or not and to the siting of windfarms and emitters of electromagnetic radiation.
2. Proposal 9 Status of the Horse.
2.1 Argument over hunting with dogs revealed an attitude struck by pro-hunters that a great cull of horses and dogs would ensue upon a ban on their activities. This implied that the welfare of horses and alternative pursuits ( e.g. drag-hunting) counted for little among the horsey fraternity and the capacity of sanctuaries to cope. These misgivings extend to the horse’s interests in the racing industry: “when it comes to discussing transition or innovation, racing has the habit of burying its head in the sand”, runs a caption (in the Times, 25th May 2005), headlining “ resistance change to gives factions common cause “ and indicating less concern for the animals’ welfare and prospects than British Horse Industry purports to observe. The DEFRA document glosses over many aspects where animal welfarists and veterinarians have grounds for complaints and obstruction that must be budged if the industry seeks an untainted reputation. Just as with human athletes’ race-horses and others used in country events may be overworked or extended in excessive activity causing premature and chronic injury, disability, stress, and behavioural disorders. At the other extreme boredom in these sensitive and intelligent animals may induce stereotype and distress even in apparently comfortable conditions ( by human perceptions). The Animal Welfare Bill, now, again in preparation after the General Election will deal with some of these abuses.
2.2 We note also the following usage that need attention in the draft Consultation. Some may be dealt with in general legislation or by specialized animal welfare groups ( we have recommended the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare) to apply for consultee-status).
2.3 Zoos, circuses. Equines feature in these businesses and deserve special attention. Care and training of animals kept and used in these conditions must be open to supervision and, as in all other practices involving ownership custody, and handling of animals, requirements for training and licensing of human keepers and operators must be enforced. Zebras are equines that must be considered in zoos and circus populations.
2.4 Work horses- Farms, Felling, Ploughing, and Towing. Aspects of traditional practices persist, if only for entertainment, hobbies, and occasional showing, and even for preservation and survival of certain breeds, e.g. Clydsdales. Like other animals kept in “ mixed company” on farms and in collections the conditions of upkeep must be watched closely for the general good for special requirements and antipathies e.g. in housing and suitabilities of pasture, feeds, and companions. Ragwort is among environmental herbal challenges in the countryside for most ruminants and its elimination from pastures is reckoned as part of good husbandry and farming practice. Farmers also earn money by letting land and facilities, as well as by sales of feed and bedding, to owner of horses. Mules must be numbered among the populations of work horses and pack animals.
2.5 Drifts, roundups, Conditions of many animals brought to the annual sales from drifts or at horse-fairs are poor, with symptoms of emaciation, poor nourishment, excessive infestation of worms, and afflictions such as sweet itch. Animal welfarists may resort to supplying remedial stocks of feed and water; however, common feeding may actually add to the troubles, livestock markets being notorious centres of stress and infection. Even poor doers may have a price, according to business in the European horse-meat market and to resources of animal welfarists to buy them into sanctuaries and kindlier treatment. The present draft Consultation should ensure that the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy will legislate adequately for these unfavored animals.
2.6 The draft consultation does not anticipate changes in the disposal of “spent nags”, retired horses ( e.g. from police forces) and casualties common to all livestock, even those that have to be “ euthanised” or “put down” after a “good life” but ultimately a burden for disposal into incinerators, ever-costlier landfills, or destined for the meat-trade, which may export many of the problems. Lifting of the Minimum Value Order may deny some live animals protection in transportation and shipping stresses; at the moment demand for horse-meat in Europe seems to be met by movements of livestock within the EU15 or even brought in from North America, introducing diseases such as trichinosis once regarded as confined to carnivores. These developments beg questions over corollaries in the knacker and casualty-slaughter trade in the UK, as well as the possibilities of profit for hunt kennels and the pet-food trade. The peculiar aversion in the UK to consumption of equine meat contrasts with attitudes in mainland Europe; and British consumers of imported meat products, such as sausages, and holidaymakers abroad probably eat horse-or-donkey- meat in one form or another- and consumption of the horses plays an important role in the heroics of military history.
2.7 Therefore a growing horse industry must face a challenge met by the trade in “smokies”, bush meats, and in products such as ivory from wildlife. Would the commercial control and regulation raise standards of openness, traceability, and supervision and thus exert a benefit, albeit flawed, in compromised animal welfare? Present trends in the strong competitive demand from the catering trade for exotic offerings suggest that equines may go the way of deer, ostrich, alligators, kangaroos, bison, reindeer…. in the butchers’ bloody bestiary. Reservations that the bambi image would spare deer from the commercial block and slab have collapsed. Gung ho chefs are actually boasting of their prowess in serving up entrails and joints once traditional in British diets for the gentry and as umble-pie for peasants, but latterly disdained, especially by supermarkets ( which have now abandoned their reluctance to sell Halal meat). At least horses will be spared Jewish or Muslim methods of slaughter, but animals on the way to the abattoir are threatened with cruel means of transportation.
2.8 Prospects of an increasing trade in horse meat may depend on value adding of by-products and offal and attributes such as organic that may be applicable Horse blood is used for medical purposes; (mares’ milk is used in a limited way ( understandably because of the animals’ limited yields) for yoghurt-like products. Animal welfarists ( but not many self styled horse-lovers) object to the methods by which mares’ urine is collected for steroidal and other sex-hormones used to make the drug Premarin, which is a component of hormone replacement therapies for post-menopausal women, as well as for other complaints and control of reproductive problems in human and other animals most traditional use of horse-hair and tails for bedding and musical instruments has been supplanted by man-made materials. However, as with deer and ostriches, entrepreneurs are likely to find ways of value-adding by-products from the slaughter of horses and donkeys through sales to fashion, pharmaceutical, and furniture enterprises; applications in oriental remedies could command high prices and outlets into the pet food industry offer financial rewards uncomplicated by many of the constraints on claims and regulation that pertain to remedies and supplements for human use and consumption. Issues of MAVIS ( the magazine of the Medical Act Veterinary Information Service) reporting quarterly on the National Surveillance Scheme for Residues in Red Meat, the results being collated from tagged sampling in Great Britain, has frequently recorded residues, some “above action level” of heavy metals, mainly cadmium, and of the drug phenylbutazone ( bute) in muscle and plasma of horses. We note that the Meat and Livestock Commission is not listed among your consultees.
3. Proposal 18. Investors in People. Horsey-culture offers lucrative opportunities for vets research, management and reward exceeding returns from large animals, mixed, and small animal practice. Research and facilities match or surpass some available in the NHS. The latest research in genetics, breeding, cloning, and stem cells is proceeding vigorously in the equine field, for which high-grade training and ancillary services are needed, e.g. in diagnostics: Alternative and complementary therapies ( e.g. acupuncture and osteopathy) must also be entertained. Composition of feedstuffs; building and bedding ill attract increasing enterprise from the appropriate service industries, with a diversity and structure for a leisure industry with endurance during national and international financial vicissitudes. Recent changes in the CAP bid fair to emphasize this resilience. However, the status of the horse and its destiny complicate treatments of illness: the repertoire of therapies permitted for animals intended for consumption as food (and this fate may not be ascertainable by the vet treating younger stock) is limited and may therefore deny the animal the full benefit of the vets’ mission for its welfare.


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