This week European Union Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou stated that it is her aim to better protect the health and welfare of animals transported long distances by ensuring enforcement of EU legislation.
Speaking at the handover of 152,557 signatures – collected by the Handle with Care coalition, headed by WSPA – the Commissioner said she shares the view of the petitioners that the implementation of legislation on animal transport is a priority.
“I have asked my services to make progress on this issue as a priority so that the Commission is in a position to take a decision on this issue in the coming months,” said Ms Vassiliou at a press briefing in Brussels.
Currently, horse and other animals suffer in high temperatures and crowded conditions as they are transported to across Europe to slaughter.
Thousands of voices heard
The petition signatories, from 21 countries, are calling on the European Commission to end the unnecessary suffering of millions of animals being transported long distances in Europe.
Collected by the Handle with Care campaign since its launch a year ago, the petitions were handed over by Leah Garcés, WSPA’s Director of Programmes, along with representatives from Eurogroup and World Horse Welfare.
The Handle with Care coalition proposes a revision of the current regulation to introduce significantly shorter journey limits. The campaign also urges the European Commission to take stronger action against those Member States that fail to enforce the current regulation, which introduced some much-needed welfare improvements, such as single partitions on the transport of horses and guidelines on stocking densities.
However, finite journey times – the key to safeguarding welfare – have not yet been introduced.
“The Handle with Care Coalition has discovered that horses are being forced to travel for up to 36 hours between Spain and Italy without stopping for water or rest. We saw many injuries, and most horses were suffering from dehydration and stress,” said Garcés.
“This cruelty could easily be avoided by humanely slaughtering the animals close to the point of origin, and shipping the meat products across to the point of sale.”
Finnish supporters lead the way
How did Finland collect more than 47,000 signatures and counting? Finnish psychology student Minna Vitikainen watched a documentary about Europe’s live horse trade on MTV3, produced and presented by renowned journalist Helena Laatio.
Horrified by what she saw, Minna set up a webpage urging fellow Finns to sign a petition: Hevosten Puolesta (‘In Support of Horses’). Helped by two other like minded women whom she met online, they contacted animal welfare groups to help stop the cruel trade.
“We would like to thank WSPA for taking us seriously and allowing us to join them at the European Commission,” said fellow activist Heidi Oster.
“I was sure there were people who felt the same as me and I just had to do something about it. The webpage brought all of us together and I hope we can make a difference,” said Minna.