Export of horses - FAQs

Watching the docks

Q. Did World Horse Welfare know that equines may have been being exported from the UK illegally?

A. We have been investigating the movement of horses and ponies into and out of the UK for a number of years, including reports of export for slaughter. The nature of our investigative work means that we must build up evidence over a period of time, and we are not always able to disclose this information to the public. We do, however, ensure that any relevant evidence is quickly passed on to the proper authorities, which has resulted in a number of successful prosecutions to date.

When we are in a position to make our findings public we do so, as we are doing now.


Q. What has World Horse Welfare been doing about this?

A. We have been gathering evidence, and passing this on to enforcement authorities in the UK and Europe. In some cases this has led to prosecutions of individuals. Finally, we have worked with the BBC to bring these problems to the attention of the public. We will now be calling on horse lovers to support us in our call for enforcement of the legislation meant to protect our horses and ponies.

When the horse meat scandal broke our suspicions about some sections of the horse meat trade were confirmed, and new information was brought into the public domain. We were determined to find out where the horses came from and where Britain’s horses were going.  We therefore mounted our largest ongoing investigation and focused our resources on monitoring ports and movements. What we found confirmed our fears.  


Q. What is the problem?

A. Our investigation has revealed that horses and ponies are moving freely in and out of the UK with very few or no welfare or documentation checks being carried out. These movements are not small or insignificant: over just one weekend of monitoring we saw more than 90 horse boxes – a number of which could carry more than 20 equines – leaving and entering the port of Dover and we have good reason to believe that some were going to an uncertain fate. The lack of enforcement and monitoring means that horses and ponies are being left vulnerable to abuse, and the authorities have little or no information about the true situation, leaving them unable to properly enforce legislation meant to safeguard equine welfare and health.  


Q. Why work with the BBC on this?

When the horse meat scandal broke we realised that this presented us with an opportunity to bring some of the information that we had gathered and passed to the proper authorities to the attention of the public without compromising our investigative work – perhaps encouraging people with more information to come forward. Since we can now safely share some of this information, this also presents an opportunity for the public to hold Defra and enforcement agencies to account over their lack of monitoring and enforcement. As a result, we agreed to share this with the BBC to bring this information into the public eye.



Q. What can I do about this?


You can help these horses by sharing any information that you have, anonymously and in complete confidence, via the ‘Tell Us’ pages of our website.

If you would like to make a donation to help keep our teams on the road, you can do so here.



Q. Is live export of horses legal? What are the laws?

A. In some circumstances it can be legal to export horses (for example for breeding or competition). However there is a package of protective legislation in place which should prevent the indiscriminate export of equines for slaughter. Unfortunately it seems that this legislation is not being properly enforced.
The legislation in question includes:


  • The Welfare of Animals in Transport Order

Sets out the conditions for transporting animals, including rest periods, fitness for transport, vehicle standards and documentary requirements.

  • The Animal Welfare Act 2006 (in Scotland, the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006)

Sets out the basic principle that animals should not be allowed to suffer unnecessarily, either through human action or inaction.

  • The Equine Identification Regulations

Set out the rules for horse passports.

  • The Tripartite Agreement

Allows the free movement of some horses between France, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Recently changed – see below.

  • The Animal Health Act 1981 (Minimum Values)

Sets out the minimum value that certain types of equine should have if they are to be exported (see below).



Q. I thought exporting horses for slaughter had been banned years ago?

A. There is a package of legislation in place, including an Act which should have limited the export of equines to protect working horses, ponies, mules and donkeys from export for slaughter. This was brought in as a result of the work of our founder, Ada Cole, and has been improved over the years as a result of our subsequent work as a charity. However, it seems likely that a lack of effective enforcement has led to exports for slaughter taking place under the radar of enforcement agencies. We have gathered evidence and passed this on to the relevant authorities.


Q. What happens to the horses while they are being transported and after they leave the UK?

A. We can’t be sure of what will happen to these horses, but we strongly suspect that some of them will be slaughtered. Some of them are taken to markets where they will be sold for various purposes, including slaughter.  We also strongly believe that they will not be transported in good conditions, either when they leave the UK or on subsequent journeys after they arrive in Europe, and that their welfare will not be respected. The animals in question have a low financial value, making it uneconomic to export them unless corners are cut – which will compromise their welfare.



Q. What is the Tripartite Agreement (TPA) and does this affect these horses?

A. The Tripartite Agreement is a long-standing agreement between France, the UK and the Republic of Ireland to allow horses to move freely between these three countries without the need for animal health certification. This meant that horses could move over these borders without health checks, and without any traceability which posed significant welfare and disease risks. Originally applied only to Registered horses (such as a racehorses), it was extended in 2005 to apply to all horses, other than those moving directly to slaughter. We have been calling for it to be changed ever since, to prevent unscrupulous individuals from falsely declaring that they are moving horses for legitimate reasons then transporting the animals to slaughter abroad.

Happily our calls have recently been successful, and the Chief Veterinary Officers of France, Ireland and the UK have signed a new agreement which means that horses moving between France and the UK, and France and Ireland, will no longer be able to move freely unless they are ‘high-health horses’ – meaning registered FEI or race horses. Moreover these movements will be required to be logged, providing much needed traceability.  Movement of horses between the UK and Ireland will be unaffected, as Ireland and the UK share the same official health status (determining which diseases are present and absent from a country), making a change impractical.

The details are yet to be decided, but we are very pleased that such a positive step has been taken to protect horses. The crucial thing now is that the details must be decided upon and these changes must be enforced when the revised agreement comes into force in May 2014. We will be working alongside Defra and the rest of the equine industry to finalise the details and to communicate the changes to horse owners.


Q. What does ‘Minimum Values’ mean and what does it mean for the export of horses and ponies?

A. By law horses and ponies must have a financial value above a certain amount in order for them to be exported overseas. This helps protect equines of a lower market value from being exported for slaughter, as the price for their meat should be less than the price of the horse or pony. However, with the lack of basic checks of welfare and documentation at ports, there is no way to know whether this law is actually being complied with.



Q. What about horses being imported into the UK?

A. There are certainly equal, if not even greater reasons to be concerned about horses being imported into the UK. These horses may well have come from environments where serious diseases are present that we do not currently have in the UK. A lack of enforcement can make it difficult to trace where the horses came from, or where they went, if disease breaks out. In 2010, Britain had its first ever cases of equine infectious anaemia since 1976 when the disease was found in two horses that had been imported from mainland Europe. More cases were reported later the same year and in 2012, all in imported horses. Tracing the other horses that had travelled with the affected animals was a long and complex process. 

Equally importantly, the welfare of imported horses may not be respected, with unfit horses being transported over long distances, and little or no enforcement to protect them. Any low-value animal may be vulnerable to this sort of abuse, whether it is entering the UK or leaving it.

The changes to the Tripartite Agreement should help with this issue to some extent, but only so long as they are enforced properly.