End the long-distance transportation of horses across Europe for slaughter

Long distance transport for slaughter

Our goal is to stop the long-distance transport of horses across Europe to slaughter by 2027.

Our goal is to stop the long-distance transport of horses across Europe to slaughter by 2027.

These journeys are not necessary. There are licensed slaughterhouses across Europe – but despite this these journeys continue, often passing many slaughterhouses that could take the horses on the way. We want to see a short finite journey limit introduced to prevent needless suffering. 

Changing the legislation would also make it easier for transporters to be compliant and enforcement agencies to enforce the legislation as these shorter journeys could be harmonised with driver working times and rest times. 

We know that the best way for us to show policy-makers why these journeys cause such suffering is to have a strong scientific basis.  Imposing a maximum journey time of no more than 12 hours is based on scientific evidence which shows just why these journeys compromise welfare so badly and is also in line with the recommendation of the European Commission’s own scientific advisors. Find out more about our evidence. 

Our goal is to stop the long-distance transport of horses across Europe to slaughter by 2027.  We also understand that journey times are just part of the picture – the care and handling of these horses, the condition of the vehicle and the standards of driving are also all important in stopping this needless suffering.  We will always campaign for an end to these journeys – but we also want to relieve the suffering of the horses being transported long-distance to slaughter today. 

Journeys of horses to slaughter should not exceed 9-12 hours (and preferably shorter) and that their welfare must be prioritised throughout the journey.

Our goals

We have developed these recommendations to improve welfare during transport.

  • A maximum journey limit of 9 – 12 hours.
  • Horses to have constant access to clean fresh water, along with good quality forage, before and after the journey and during rest stops.
  • Guidance on the interpretation of rules of fitness to transport to be provided.
  • Increased space allowance to take into account the widely varied body shapes and sizes of horses transported across Europe.
  • Improved and robust enforcement of current legislation, with guidance and training for all individuals involved in the transport process.
  • When horses are tethered on the vehicle, the ropes or tethers should be an appropriate length to allow them to raise and lower their heads to clear their airways and to establish and maintain balance as the vehicle moves, whilst not putting the horses at risk of becoming entangled.
  • Partition design standards to be introduced to ensure that these protect the horses from injury.
  • Horses to be transported either forward-facing, rear-facing, or at a 45° angle to the direction of travel.
  • Rubber matting to be required in vehicles to provide a non-slip flooring surface, with additional bedding to absorb urine and provide comfort for young animals.
  • Horses to be reclassified separately from other farmed animals to reflect the specific physical, physiological and behavioural differences that mean they are more prone to stress and injury during transportation.
  • Amended journey logs to include details of the entire journey to improve traceability and enforcement.
  • Compulsory, 24-hour rest for all horses upon entry to the EU.
  • Shortened maximum journey limit for ‘basic standard vehicles’ of 4 hours.

Transport action plan

A multi-faceted approach is required to end these long journeys by 2027.   

We will continue to campaign, investigate welfare problems and breaches of the law, undertake research and provide training and education in our multi-faceted approach.  

Below are just a few of the activities on our action plan: 

  • We will continue to press the European Commission to introduce a maximum 12-hour journey limit for horses transported across Europe for slaughter in line with scientific evidence and the recommendation of the European Food Safety Authority.  We will also press for improved conditions and better compliance with and enforcement of the law. 
  • At the same time, we will campaign in Europe, encouraging citizens to write to their Ministers in some of the key Member States that are involved in the long-distance transport of horses for slaughter but have not yet called for the law to be changed. 
  • We will continue our Field Investigations every year to assess the horses rested at control posts and collect evidence of health and welfare problems, as well as any breaches of the current regulation. These investigations are crucial to keep our finger on the pulse of the long-distance trade and understand the challenges faced by the horses as well as staff at the control posts and the transporters themselves.  
  • We played a leading role in the European Commission project to provide good and best practice guidelines for animals transported within Europe and into third countries for slaughter, using the guidance we produced with stakeholders. We have conducted two roadshows to disseminate this guidance to transporters and plan more. 
  • We are undertaking consumer research into the motivations and purchasing habits of horse meat consumers and use our findings to inform an awareness-raising campaign. 
  • Working with partners in EU Member States, we will work to influence large supermarkets which sell horse meat to stock only meat from horses slaughtered close to their place of origin and not after journeys of more than 12 hours. 
  • We will continue to press for consumer labelling of horse meat showing country of origin and slaughter, as is already in place for meat from cows, sheep, pigs, goats and poultry – so that horses transported on long journeys cannot be labelled as a product of the country in which they spend only a few hours for slaughter.  
  • We are conducting research as to the availability of slaughterhouses in countries of origin and producers/traders of slaughter horses for knowledge as to fattening, production, timescales, breeding, collection, handling and identification issues. 
  • We will also be conducting research into the welfare of horses transported to the south of Italy and the possible factors that impact their welfare and the quality of their meat. 

Together, these actions and more will be build an irrefutable case for change.  Please support us on the final leg of our journey to end these long journeys for good. 


World Horse Welfare believes we must base our calls for change on solid research. This means that we can be sure that our recommendations are the best for horse welfare, and helps us to make a strong case to policy-makers.

Our campaign is based on extensive research. We undertake regular field investigations, as well as desk research, in order to monitor travelling conditions across Europe.

In 2008, World Horse Welfare funded a ground-breaking scientific research project studying the effects of long-distance transport on horses travelling to slaughter, the results of which were summarised in our first Dossier of Evidence 2008. We use this evidence to put pressure on policy-makers, asking them to make much-needed welfare improvements. Since then we have continued to collate and submit evidence for change. Our work was cited by the European Food Safety Authority in their 2011 Scientific Opinion, and was used to produce a second edition of the Dossier of Evidence 2011, handed over to the European Commission in October 2011.

We also carry out regular field investigations, collecting evidence from Europe’s slaughter routes.

Commonly asked questions

Which legislation regarding transport of animals is in place to protect welfare? 

Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations is the main piece of legislation that regulates transport of equines as part of economic activity. This legislation is designed to ensure that animals are transported under the adequate conditions and terms. The Regulation applies to transporters and drivers and all other personnel involved in the transport of animals which have to be according to the regulation appropriately trained. 

What does the term long-distance transport mean? 

In EU law, long-distance transport of animals refers to a distance of over 65km or more than 8 hours in duration. We are recommending a maximum, finite 9-12-hour journey limit for horses transported for slaughter as scientific evidence indicates that horse health and welfare can be negatively impacted by journeys of longer duration.  Such a maximum, finite journey limit would also harmonise relevant legislation with driver working and rest times, which would benefit transporters and enable better enforcement. 

Under the current legislation, domestic equidae may be transported for a maximum period of 24 hours. During the journey they must be given liquid and if necessary fed every eight hours. 

After the journey time laid down, animals must be unloaded, fed and watered and be rested for at least 24 hours.  The horses can then be transported again for another 24 hours. And so on. 

Is there any evidence that Transport Regulation fails to safeguard animal welfare? 

Compliance with and enforcement of the law is inadequate. Investigations carried out by World Horse Welfare have revealed serious and routine violations of Regulation (EC) No 1/2005. These investigations have proven that most of the horses are not provided with adequate rest, water and food during transport and are being shipped through Europe under unacceptable transport conditions. Horses have arrived at the destinations with injuries, open wounds and nasal discharge. These animals also exhibit the signs of stress, exhaustion and dehydration. 

How can I help? 

If you are in the UK, please check back regularly on how you can support the next stage of our campaign. 

In Europe, you can write to your Agriculture Minister asking them to support a review of the current regulation EC 1/2005. We are committed to extending this campaign and gaining support from other groups of people through a variety of means. You can also support Eurogroup for Animals’ #stopthetrucks campaign here. 

By raising awareness of the origins of the horse meat they purchase, we aim to highlight the suffering horses endure under the current Regulation and encourage the consumer to demand a higher-welfare product. It is also vital that we are able to use up-to-date, relevant evidence in support of our campaign for changes to the law. This evidence is gathered during field investigations in Europe, along the road routes used by those transporting horses long distances. We are committed to effecting change but also mindful that all of the work described above is only possible with the support of voluntary donations. If you are able to, please support our campaign with a donation to help us reach our goal of ensuring no horse is transported long-distance across Europe to slaughter.  

What else is World Horse Welfare doing? 

In addition to pressuring law makers, World Horse Welfare is actively working to improve conditions for these horses by working with other organisations and the industry to improve understanding of and compliance with current transport law among all those involved in the trade.  We are also researching the slaughter process to inform our own understanding of the trade to ensure our recommendations are practical and help improve horse welfare. We have published: 

  • Practical Guidelines on the Watering of Equine Animals Transported by Road follows extensive research and consultation from a range of industry experts, supported by the European Commission and sets out straightforward, user-friendly recommendations and best practice when transporting equines to avoid dehydration and its problematic consequences. 
  • Practical Guidance to Assess Fitness for Transport of Equidae was produced through a collaboration of agri-food, transport, veterinary organisations and animal welfare groups supported by the European Commission to set out clear and simple methods of assessing the fitness of equines for transport. 
  • We are also involved in the European Commission’s Animal Transport Guidelines Project.
Why are horses being transported long-distance across Europe for slaughter in the first place? 

Why are horses being transported long-distance across Europe for slaughter in the first place? 

There are a number of factors that we believe contribute to the trade. Firstly, horsemeat can be labelled as the product of the country in which the animal was slaughtered – therefore, a Polish horse slaughtered in Italy can be labelled as an Italian product. We believe that this may mislead consumers and are calling for ‘country of origin’ to be included on all horse meat labels on EU horse meat. 

Other reported factors probably play a part: 

  • A higher price can be achieved by selling to slaughterhouses in Italy.
  • Production costs (the cost of raising the horses) are cheaper outside of Italy. 
  • Consumer demand for ‘fresh’ horsemeat. 
  • Live horses can be slaughtered to suit demand whereas meat must be used within a short time. 
Why are you campaigning against long-distance transportation to slaughter, but not against slaughter itself? 

Humane slaughter has a place, even if the concept of a horse being slaughtered may be something many people feel uncomfortable about. In Europe, many horses are bred for slaughter and a reared with the same principals that cattle, sheep or pig production have in the UK.  It is a legitimate trade and we believe that for the welfare of these horses to be truly protected from birth to death, we must work alongside those involved not against them.  

Long-distance transportation to slaughter causes massive suffering, and that is why, as a welfare charity, we oppose it. We are concerned with the welfare of the horse throughout its whole life, from birth to death – what happens to the horse after that point is not a welfare concern as the horse can no longer suffer harm. Therefore we do not oppose humane slaughter. 

What do you mean by humane slaughter? 

‘Humane slaughter’ means slaughter carried out in full compliance with the legislation designed to protect animal welfare, without causing suffering or distress to the horse. 

Where do these horses come from? 

The horses transported long-distance across Europe to slaughter can come from different sources, but as a general rule they are draft horses specifically bred for slaughter, or they may be surplus farm horses. The main route for long-distance transport is Eastern Europe to Italy. 

Are horses exported for slaughter from the UK? 

We have been investigating the movement of horses into and out of the UK, including reports of possible export for slaughter, for several years and have always passed any information that we have onto the proper authorities at the earliest opportunity. Official figures show that no horses are exported for slaughter from the UK, but this, we believe is because of the additional requirements for health certification which can be bypassed, declaring horses as being exported for leisure or production. Unfortunately, it has become clear that in many cases, proper preventative action from the authorities and enforcement of the law was simply not taking place despite the information that we were providing, and that horses and ponies were being left very vulnerable to abuse as a result. 

Why is it taking so long to change this? 

In order to end the long-distance transportation of horses across Europe to slaughter, we have to change EU law – and also ingrained attitudes and behaviours as new legislation is only the first step in the journey – people need to enforce and comply with the law too. This is a long and complicated process, and this campaign was always going to be a long one – we knew that from the beginning. As well as convincing MEPs, we also have to convince the European Commission and the governments of the 27 Member States, and overcome opposition from those who are involved in the trade. However, we have seen successes on the way and we know that we are making headway. 

We are as frustrated as anyone else by the slow pace of change, but we know that we are making progress and we will continue to campaign tirelessly until no horse is transported long-distance across Europe to slaughter.  

Read more:

Campaign to end the long-distance transportation of horses across Europe for slaughter.

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