Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Urgent warning on horse welfare

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Horse owners have warned of an 'animal welfare catastrophe' next winter unless the Department of Agriculture moves to create an outlet for unwanted horses.

High prices and a scarcity of fodder for next winter, combined with the high cost of disposal of horses, are set to see thousands of horses suffer unless something is done now, the Stallion Owners' Society has claimed.

Kevin Croke of the society said an exit programme for unwanted horses was essential to prevent horses and ponies being dumped and left to starve to death next winter.

"At the moment it costs €150 to mark, microchip and register a horse and it costs €150 to dispose of a horse at the local knackery, making it €300 to get rid of an animal," said Mr Croke. "But people who won't spend that €300 will just go up the road to the nearest forestry and dump the horse instead.

"We need some sort of methodology put in place immediately where unwanted horses can be disposed of cheaply, otherwise next winter will be a disaster."

The society has invited all interested parties to attend a meeting in the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel, Co Laois, at 8pm tonight.

Among the potential strategies to be discussed at tonight's meeting include amendments to slaughter rules that prevent animals who have been administered with bute being killed for meat.

"Cattle are routinely injected with medication and we eat them for meat. Why can't a testing regime be put in place for horses at the factory?

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"Surely there is a withdrawal period that the owner can adhere to before sending his horse to the factory." said Mr Croke.

"Why can't a colt who was given bute at castration as a two-year-old not go for slaughter several years later?"

There have also been calls for a moratorium on the restrictions that prevent any animal with a white passport issued after the age of six months from going to the factory.

The society intends to examine the possibility of securing a derogation from the Department of Agriculture that would allow meat from those animals to be used for a purpose other than the human food chain.

"We really need everyone in the industry to pull together immediately and come up with potential solutions," urged Mr Croke.

"There are fields of abandoned horses in Galway, the midlands and it's even worse in the border counties. Are there homes or is there a potential market for these animals that could be found?

"We need to act now and find some solutions, otherwise they are all going to die next winter."

Representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Horse Sport Ireland and the ISPCA are to speak at tonight's meeting, as well as veterinary personnel and a factory agent.

Barbara Bent of the ISPCA said the number of unwanted horses in Ireland was unknown.

"We honestly don't know how many horses are in trouble, I don't believe anyone would," she said. "Between the urban ones that get let off everywhere and the ones that have no passports it would really be impossible to tell."

However, she added that if the current laws on horse identification and equine premises registration were enforced, it would make a huge difference by making everyone responsible for the horses they own.

"A central database and the necessity to record transfer of ownership are an essential part of that system," she insisted.

"The implementation of new identification rules and enforcement of those rules made a huge difference to the equine welfare problem in Wales over the past two years.

"It's no different to dogs attacking sheep. If the dog owners knew they could be traced back through a chip and prosecuted, they would be a lot slower about leaving their dogs off.

"If horse owners could be identified, penalised and prosecuted they would act more responsibly."

Irish Independent