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Poland: Animal suffering at folk festival


FOUR PAWS uncovers appalling conditions at the annual horse market

The traditional horse market in Skaryszew is the largest of its kind in Poland, dating back to the 16th century. As part of a kind of folk festival hundreds of horses change hands, unfortunately sometimes in terrible conditions. The market has already attracted the attention of animal welfare organisations many times: mistreatment of horses, accidents, no water for the stressed animals and failure to comply with transport regulations have often led to protests in the past.

Numerous abuses

Although these days there are at least veterinary inspectors on site, FOUR PAWS has uncovered numerous abuses. Not only were the horses not always sufficiently fed and watered, many were also hit and kicked for no reason. They had to stand crammed together for hours on end, before being brutally driven into transporters by wire whips. The FOUR PAWS team saw many frightened and distressed horses, which were soaked in sweat as they endured the cold. There were also injured and sick animals in need of veterinary treatment, and mares that had been separated from their foals, and were suffering with bulging udders.The transport conditions were also dreadful, and were in contravention of the EU Directive on the transport of animals.

Horsemeat does not have to be declared

Most horses are taken directly from the market in Skaryszew to slaughter houses both inside and outside Poland; 75 percent of horses for slaughtering go to Italy. Along with China, Kazakhstan, USA, Mexico, Argentina and Russia, Poland is one of the largest producers of horsemeat (around 21,000 tonnes per year). The main customers in Europe are the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Italy. In Germany and Austria, horsemeat is not consumed so often, but is rather more common in Switzerland.


However, Austria does also export and import horsemeat: 2012 saw around 850 tonnes live weight produced for the meat industry, although most of these horses (670 tonnes) were slaughtered abroad. Commenting on the lack of transparency in Europe’s horsemeat industry, Jamal explains, Unlike with beef, for horsemeat the land of origin does not have to be declared, so consumers cannot really know where the meat comes from. For a long time FOUR PAWS has been calling for mandatory labelling for all types of meat, showing where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered.

Traditions without animal suffering

Traditions can be preserved without animal suffering. They should reflect appreciation for the animals and the vital role they have played in people’s lives for centuries. We are also going to try to establish contact with the Polish authorities in order to ensure better treatment of the horses at the market, and compliance with legal requirements.