Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, said in response:
“Around 7000 horses are currently at risk of abandonment and neglect and charities like ours are struggling to cope as winter approaches. The economic downturn has driven prices for horses and ponies to rock bottom, and the sad fact is that from a purely economic perspective, they can now be worth more as meat. Many in the horse world have known this for a long time. Our President has been brave enough to say this openly in hopes of generating a thought-provoking debate. She has also shown outstanding support by rehoming one of our horses, ‘Annie,’ earlier this Autumn.
“HRH The Princess Royal raises two important issues:
1. There is a taboo around the eating of horse meat in this country, but less so in other countries. Horses are seen here mostly as companions or pets, while elsewhere they can be seen as livestock or a food source. World Horse Welfare believes that eating horse meat is a personal choice influenced by culture and beliefs. We are concerned with the welfare of the horse during its life up until death. What happens after death is not a welfare issue as the horse can no longer suffer.
2. We understand that the concept of a horse being slaughtered may be something many people feel uncomfortable about, but we do not oppose humane slaughter. The costs of euthanasia and carcase disposal mean that for some owners slaughter is the only viable option at the end of their horse’s life. If slaughter were not available, these horses could end up suffering neglect or abandonment. So long as slaughter is undertaken humanely, taking a horse to an abattoir is a legitimate option for horse owners if the animal is in poor health (but still fit to travel) or if it has nowhere to go. Owners who choose this option should not be castigated for it. In fact we should all be more open about the role of abattoirs in preventing suffering.
“It is important for horse owners to take responsibility for the end of their horse’s life and ensuring it has a humane end. They have many options for doing this, and the abattoir should remain one of them. World Horse Welfare can help horse owners consider the options through our Just in Case pack http://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/Just-in-Case
“We do however oppose all horse suffering, and work hard to campaign against the needless long-distance transportation of tens of thousands of horses across Europe to slaughter, which causes immense suffering. We also undertake other campaigning work to protect horses, including calling for compulsory CCTV in UK slaughterhouses, and a better horse identification system.
“We are a practical charity working hard to help these horses on the ground, and believe that during a time when we are seeing increasing abandonment and neglect, it is important to debate all humane options. The Princess Royal has helped to highlight a wider debate on avenues which may reduce and prevent the suffering of horses during their lifetimes.
“Alongside our Rescue and Rehoming work we are working hard to tackle the root causes of the equine crisis including rehoming, calling for new legislation, and through our initiative to try and reduce overbreeding.
“We are proud that our annual conference is a platform for debate. We are pleased that the media is giving so much coverage to horse welfare debate today, and hope that it will help to highlight the wider issues raised on the day about the horse crisis, overbreeding, and long-distance transportation to slaughter.”
Play back the Conference: www.worldhorsewelfare.org/conference