Thursday, February 28, 2013

Skaryszew 2013 — animal cruelty supported by government

by Berenika Bratny

Skaryszew, the horse market in Poland, has been named “the hell” by animal welfare activists long time ago. Everybody who goes there just once, knows perfectly why this nickname is not an exaggeration.

The official version says that it is a place with long historical tradition and that farmers gather there once a year to sell horses for farm work and recreation. A lot of visitors who come there during the day believe that, I guess, as they come with children to “show them pretty horses”. The place is crowded with stalls offering various items for sale… a whip being the most popular one, by the way.

The truth is quite different — the real market takes place at night (although the official version says it starts at 8:00). From all around the country horse traders come to sell horses to Italian slaughterhouses. Huge TIR trucks block all the roads since late evening the previous day. And the hell begins. Horses are transported to the fair in various kinds of vehicles — most of them not being designed for this purpose: open trailers without roofs ( breaking the EU regulation), trailers with too many horses crowded inside, buses and all sorts of tractor trailers. Unloading and loading animals is a procedure full of violence. Almost every trader seen in this place carries a whip or a metal rod, sometimes both, as a “tool” to “help” during transportation. There is no proper place to park the trucks. Terrified animals are often forced to jump on high ramps, sometimes they cannot make it and fall making their owners more and more aggressive -there is a lot of vodka drunk in Skaryszew at night, what escalates the violence even more.

Everything is happening by the cover of the night.

Several animal welfare organizations, Tara and Pegasus Foundations being one of them, decided to show the whole truth about this place, to gather materials, films and pictures and try to change the regulations. “Horse is a companion animal” is the name of the campaign. They fight to take the horse off the list of slaughter animals. In order to do that activists from all around Poland go to Skaryszew year after year to document the cruelty and gather evidence. Facing angry and often drunk horse traders is not easy. Especially when police and veterinary services are not eager to help.

Activists come to Skaryszew the day before the market. They meet there and decide on their actions. This year they came with journalists and politicians. They divided into several groups to control every entrance to the market — to see if police and other services do their job. It came out as a very difficult task.

According to the activists who witnessed the procedure, the policemen and the vets did not want to cooperate with the activists. “We asked a policeman for help and he told us to go to the police station” — recalls one of the activists. “We asked for a way but the city guard just murmured some dirty words and left” — recalls another.

According to the EU regulations such a place should be under the control of police and veterinary services. Every horse’s identity should be checked by a veterinarian. How do those procedures look like? The activists say that whenever a huge truck full of horses comes, the authorities just check the number of the passports not even looking at the horses. Being asked about it, they say the horses are being checked somewhere else on the fair. But in reality nobody checks the documents later.

Meanwhile the mayor of Skaryszew proudly announces on TV that this year’s fair was a big success, that there were sufficient controls. He declares his goal is to organise those fairs four times a year. From one hand, this is a kind of a “war” with the animal welfare foundations – making “the enemy” get tired — it will be harder to gather so many activist and assist during a fair four times a year. And secondly, what is the most important factor here — selling horses for meat IS a good business in Poland. The prices of horses (counted by złotys per kilogram) are very high in comparison to previous years. Now almost every farmer finds it a good “additional money” to keep a mare or two and sell foals in winter. There are more and more big breeding farms of meat horses seen on the outskirsts of towns and in the farmland. Horse meat is not consumed in Poland — most of the animals go on their last journey to Italy, France and other countries. In some regions the meat form polish horses is perceived as an “organic food” (being advertised as a meat from animals that graze in not polluted areas). That’s why the prices are higher and that’s why it pays. The Ministry of Agriculture together with farmers promote breeding horses as this is an easy way to earn. Every year horses in Poland are sold to slaughter. Some of them are killed in polish slaughterhouses that produce 18 thousand tons of horse meat, 70% of this product is sold abroad to Italy (in 2011 they bought 12,1 thousand tons), Germany (more than 50 tons) and Czech Republic (20 tons of meat). According to official records every year 18 thousand living horses are transported from Poland to foreign slaughter houses — most of them to Italy. It is a better business to transport living horses than to buy meat — the costs of transportation, examination and refridgeration of horse meat are higher than the costs of transport of living animals (even if 3–5% of them die on the way). Besides the transporting companies do not need as many documents to transport living animals — only the passports are required. In many supermarkets the meat of horses killed in Poland is much cheaper than the same kind of meat from horses killed in the country of destination (there is often an information about the slaughterhouse on the package). This year more than a hundred horses were sold in Skaryszew, mainly to Italy and Lithuania. In 2012 from one region of Poland — Mazowieckie district — 3902 horses were sold to Eurpean Union. As long as this is good business — people will do it. That’s why there is a need of a pressure being forced upon the society to loudly say “no” to such procedures.

This is again not an easy task — this month’s issue of Koński Targ (which, by the way means “Horse Market”) -one of the biggest polish magazines for equestrians and breeders — publishes it’s main text openly attacking animal welfare organizations for such “stupidity”. The magazine openly promotes horses as slaughter animals and attacks the activists. The journalist’s main accusation is that the members of animal welfare organizations “do not know horses” and he states that among his friends — “real horse people” — riders and breeders — there are “no animal welfare activists”. Unfortunately he might be right. For some horse people in this country it might be offensive but in some percent this is a sad truth and it is also visible at some equestrian forums where the members often do not perceive breeding horses for meat as something shameful.

Last year a sick foal that was bought at the market by Tara foundation — he died a day later. The veterinarians diagnosed severe colics and the examination found strange, non organic substance in the foal’s intestines. This year animal welfare foundations bought another horse — a young stallion — after he had fallen off a trap and couldn’t stand up. They took him to Warsaw hospital for animals and the horse was diagnosed with a broken spine. He was put down. Animal welfare foundations claim they will sue the owner of the horse as well as the authorities of Skaryszew fair.

How long does it take to change the society’s perception? Not so long. Some time ago Poland had a reputation of a country known for it’s love for horses. It’s apparently gone. But there is still a chance that witch actions like that of Tara foundation we will wake up.

It’s hight time we start perceiving this “good business” like Skaryszew as a “big shame”. And do something about it.

Meanwhile over 3000 people signed the petition to stop this terrible market. Many people in Germany wrote to TV companies on this issue, and eventually such most popular TV shows like 'Akte 20.13' by SAT1 and 'Stern TV' by RTL made reports on this subject. People in Germany and all over the world are horrified to learn that animal protection laws in Poland obviously don't exist. Comment from a SAT1 reporter, Germany:
“We visited the place where primitive people live, where horses are kept for working and for eating them. These people couldn't understand why we cared about the horses and how they felt.”

RTL TV report:

Shame on Poland and its animal protection law — this is the reaction in all over the world on the events. The reaction showed that such treatment of animals cannot be accepted. When a mayor calls it 'success', it raises the question, if this mayor works for the interests of his countrymen and for the interests of animals?

Petition to stop this cruelty: