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December 4, 2012

Horse Transport and Slaughter

Humane Society International/Europe

  • Horses are often transported long distances to slaughter. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

The European horsemeat industry centres around Italy, where nearly half of all European horses slaughtered for meat are killed [PDF].

Each year many tens of thousands of equines are transported to the country from elsewhere in Europe to be butchered. Almost half of those animals are killed in the Puglia region in southern Italy; this is also the region with the highest levels of horsemeat consumption.

Horses are also slaughtered for food at abattoirs in Poland, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The road to hell: long-distance horse transports in the EU

In 2011, 39,685 horses [1] endured long distance transport to slaughter within the EU [PDF], by road and even by sea, often crammed into vehicles unsuitable for carrying equines.

Journeys can last for several days, and often cross a number of national borders before the horses reach the abattoir.

Horses destined for slaughter in Italy will have been transported from Eastern and Central European countries, such as Poland, Romania, Hungary and Lithuania. Horses may also have been transported from Spain and France.

Not only can horses suffer during transportation, they are also subject to the stress of being unloaded and kept in holding pens, or lairage, at their final destination.

Industrialised slaughter

Industrial-scale slaughter of horses is highly problematic because horses are flight animals. The panic and instinctive desire to escape they experience in the slaughterhouse causes them to thrash their heads frantically making it difficult to effectively stun them prior to slaughter.

Slaughterhouses are often not specifically designed for horses, so the animals are killed on the same lines as cattle. Stunning takes place via the use of a captive bolt pistol, which is supposed to destroy the horse’s brain tissue and cause irreversible unconsciousness or immediate death. The animals are then bled out before being processed into meat.

Together with our NGO partners, HSI is working towards raising consumer awareness of the origins of horsemeat.


1. European Commission (2012) Animal Health DG SANCO Unit G2 Activity Report 2011. Annex VIII Traces Data.

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