Madrid’s regional government is to double its compensation fund for farmers who lose animals to wolves after a steep increase in fatal attacks in the last year.
Wolves, hunted to the brink of extinction over the past seven decades, have begun to reappear in the region in recent years.
Their return has been most keenly noticed by farmers, whose sheep, goats, cows and horses are increasingly falling prey to the 20 or so wolves thought to roam the autonomous community of Madrid. The region, which covers 3,000 sq miles at the centre of Spain, contains mountains, valleys, hills, forests, pastures and farmland, as well as the capital city.
An Iberian wolf in Chapineria, south-west of Madrid. There are thought to be 20 or so wolves roaming the community of Madrid. Photograph: Paul Hanna/Reuters
Wolf attacks have risen from under 20 in 2012 and 2013 to 91 in 2015 and 209 in 2016. There were also four attacks in 2016 attributed to vultures.
The regional government has announced it will raise its compensation budget from €60,000 (£51,000) this year to €120,000 in 2017. Claims for the past 12 months already total almost €90,000. Compensation payments are up to €500 per sheep or goat and €1,000 per cow or horse.
According to the government’s environment department, there are estimated to be three wolf packs in the region, whose numbers are growing year by year.
“The community of Madrid has to reconcile two things: it needs to protect wolves – which cannot be hunted or captured in the region – but it also needs to protect farmers’ interests,” said a government spokesman.
“We’re paying farmers for the loss or injury of their animals but we’re also talking to farmers and ecologists about things like electric fences, using mastiffs to protect livestock and restoring pens to make animals less vulnerable to attack.”
Another problem, the spokesman said, was that wolves in surrounding areas did not respect manmade boundaries and frequently staged sorties into the Madrid region.
“The number of attacks has risen considerably because there are wolves in neighbouring communities such as Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha and they don’t understand borders – they come in, hunt and leave,” he said.
Also among the options is using GPS technology to track the animals and get a better idea of their habits and movements.
There are thought to be more than 2,000 wolves in Spain, the largest population in western Europe.
This article was first published by The Guardian on 28 Nov 2016.
Unexpected move reverses a trend that has seen increasing numbers of large carnivores shot by hunters each year since Romania’s accession to the European Union.
In 2016, the largest hunting quotas yet gave hunters the mandate to shoot 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats over 12 months. Photograph: Radu Sigheti/Reuters
Romania has banned all trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats in a surprise decision that gives Europe’s largest population of large carnivores a reprieve from its most severe and immediate threat.
The move on Tuesday reverses a trend which has seen the number of large carnivores being shot by hunters grow year on year since Romania’s accession into the European Union in 2007. In 2016, the largest hunting quotas yet gave hunters the mandate to shoot 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats over 12 months.
Over the last decade, hunting has grown into a multimillion-euro industry in Romania, with hunters from all over the world paying up to €10,000 (£8,800) to claim a ‘trophy’ – hunting parlance for the carcass of a hunted animal – from the Carpathian mountains.
The government has claimed that in order to exist, the industry relies on a loophole in European law which allows for the culling of wild animals that have been proven to be a danger to humans. Under the habitats directive, all large carnivores are protected in European Union member states, yet the state can order the killing of specific animals if shown to have attacked a person or damaged private property.
“Hunting for money was already illegal, but it was given a green light anyway,” environment minster, Cristiana Pasca-Palmer, told the Guardian. ‘The damages [clause in the habitats directive] acted as a cover for trophy hunting.”
Each year, hundreds of hunting associations across the country would submit two numbers; the total population of each large carnivore species, and the total number which they believed to be likely to cause damages. The second number would then act as a basis for a government-issued hunting quota for each species. These quotas were then carved up between hunting companies and sold as hunting rights to the public.
“This method raised some questions,” says Pasca-Palmer. “How can hunting associations count how many animals are causing damages a priori – before the damages have happened? By introducing the ban, what we are doing is simply putting things back on the right track, as the habitats directive originally intended.”
Wildlife NGOs claim that the methodology also tended to dramatically overestimate the populations of large carnivores. The official figure for the number of bears in Romania is over 6,000, and for wolves is 4,000. Yet with hundreds of hunting associations each responsible for monitoring a small area of land, and animals prone to wandering, it is understood that individual animals were often counted multiple times, potentially pushing the total population statistics up by thousands.
Announced late on Tuesday evening, the ban is expected to divide Romania’s population, pitching rural and urban dwellers against each other. The government’s decision has strong support in the larger cities, which have seen a growing movement against hunting in recent months. But in much of Romania’s remote countryside large carnivores are a daily threat to villagers and a persistent nuisance to livestock farmers, and many see hunting as the only solution.
Csaba Domokos, a bear specialist with wildlife protection NGO Milvus group, is convinced that the success or failure of the hunting ban rides on the government’s ability to address the rural population’s fears.
“Damages caused by large carnivores are a very real concern in the countryside,” he said. “The system up until now did not work; hunting does not reduce conflicts between carnivores and humans; in fact many studies show that with wolves and large cats, it can actually increase the problem.
“But the rural population believe that hunting is the answer, and unless they can be convinced otherwise, people may well start to take the problem into their own hands. The ban is a great step, but we don’t want hunting to be replaced by poaching.”
Domokos points out that hunters also have a vested interested in the protection of their quarry. “To some extent, hunting acts as a financial incentive for wildlife management, from preventing poaching to conserving habitats. There is some concern that once you take that away, the government will not invest enough to replace it.”
Hunters pay up to €10,000 to trophy hunt in the Carpathian mountains. Photograph: Nick Turner/Alamy
The government’s response is to take management into its own hands. A special unit is to be set up within the paramilitary police force that will assess any reports of damages by large carnivores and deal with the culprit animal directly. The ministry of environment have discussed the possibility of relocating the target animals abroad to countries interested in ‘rewilding’.
The ban comes amid a growing push for the protection of Romania’s wild mountains that has seen anti-corruption officers convict dozens of foresters, hunters and local officials in recent years.
Gabriel Paun, an activist and conservationist behind a petition that collected 11,000 signatures in the weeks before the hunting ban, sees the government’s decision as a step towards a safer future for Europe’s wild spaces: “The Carpathian mountains are home to more biodiversity than anywhere else in Europe, but for too long they have been ruthlessly exploited for forestry and hunting. Let’s hope the government’s decision is a sign of things to come.”
Norway’s recent decision to destroy 70% of its tiny endangered population of wolves shocked conservationists worldwide and saw 35,000 sign a local petition. But in a region dominated by sheep farming support for the cull runs deep.
Norway has a population of just 68 wolves and conservationists say most off the injuries to sheep are caused by roaming wolves from Swedish packs. Photograph: Roger Strandli Berghagen
Conservation groups worldwide were astonished to hear of the recent,unprecedented decision to destroy 70% of the Norway’s tiny and endangered population of 68 wolves, the biggest cull for almost a century.
But not everyone in Norway is behind the plan. The wildlife protection group Predator Alliance Norway, for example, has campaign posters that talk of wolves as essential for nature, and a tourist attraction for Norway.
Nothing unusual about that, given it’s a wildlife group, except that the group is based in Trysil, the heartland of the territory where most of the wolf culling announced by Norwegian authorities last week will take place.
Lars-Erik Lie, a 46-year-old mental health worker who founded the group in 2010, told the Guardian: “I got so upset and saddened by the locals’ thirst for wolf blood, and wanted to show that not all villagers are in favour of wiping out this beautiful animal.
“Many locals think there should be room for both predators and livestock, but they have kept their mouths shut out of fear for repercussions.” Lie has himself been the target of threats.
Culling could undermine the viability of the entire Norwegian wolf population, say conservationists. Photograph: Roger Strandli Berghagen
At the heart of the matter is the conflict between sheep farmers and conservationists. Norway is a large sheep farming nation, unique in letting most of its 2 million sheep roam free all summer without herding, fencing and with little supervision.
As a result, 120,000 sheep are lost each year, and 20,000 of these deaths are attributed to predators, judging by state compensation payouts, which are based on documentation and assessment by the authorities. Beyond that, 900 cadavers found annually are confirmed to have been killed by predators. The wolf accounts for 8% of kills.
Wolves, bears, lynx, wolverines and golden eagles are Norway’s native top predators.
In 1846, the authorities issued bounties to hunt them down, resulting in all species being virtually extinct by the mid-20th century, The wolf was given protected status in 1973, a watershed in wildlife management for the acknowledgement of its part in Norwegian fauna and in need of protection. The first wolf returned in 1980, though the first breeding entirely on Norwegian soil did not take place until 1997.
In the meantime, a new breed of sheep had invaded the land. “The breed of sheep vastly favoured by Norwegian farmers is unsuited to roam around the rugged terrain of the country,” said Silje Ask Lundberg, from Friends of the Earth Norway.
The sheep is favoured for its size and large proportion of meat, but is a bad climber and has poor herding and flight instincts, unlike the old short-tail land race, considered the original Norwegian sheep race, prevalent on the west coast, where ironically there are no wolves.
Just across the mountain from Lie’s house in Trysil, is the territory of the Slettåsen pack, which has been marked out for a complete cull even though the wolves live within a designated wolf zone.
The framework for predator management has been set by parliament, with local predator management boards setting hunting and culling quotas when population targets have been achieved.
“The lack of a scientific and professional approach is obvious,” said Lie. In January his organisation filed a complaint that the board votes in representatives with vested interests, such as farmers, whereas green party members have been excluded.
Lars-Erik Lie of Predator Alliance Norway. Photograph: Arve Herman Tangen
At his office in Oslo, Sverre Lundemo of WWF Norway is also puzzled. “It seems strange that we should punish the wolf for following its natural instincts, particularly within specially designated zones where the wolf supposedly has priority over livestock,” he says.
“The Slettåsen pack is very stable and of genetic importance. Scandinavian wolves are subject to inbreeding and poaching, and this makes the small population more vulnerable to random events. Culling these individuals can undermine the viability of the entire Norwegian wolf population.”
According to Lundemo, the decision for culling appears to be based on politics as much as on science. The WWF have examined the case document that formed the base of the decision. “This a questionable decision on many levels. The case documents don’t substantiate why these three particular territories were singled out for culling,” said Lundemo.
Despite the population within the wolf zone having almost doubled since last year, attacks on livestock have almost halved. “Most of the injuries are inflicted by roaming young wolves from Swedish packs,” said Lundemo.
Sweden has stricter regulations for sheep farmers, refusing to compensate farmers who don’t protect livestock properly. As a member of the EU, Sweden had a planned licenced cull of 10 % of their wolf population of 400 in 2014 reduced following pressure.
Friends of the Earth advocate more suitable breeds of sheep, or cattle, and better fences and herding. WWF is exploring the option to challenge the decision legally before the wolf hunt sets in on 1 January 2017.
Back in Trysil, the Predator Alliance is gaining momentum. The group has submitted a 35,000-signature petition for protecting the wolf to the prime minister, Erna Solberg. “We humans have become greedy, behaving like nature is there for our taking,” said Lie. “When you have a population as small as the one we have in Norway now, you have to draw the line.”
The grey wolf, Canis lupis, was once reasonably common in Ireland and existed on all parts of the Island. The last wolf in Ireland was probably killed in or around 1786 but small populations or individual wolves may have existed into the early 1800’s. Before English rule in the country wolves were hunted, mainly by the ruling classes, and plenty of wolf skins were exported to Britain, but there seems to have been no coordinated attempt to exterminate them. During English rule this changed, and people began to view wolves as a troublesome species and targeted them for extermination. During Cromwell’s rule bounties for wolves were initiated and so began the complete removal of the wolf from the Irish landscape.
The wolf itself was once one of the most common land based mammals on the planet, and existed in the whole of the Northern hemisphere and on the Indian subcontinent. Sub species also existed in parts of Africa and South America. As human populations across Europe grew the wolf population suffered. There were many reasons for this, loss of habitat and decline of prey certainly contributed but a building hatred toward the species, mostly based on myth and folklore, resulted in their removal from large parts of Western Europe, with only isolated populations remaining.
As European Settlers set sail for the New World, North American Wolves suffered the same fate. As the settlers moved west across what is now the United States, wolves were steadily hated into extinction in most of the lower 48 States. No other animal suffered the same level of hatred and concentrated effort to exterminate it.
The almost complete destruction of the North American bison herd and the introduction of domestic cattle compounded the hatred and intensified the extermination effort, as wolves increasingly came into conflict with humans. For a much of the latter 1800’s and early 1900’s a large proportion of this extermination was state-sponsored. Finally in the early part of the 20th century most of North America’s wolves had been exterminated. An animal that was once revered and highly respected by Native Americans suffered the same fate as it had in Europe.
Although populations remained healthy in Canada, Alaska, Russia, and parts of Asia, the grey wolf had been removed from almost everywhere it found itself in proximity to people.
Fast forward nearly a century to 2015, and talk of re-introducing wolves to Ireland.
I’ve heard plenty of people arguing for re-introduction, or supporting it, but there are many complex issues that need to be considered before a re-introduction could even be considered. Many people consider wolves the epitome of true wilderness. Perhaps a pang of guilt for our role in their destruction makes some of us desperately want them back in our landscape. I would love, in an ideal world, to have wild wolves roam Ireland again, and I’m not alone, but not at any cost.
Potential benefits of wolves
The re-introduction of a top predator, what was perhaps Ireland’s top predator, into an area would have many benefits. Predators affect not just prey species, but the entire balance of an ecosystem right the way down the food chain. This natural phenomenon, known as trophic cascade, impacts everything from the immediate prey species right down to the primary producers in the ecosystem. When wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, for example, elk, which form a large portion of the wolves’ diet in the park, could no longer stay in a feeding area for long periods overgrazing local plant populations. Instead, with wolves to worry about, elk, white tailed deer and mule deer had to be wary, and stay on the move to evade the predators.
We observed this at a distance on a recent visit to Yellowstone. On a faraway hillside a large, strung-out group of elk were feeding in reasonably close proximity to the Junction Butte Wolf pack. Over the course of 5 hours the elk fed on surrounding vegetation, but they were constantly moving and watching the wolves. The wolves kept them ‘honest’ by attempting to take an elk on a few occasions. In the absence of wolves the elk would have continued to overgraze the plant population.
Twenty years after the re-introduction of wolves the trophic cascade effects in Yellowstone are clear. Once over-grazed willows, aspen and other small trees are now thriving. Beavers have re-populated the park to take advantage of this ready supply of food and building material for their dams. Waterfowl, bird, and fish species have moved in to take advantage of the habitats created by the beavers, and so it continues.
From an Irish perspective a re-introduction might result in less tree damage from deer herds which have become over abundant. These deer are the subject of annual culls to control their numbers. In theory, a wolf re-introduction might result in these deer becoming more vigilant, resulting in less damage to our forests in the areas selected. Whether wolves would result in a significant reduction in deer populations is another question. Wolves generally kill weak, sick, young or old deer, and any re-introduction here would likely involve a small, heavily controlled wolf population. In such a scenario a significant reduction of the deer population would be unlikely.
Another potential benefit of wolf re-introduction is a possible eco-tourism opportunity. Wolf watching, similar to what already exists in Yellowstone, Northern Spain and parts of Scandinavia could potentially contribute significantly to the local economy of re-introduction areas. It may also, selfishly, satisfy our desire to see wolves roam in Ireland once more, bringing a little ‘wild’ back to an Island that in reality has lost most, if not all of its true wilderness.
Reintroduction of wolves: the inevitable down side
Those that argue against a re-introduction on the basis of the ‘danger’ wolves pose to the human population are barking up the wrong tree if you’ll pardon the pun. Research and experience worldwide proves that wolves are no more a danger to humans than any other large wild mammal. Wolf fatalities worldwide in the last century are few and far between. In North America, including Canada, there were no recorded deaths after 1900 until the early part of this century. Two deaths occurred in Alberta province in Canada since 2000. One is probable the other one is certain. One was possibly down to wolves that had been habituated to humans through irresponsible feeding.
Despite these incidences you are far far more likely to be killed in North America by a moose, elk, bison, or indeed a domestic dog. The same would apply here, you would be infinitely more likely to be injured by your own or a neighbour’s dog or in the ‘wild’ by something like a large red deer, than you would by a wolf.
As long as wolves aren’t fed by humans (an incredibly stupid and irresponsible practice, resulting in habituation) then they want absolutely nothing to do with us. There have been deaths recorded on the Indian subcontinent but these were down to rabid wolves, a problem we would not have here. In short a re-introduction here would pose no threat to the human population. Wolves are not the demonic killing machines they are depicted to be by some people. They are highly evolved social animals and, similar to humans in the sense that family bonds are so strong, possibly the strongest of all animals, including chimpanzees and gorillas. Family bonds and interactions govern almost everything wolves do.
While the advantages of re-introduction are clear the difficulties associated with such an undertaking on our part, and perhaps more importantly for the wolves, are less clearly understood and rarely discussed.
Wolf populations are recovering in Europe, and wolves now exist in most European countries, Ireland is a different proposition, as is the Britain. Most of the recovery in Europe has been the result of re-population of areas from extant neighbouring populations, rather than the physical re-introduction of animals. Wolves from Italy (which never fully died out) have re-populated parts of France and Switzerland. Wolves from Eastern Europe moved westward and now occupy parts of Germany. In the US some argue that even without a formal re-introduction programme in Yellowstone and Central Idaho wolves were already moving through Alberta in Canada into Montana and Idaho and would have continued the natural expansion of their range. Wolves have also repopulated Oregon, Wisconsin, and Washington State naturally, without re-introduction.
Some reports suggest Ireland, Great Britain, Holland and Denmark are now the only European countries without a wild wolf population, although a dead wolf may have been discovered recently in Holland. Ireland and Britain would require a physical re-introduction of the species, and this presents many more difficulties.
Location, location, location
Glenveigh National Park — a possible site for wolf re-introduction in Ireland (by Michal Osmenda , [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
Firstly we need to consider where we would re-introduce them. Our largest National Park, Glenveagh National Park in Donegal is 170 square kilometres in size. To put this into context, Yellowstone National Park is nearly 9,000 square kilometres in size, and Cairngorms National Park in Scotland is over 4,500 square kilometres in size. While a wolf pack can live in a relatively small area given abundant prey, our parks are small and are not buffered by wilderness areas. Using Yellowstone or Cairgorms again as an example they are buffered by wilderness areas outside the park, in particular Yellowstone which is buffered by the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem with many large areas of wild country.
Prey abundance may not be an issue, at least initially, as wolves will eat almost anything, rabbits, hares, deer, carrion, wild goats and sheep (which may exist in Glenveagh) in some cases fish and even mice and rats. Where difficulties may begin to arise is when the wolf population grows, and grow it will. Pack size would increase significantly each year, assuming prey abundance and successful breeding. Wolf packs would inevitably drive some individuals out and some may leave of their own accord. These bigger packs would require more food and need to range further. The individual animals who have left the pack will wander in search of a mate and a territory. This will lead them outside the park and into contact with humans either directly or indirectly through interactions with farm animals.
Wolf / human interaction, perception and persecution
While wolves now exist in Europe in areas where the average human population is 37.5 people per sq KM (Donegal has a population density of 33 people per sq KM), Irish wolves would be wandering into areas where people have no experience of dealing with large predators, and have been led to believe, through myth and fairytale, that wolves are savage killing machines. Wolves kill when they need to feed themselves or their young, and despite what some might have us believe, they do not kill for fun or kill more than what they need. So while they won’t devastate or severely impact anyone’s livestock, they will come into contact with them and occasionally take cattle and sheep.
Even with extensive control of the wolf population (as discussed below), some livestock losses will occur. Our landscape, outside national parks, is heavily farmed, making farm animal encounters and losses almost inevitable. Acceptance of this loss would take a massive change in attitudes by people in the area and would also need the introduction of a program to compensate farmers for their losses.
While we have other nature reserves and protected areas outside our natural parks these are detached from each other and, again, are small. Wildlife corridors, which might allow wolves to pass between reserves and parks, simply do not exist here.
Our only experience of reintroductions are those of the golden eagle in Donegal, white-tailed eagle (WTE) in Kerry and Red Kite to Wicklow. While all of these programmes have successfully led to the first breeding of these birds in the wild in Ireland for a long time, they have not been without difficulties.
The reintroduction of the WTE in Killarney in particular met with a lot of resistance. Some representatives of the farming community protested at the airport as the first chicks arrived from Norway. They protested that the eagles would decimate their sheep herds with one prominent member even raising the issue of the safety of small children when the eagles were re-introduced. There have also been many poisoning and shooting incidences involving all 3 re-introduced species. No prosecutions for any of these wildlife crimes have been taken and like many other countries, Ireland’s record of dealing with wildlife crime is poor. This does not bode well for re-introduced wolves here. While education and communication will convince a lot of people it wont convince them all, and wolves would be a much harder sell given their unjustified reputation, the likelihood they would take some livestock, and the fact they are on terra firma rather than flying above our heads like the eagles.
The difficulties discussed above are significant, as would be the financial commitment. Research would need to be preformed, studies carried out, wolves transported, legislation enacted or reviewed, wolf populations sourced and compensated for, wolf management strategies developed and enacted, and those management strategies continued throughout the program. The ongoing wolf management would require telemetry equipment, wolf collars, periodic flights over the park, education programs, ongoing public consultation and full time personnel to carry it out. Compensation programmes for farmers, as discussed above, could also prove costly.
Never mind “could we” — how about “should we”?
European grey wolves in southern Norway (photo AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Marius K. Eriksen via Flickr)
The difficulties discussed thus far are ecological, physical and financial ones, but what about the moral and ethical ones?
The most important aspect in all this discussion needs to be the welfare of the wolves themselves. Wolves for re-introduction here in Ireland would be sourced from multiple populations to give an initial genetic diversity. More wolves would possibly need to be added later to maintain this genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding, although wolves often disperse to avoid this. Even if the source country or countries agree to this, given our failure to stem poisoning and shooting of our re-introduced raptors, it could apply significant pressure on source populations.
The physical collection of wolves would pose difficulties and is likely to result in some losses. They would be collected by trapping, snaring or incapacitation by dart from a helicopter. All of these methods pose risks. During the collection of animals for the Yellowstone re-introduction programme at least 10 wolves died early in the process through trapping and snaring and at least one died during incapacitation from helicopter. One might argue that techniques have evolved and improved since then, but some losses would almost certainly occur.
Removal of alpha (lead) animals from a pack would cause huge upheaval, and studies show that it would almost certainly lead to the break up of the pack. Packs that may have been in existence for generations could literally be wiped out by the removal of perhaps just one animal. Wolves may also attempt to make their way back to their own territories. Relocation of wolves in Alaska’s Denali National Park has led to them returning hundreds of miles to their previous locations. Obviously wolves introduced in Ireland would be unable to do that, but the instinct to return home could lead them to wander into areas where they will subsequently need to be removed from.
Wolves re-introduced in Ireland would need to be heavily managed, some might say controlled. It’s likely that their locations would need to be monitored daily, and that at several animals in the pack would be burdened with telemetry collars. Wolves may need to be re-captured if they move into areas deemed undesirable, and pups may have to be relocated if adults den outside the national park they are introduced into.
Would such a heavily monitored and managed population really mean we have wild wolves in Ireland again?
In my opinion, while the re-introduction of wolves here might have some benefits, both ecologically and psychologically for us, there would be no benefit whatsoever to the wolf, either as a species, or to the individual animals released here. The number reintroduced would, by necessity, be small, extensively managed, and their population artificially controlled. Given the difficulties discussed above in relation to space, and interactions with humans, any such reintroduction would stand a reasonable probability of failing, resulting in the destruction of all of the wolves concerned. It would also have a significant negative impact on source populations.
Re-introduction in Ireland would not result in any increase in the the worldwide wolf population, and would simply be an exercise to satisfy our own selfish needs.
For re-introduction to even be considered in Ireland we would need a massive change in perception, understanding and attitude towards wolves and predators in general. We would need far more extensive wilderness areas, and a well established network of wildlife corridors to connect them. Wolves haven’t roamed free in Ireland for at least 200 years, and personally I don’t think they will be doing so again any time soon.
These are my own views on wolf re-introduction in Ireland, and I welcome debate about the subject via comments here or at email@example.com.
Wolves, Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation, L.David Mech and Luigi Boitani
Among Wolves, Gordon Haber and Marybeth Holleman
Wolves in Ireland, Kieran Hickey
Wolf Wars, Hank Fischer
Decade of the Wolf, Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson
— Our thanks to Michael Markarian for permission to republish this post, which originally appeared on his blog Animals & Politics on December 9, 2014.
The European Commission has suspended the import of horsemeat from Mexico to the European Union due to food safety concerns, and it’s a decision that has huge implications for the slaughter of American horses for human consumption.
Horses wait in pens at the U.S. border before being transported to Mexico for slaughter. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS.
Killer buyers export tens of thousands of horses from the United States to Mexico each year, often outbidding horse owners and rescue groups, just so the animals can be inhumanely butchered, shrink-wrapped, and air-freighted to diners in Belgium, France, Italy, and other EU nations.
In fact, according to an audit published last week by the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office, 87 percent of the horses slaughtered in Mexico for export to the EU came from the United States. The audit paints a grim picture of serious animal welfare problems both during transport and on arrival at the slaughter plants, with controls on the effectiveness of stunning the horses described as “insufficient” during slaughter.
The auditors reported that “horses of US origin were regularly found dead in slaughterhouse pens due to trauma or pneumonia shortly after arrival,” and that many rejected horses had livers indicating trauma and injury during transport. They recounted finding two injured horses (“one with open wounds above both eyes, the other lame”) who “had been left in pens under full sun…and had been present in the pens without veterinary treatment for at least two days.”
Even though the European Commission requires lifetime veterinary records for EU horses intended for food, EU regulators have allowed third parties, such as Canada and Mexico, to meet a lower food safety standard, wherein they submit affidavits stating that horses have not been given drugs prohibited in the EU, and cover the horses’ veterinary history for only six months. But the audit found that even this watered-down food safety requirement is virtually an impossible standard to meet. The auditors “found very many affidavits which were invalid or of questionable validity, but were nonetheless accepted,” and flatly noted “the requirement, that they be identified and traceable for a period of at least 180 days prior to dispatch for slaughter, cannot be respected.”
Because American horses are icons and companion animals, and not raised for human consumption, they are given drugs and medications throughout their lifetimes that are never intended for the food system—ranging from common painkillers such as “bute” for treating ailing or lame horses, to cocaine and cobra venom, and other forms of “doping” in the horseracing industry. These random-source horses are rounded up by bunchers, and regardless of whether they’re ultimately killed in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, there is no system to track medications and veterinary treatments given to horses to ensure that their meat is safe for human consumption. It’s a free-for-all when this doped-up meat is peddled to foreign consumers.
The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. And these are the special interests that have been lobbying so hard to use our tax dollars to bring back horse slaughter in the United States, and to block legislation forbidding the export and long-distance transport of horses for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.
Federal law currently prohibits the inspection of horse slaughter plants on American soil, and we’re hoping that “defunding” provision will be extended when congressional appropriators release the “cromnibus” package this week. And ultimately, we must pass the free-standing Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to provide a more lasting and comprehensive solution and to halt the export of horses to our North American neighbors. As the European Commission audit makes clear, the horse slaughter industry is reckless, unsafe, and inhumane, and those who profit by rounding up and butchering companion horses for their meat should stop defending it as some sort of altruistic act.
Experts from across Europe and the USA are calling for a ‘one health’ approach to the use of veterinary pharmaceuticals (VPs). In advance of a key European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommendation to the European Commission on the use of diclofenac in livestock, they are warning of the dangers that veterinary pharmaceuticals pose to wildlife.
In Spain, the use of the veterinary pharmaceutical diclofenac is placing Europe’s fragile vulture populations at risk, and should be banned, according to a paper published by a team of veterinarians, biologists, and conservationists in the journal Science this week.
Dr Lisa Yon, from The University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science is the Chair of the European Wildlife Disease Association (EWDA). She said: “It is clear from the lessons learned on the profound impact of diclofenac on vultures in India that we need to take a more integrated, ‘One Health’ approach to our use of VPs, and the larger impact they have on non-target species, and on the environment. This is and will continue to be an issue of increasing concern for a wide variety of VPs, and one for which there needs to be greater responsibility taken across the range of stakeholders.”
Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, has already been banned for veterinary use in several South Asian countries, but was recently approved for use in Spain and Italy. Traces of diclofenac in livestock carcasses are lethal to vultures who eat them, and contamination of fewer than 1 per cent of dead animals led to the near extinction of three Asian species. Most vultures in Europe are already endangered and thus particularly vulnerable to this threat.
The paper, One Health approach to use of veterinary pharmaceuticals, argues that as the world’s consumption of meat continues to rise, we must take a holistic approach to assessing the impacts of VPs that accounts for all environmental effects, including contamination of the natural food chain.
This month, the EMA is expected to release a recommendation to the European Commission on the future veterinary use of diclofenac in Europe. While diclofenac is not currently licensed for veterinary use in most European Union countries, Spain authorized marketing of diclofenac as a veterinary pharmaceutical for use in cattle, pigs and horses in 2013. The paper makes a strong argument for the implementation of an EU-wide ban.
Welkom op de blog van Discobar Bizar. Druk gerust wat op de andere knoppen ook, of lees het aangrijpende verhaal van Hurricane Willem nu je hier bent. Welcome to the blog of Discobar Bizar, feel free to push some of the other buttons, or to read the gripping story of Hurricane Willem whilst you are here!