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Meeting of Minds at Horse Transportation Conference

The Second International Conference on the Transportation of Horses, funded by the ILPH, FEI, MSPCA and supported by Peden Bloodstock, was considered a resounding success by one and all when it concluded earlier this month.

Vets, shipping agents, insurers, regulators, engineers, flying grooms and team managers came together with delegates from over 23 countries to consider the best ways to transport top competition and breeding stock by road, sea and air, and to discuss the various health and safety risks involved.

Veterinary experts went on to consider, along with agricultural engineers, regulators and animal welfare groups, the contrasting plight of slaughter horses on their final journey to the abattoir.

Drs. Carolyn Stull from the University of California and Timothy Cordes from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) discussed how recent research on stress and injuries in slaughter horses helped shape the latest US Federal regulations.

Joanne White, ILPH Campaigns Manager, presented the findings of her recent European field study and outlined ILPH plans to conduct observational studies in the future. Similar to the US approach that had been so effective, these studies would provide the ILPH with clear evidence to support their argument to improve welfare of horses transported over long distances for slaughter.

Says Alex Atock, Conference Secretary, "This Conference has proved to be a rare opportunity to compare notes with experts from around the world and to identify opportunities to advance our mutual cause through better collaboration."

It is hoped to organise another conference in the future.


2nd International Conference on the Transportation of Horses
Hartpury College, Glos, 12-13 July 2003
Colin Roberts - Conference Rapporteur
(Saturday and Sunday Morning Sessions)

I would like to begin this report by thanking the generous sponsors of this excellent meeting, namely the ILPH, the FEI, the MSPCA and Peden Bloodstock. I would also like to thank our hosts, Hartpury College, and all of the speakers who have made this event a success.
This short report can consist only of edited highlights and cannot possibly do our speakers justice. With nearly thirty speakers, I have an average of thirty seconds per paper to give you my personal views of their important messages and your perspective may well differ to mine, but here goes.
We began yesterday morning (12th July) with Catherine Kohn's excellent summary of the First International Workshop on Equine Transportation. Dr Kohn outlined some of the problems associated with equine transport. Shipping fever is a major problem, causing signs of respiratory disease with an incidence of up to 12% following long-distance road transport and up to 30-40% following air transport. Dr Kohn reviewed possible aetiologic agents of shipping fever:

1. The environment of the travelling horse may be significantly contaminated with both particulate and molecular pollutants, including allergens, irritants and infectious agents.
2. Ventilation is often poor, particularly in stationary vehicles and aeroplanes and this is often compounded by high stocking densities.
3. Poor ventilation is often associated with inappropriately high temperature and relative humidity.
4. Thermoregulatory responses to high temperature and relative humidity involve increasing respiratory rate and depth, which tends to increase inhalation of potential pathogens, whilst sweating causes dehydration.
5. Head posture has been shown to have a major influence on the health of the lower airways and is probably an important factor in the development of shipping fever.
Other problems associated with transport include weight loss (how unfair that horses undesirably lose weight during travelling and I don't!) and gastrointestinal disease (reduced water intake affecting gut function and resulting in colic and/or diarrhoea, whilst equine gastric ulcer syndrome may be predisposed by transport).
Other areas discussed at the First Workshop included vehicle design, the effects of jet lag and the effects of transport on performance. Dr Kohn discussed the importance of good pre-travel monitoring and preparation, good transport methods, adequate time to recover upon arrival and prompt therapy of sick animals.
I have dwelt a little on Catherine's comments as they provide the background to our meeting and many of her points were echoed by other speakers, including Jenny Hall and John McEwen. John McEwen has vast experience of travelling with horses as a team veterinarian and he stressed the veterinary problems of transport-induced diseases such as shipping fever, colic and transport, taking as well as the wider issue of transported horses as potential vectors for disease.
Our first session considered road, sea and air travel, whilst not forgetting rail!
An interesting aspect of yesterday's sessions were the common threads that run through many presentations and John began one of these by stressing the importance of the entire team involved in travelling horses - owner, shipping agent, transporters, grooms, Government officials, vets, drivers, aircrew, etc. who all have important responsibilities. John felt that there has been significant improvement in equine transport but that there are still areas for improvement and research. When transporting horses, he made little use of pre-medication with antimicrobials and anti-inflammatories but stressed the need for prompt treatment when disease occurs.
This session included some important discussions of the effect of various different forms of transport. Vehicle design has a crucial effect on health and welfare in transport. Peter Kettlewell's group at Silsoe have demonstrated the counter-intuitive way in which air flow occurs in road transport. Rather than air entering from the front and passing down the lorry, it is pushed away by the moving vehicle and sucked in from the back. Improvements to vehicle ventilation can only be based on such scientific research; blindly placing air inlets in the most convenient place is not acceptable.
In traditional farm species there has been considerable research into the effects of transport and vehicle design. Peter's group are now addressing equine transport and I am delighted that they are involved in the ILPH research initiative investigating transport of horses to slaughter.
John Collins considered the particular situation of ferry transport for horses, drawing our attention to the problems inherent in such journeys. His revelation of the best place to be on a ferry, on the centreline, midships, and about level with the waterline may lead to fights on future voyages!
Moving on to a different medium, Andreas Barth described to us the intricacies of freight aircraft design and the ways in which such craft are ventilated; an issue that is particularly crucial to their success.
Returning to the highways, Eddie Harper moved the discussion back to the realm of the individual, counselling us about UK regulations for drivers and stressing the vital roles of the driver and groom and the importance of their training.
Tim Rolfe's presentation on the role of the flying groom was fascinating and brought home to us the responsibility that these men and women carry and the career path necessary for them to reach the required level of experience for this role.
Jenny Hall has been team vet to the British Three Day Event Team since 1999 and she provided us with further insights into her task in providing not merely a 'fire brigade' service for injuries, but a full care programme before, during and after the event. Jenny stressed the importance of health monitoring, using appropriate diagnostic tests prior to the event, to ensure that horses travel in the best possible health. Such monitoring must begin early enough to permit adequate time for treatment before travelling. Clinical signs of disease are often not apparent until disease is advanced and close monitoring and recording of the health of horses throughout preparation, travel, competition, return and recovery permit early detection and intervention when disease occurs.
Des Leadon has considerable experience of flying horses and reminded us of the weight loss associated with flying. He pointed out the low injury rate of <0.5% in horses during flight. Of concern, however, was the impression that the incidence of shipping fever has risen markedly with the introduction of jet stalls and there is a pressing need for research to improve ventilation in these stalls.
The afternoon session concerned the 'Common Denominator', meaning, I think, the individuals essential for the success of equine transport. Tim Harris highlighted the different but complementary skills of attendant, driver and flying groom and the wealth of knowledge that they require. High quality training is vital and though I would take issue with the contention that good stockmen are born not made, the ideal must be a combination of natural ability, motivation and appropriate training.
The training theme was continued as Steve Hewitt explained the NPTC's Certificate of Competence for Equine Handlers Transporting Horses. If we believe that personnel involved in horse transport must be well-trained, we must also have fair and adequate methods to assess this and this scheme is an excellent example, the basic flaw of the notion of self-certification having been brought to our attention by Tim Harris.
Next, Joe Santarelli addressed the problematic issue of equine attendants carrying prescription medicines. This as yet unresolved issue must be clarified in a world where the majority of travelling equids are not and will not be accompanied by a veterinarian.
The enormous role of the Atock family in this meeting was acknowledged before lunch by John Smales and I would second that sentiment. Martin Atock played his part by treating us to a fascinating insight into the role of the shipping agent and the myriad details that he must address. The amount of bureaucracy involved in transporting horses was apparent and sadly this reminds me of another recurring theme of this meeting - the number of occasions on which delegates have reported the welfare of their charges being compromised by inefficient bureaucracy. The welfare of horses is paramount to us all and we must push for efficient handling of the paperwork required for moving horses, without either compromise to the welfare of the individual animal or threats to national biosecurity.
As United States Equestrian Team Manager Jim Wolf's responsibilities in transporting his teams are also manifold, he detailed the amount of planning that he has to perform - the importance of good planning is another recurring subject emphasised by many delegates. His approach to each new event on an individual basis is a good lesson and I know that Dermot Forde was not the only member of the audience impressed by Jim's solutions to the need for a new veterinary hospital or a second aeroplane. Such an ability to generate spending power would appear to be second only to that of my wife with my credit card!
The insurance underwriter's career depends on assessing risk accurately and Emma Stamper's advise that we can avoid making claims by using reputable staff and supporting development of training programmes emphasised a major message of the second session.
At the end of an absorbing afternoon, I was however still unsure whether I had grasped the real meaning of the title. Was the common denominator the essential people or was it the horse? I attempted to get the real answer from the Chairman, but, sadly, as we have heard from Dr McEwen, the resident physician, Dr. Andrew Higgins had an unfortunate accident whilst consulting with Professor Kohn on Saturday evening and had to retire with his leg securely bandaged - we send him our very best wishes. Unfortunately the only quote that I can pass on from him is "Watch it! Accidents can happen to you too!"
Whilst the first day focussed very much on the welfare of the individual horse in transit, this morning's discussion (13th July) of European and International Rules and Regulations inevitably concerned itself very much with issues of international biosecurity.
Ueli Kihm provided an introduction to the important work of the OIE, as it aims to inform on the occurrence of disease outbreaks and their control, to co-ordinate studies into surveillance and control of animal diseases and to set standards for trade in animals and animal products. Robin Bell then outlined the ways in which EU Directives are aimed to prevent spread of disease via a harmonised policy of regulation of notifiable diseases, control methods, movement, imports to the EU and Border Inspection Posts.
The Directives must cover a wide range of transport circumstances from regular, permanent importation to specific decisions to facilitate individual equestrian events. Biosecurity is protected by a combination of pre-transport veterinary inspection, certification of non-contact with infectious disease, appropriate laboratory testing and suitably sanitary transport. Robin's final point is, I feel, an important one - the aim is to minimise risk, since risk cannot be wholly eliminated.
Denis Simonin continued the European theme with a discussion of the new draft Directive for animal transport as it relates to horses. He prefaced his remarks by noting that in the year 2000, 359,000 horses were slaughtered for meat in Europe. Of these 32% came from countries outside the EU and the welfare of these animals is of course of great concern to the ILPH. And of course, EU regulations do not apply to third countries. Denis noted that horses for slaughter travel much more than any other species destined for human consumption. The proposed new Directive will aim to provide better enforcement and improved standards and it will focus on the long distance journeys. We must do our utmost to ensure that new European legislation protects adequately all horses during transport.
The Conference's Fourth Session, just before lunch, was its shortest, but one of the most thought provoking. Dr Peter Timoney discussed factors that have led to the massive increase in international movement of horses over the past two decades and cautioned us about the increased risk of disease transmission that has inevitably accompanied this. With transport of horses and equine semen at an all time high, the single most important factor for dissemination of equine infectious diseases is international trade.
Dr Timoney described several frightening contributory factors to disease spread which, to my naïve mind, seemed largely avoidable. To remind you they include: lack of awareness of new knowledge of infectious diseases and their control, inadequate disease surveillance and poor implementation of disease control standards, as well as unreliable laboratory testing and inadequate pre-export testing and certification. Unless these areas are addressed we will continue to face unnecessarily high dangers of catastrophic outbreaks of disease.
Our final speaker Sunday morning was Dr Frits Sluyter who discussed the FEI's approach to the problem of competition and diseases. He stressed the need for co-operation with national veterinary authorities for equestrian sport to exist at an international level. Annually there are more than 100,000 starters in FEI events and 40% of them make border crossings to compete. Frits acknowledged the importance of controlling spread of disease, but also discussed the conditions to which competition horses are susceptible. The major body systems affected are the respiratory, digestive and locomotor systems and the FEI acts to minimise these in a variety of ways including a Code of Conduct for the treatment of horses in which equine welfare is the paramount issue, mandatory veterinary inspection before and during events, medication control, welfare-orientated research and veterinary reporting of the events.
I would like to end by once again acknowledging our sponsors: ILPH, FEI, MSPCA, and Peden Bloodstock and also thank the ILPH for sponsoring my position at the University of Cambridge.

John Smales
Conference Chairman and Rapporteur
(Sunday Afternoon Session)
I would like to open this Sunday afternoon session on Slaughter Horse Transportation by saying that, although it is an inseparable part of the transportation conference, it provides a stark contrast to the preceding discussions.
As we have heard from earlier speakers, top competition horses are transported in the best conditions and with the very best care possible. But when it comes to slaughter horses on their final journey, the operatives have little incentive to take particular care of their charges, or improve their welfare.
As we have heard from our first speaker this afternoon, Dr. Carolyn Stull's research, while US-based, is highly relevant to the question of slaughter horse welfare worldwide. In particular, Denis Simonin's ongoing work within the EU touches on many areas of concern highlighted in her work. Carolyn has proven scientifically that over-stocking causes more falls and Denis told us earlier that there is already provision within the EU legislation for maximum stocking densities, and that the new Directive would aim to improve this further still.
Only two horse slaughter plants remain in the US, which means most slaughter horses are subjected to long journeys by road. Dr. Carolyn Stull reviewed the latest US research, which helped shape the January 2002 federal regulations governing the transportation of slaughter horses. Her research compared the conditions found in the two-tier "pot-bellied" trailers, to those found in the conventional straight-deck trailers. The pot-bellied trailers, increasingly popular in the trade because of their higher capacity, have been the focus of a public outcry, on welfare grounds, because of the limited headroom they offer.
Carolyn's findings were not as cut-and-dried as popular public opinion - she found that although horses transported in the pot-bellied trailers did experience a higher rate of lacerations and abrasions, in general, horses suffered greater chronic stress levels (as measured physiologically through the ratio of blood neutrophils to lymphocytes) in the straight-decked trailers. She also found that loading densities cannot be looked at in isolation - in summer, horses provided with more floor area suffered less stress, weight loss and sickness - however, year-round, injuries showed a twofold increase when there was more floor space per horse. Overall, though, the need for greater floor space per horse is supported by her findings relating the number of falls to varying stocking densities and driving conditions. Erratic driving with hard braking, rapid acceleration and sharp turns led to a greater proportion of falls in the high-density group studied.
Dr Stull evaluated studies conducted by Dr. Temple Grandin with regard to dehydration during long-term transport, both through experiments using non-slaughter horses, and through observations of nine loads of actual slaughter horses. Unsurprisingly, there was an incremental rise in dehydration through 24 hours of transport, and dehydration reached severe levels after 24 hours in the summer. Another area of concern to Carolyn was the condition of some of the horses prior to loading, many of which could not be considered fit to travel. The proportion of severe pre-existing welfare conditions (such as emaciation, laminitis, fractured limbs and weakness) was much greater than the proportion of injuries suffered during transit.
The next speaker, Dr. Timothy Cordes from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), talked about his mandate from US Congress to regulate the commercial transportation of slaughter horses. The USDA has been a proactive agent in improving slaughter horse welfare in the US - it initiated funding for research into the commercial transport of slaughter horses. Funds which were allocated to Dr. Carolyn Stull, Dr. Temple Grandin and to Dr. Ted Friend (who had discussed his work in developing an on-board watering system in the separate Veterinary Research Group Meeting running concurrently with this Conference). Yet, like the European Commission, the USDA needs to consider strong representations from the slaughter horse industry itself, whose interests lie largely in maintaining the status quo.
Jo White's presentation spotlighted the suffering of horses travelling from Poland on their way to Italian slaughterhouses. As ILPH Campaigns Manager, Jo had recently returned from two fact-finding trips in Europe to gain an updated view of what is currently occurring within this trade. While she found that campaigning bodies such as the ILPH and their supporters have achieved a degree of overall improvement in the welfare of these animals, her report highlights two main areas of concern.
Firstly, EU Enlargement in 2004 will result in the removal of many Border Inspection Posts which have until now facilitated the enforcement of better standards. Secondly, the EC's New Proposed EC Animal Transport Regulation has raised many concerns, chiefly due to the fact that it does not appear to be based on current realities. In addition, it fails to take into account practical considerations that would hamper compliance with some of its provisions.
ILPH field observations, together with other research and statistical studies, have shown that horses transported too far without proper rest are clearly exhausted on arrival. Current truck design does not allow proper access for feeding and watering nor access to assist injured animals… and although the trucks are equipped with fans, when the driver stops to rest, he switches the engine off and therefore the fans - in summertime, the horses slowly cook in temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, while he enjoys an extended lunch break. Conversely, in winter, when temperatures are often as low as -20 degrees, and all water freezes instantly, horses are not given a drink.
Jo also discussed the EC's proposal for new Animal Transportation Regulation (still pending release at the time of Jo's talk). She expressed hope that the EC would incorporate the ILPH's latest recommendations, including:
" Reduced journey times, with the provision for horses to be rested, fed and watered off the vehicles (including a compulsory 24 hr rest period off the vehicle when animals reach the EU border).
" Individual partitions, to prevent trampling of fallen horses and fighting between horses (at the same time, certain groups such as dams and their foals should still be allowed to travel together).
" Improved vehicle construction allowing for adequate feeding, watering, and temperature control.
" The compulsory use of licensed and standardised staging points where horses are unloaded so that health checks can be undertaken.
Further to these recommendations, the ILPH would like to see all personnel involved in transporting these horses properly trained to minimise distress. Detailed journey plans of the entire route, and a thorough veterinary inspection at the start of a new journey will also make a difference.
Going forward, the ILPH plans to conduct an extensive observational study so that it can present clear evidence in support of its recommendations to improve slaughter horse welfare. Expert veterinary input would be vital in helping to shape this study.
Summing Up - John Smales
The fifth session has provided a forum for a dispassionate exchange of views between those organisations concerned with slaughter horse welfare, and the representatives of key regulatory bodies we look to for much-needed improvements. We were very fortunate to have scientific input from the Veterinary profession who have been able to quantify the problems objectively, and help point the way towards workable solutions. All concerned came away with a greater understanding of the differing viewpoints in this sometimes highly charged area of debate, and a clearer idea of the way forward.
It has become increasingly clear from previous presentations throughout the weekend, whether given by ministry representatives or vets, that public opinion will no longer tolerate suffering on this scale. Animal welfare organisations such as the ILPH, the MSPCA, and Compassion in World Farming (all represented at this conference), while lobbying relevant bodies for better regulations and better enforcement, must strive to provide scientific data to support their demands.
This is where the input from Dr. Ted Friend, Dr. Carolyn Stull and other vets studying the problems particular to slaughter horses in transit will be pivotal to our efforts. On their part, regulatory bodies work hard to reconcile the conflicting interests of horse industry stakeholders (who are often very well represented politically), with growing public indignation and the demands made by animal welfare groups representing their concerns.
It is a seeming paradox that welfare groups such as the ILPH would like see more horse abattoirs in source countries, but we object to the long distance transport of the equines, not the eating of their flesh.
Ultimately, it is hoped that if tighter regulations are introduced and properly enforced, it will begin to make more economic sense not to transport horses long distances, but to slaughter them in their home country. The ILPH mantra will thus become a reality - ON THE HOOK, NOT ON THE HOOF.



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