Horses as Courses May End Under French Pet Protection Bill

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Horses as Courses May End Under French Pet Protection Bill

By Adam Sage on TimesOnline.co.uk
December 2009

Supporters of the change, which was put forward in a private parliamentary Bill, said that it would provide protection against maltreatment. They added that the law would bring horses under the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, which would, in effect, ban their consumption.

It is a working animal that has been used on farms, in sport, in warfare and on the plate for thousands of years. But now a debate is under way in France over a move to classify the horse as a domestic pet.

The argument is passionate — with insults flying on blogs and in magazines — and it involves two competing visions of the equine world and French society as a whole.

One side, traditional and openly macho, is seeking to maintain the legal status of the horse as un animal de rente (an animal of income) against what it sees as the spread of feminine values in what was once a masculine bastion. The opposing view, modern and egalitarian, is concerned with animal welfare rather than economics.

Supporters of the change, which was put forward in a private parliamentary Bill, said that it would provide protection against maltreatment. They added that the law would bring horses under the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, which would, in effect, ban their consumption.

The campaign is being led by Brigitte Bardot and Mathilde Seigner, a French actress, who said that eating horses was “like eating your cat or your dog”.

Although consumption of horsemeat has dwindled in France to 20,830 tons last year — about 2 per cent of all red meat — it is still too much for animal rights groups. “I’ve got two horses and I can’t for a second imagine eating them,” said Ms Seigner when she started the campaign around the slogan “Ne Mangez Pas du Cheval” (Don’t Eat Horses).

Opponents say that the Bill, which was introduced by Lionel Luca, a member of President Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement, could threaten the existence of French working breeds, such as the percheron.

“History contains many examples of animals which have disappeared as soon as they have lost their purpose,” said Jean-Pierre Digard, a researcher who opposes the change. “The horse is not and never will be a pet like a dog or a cat.”

He said that the Bill would put about 800 French horsemeat butchers out of business and open the way to legal action against the use of whips and spurs. He said that they could be prohibited under the European Convention, which states that owners must not train a pet in a way that is detrimental to its health and welfare or use “artificial aids which cause injury or unnecessary pain”.

He said that the campaign followed an upheaval in equestrianism in France. In 1949, the French Equestrian Federation had 20,000 members and most were men aged over 30. Now it has 650,437 members, 78.5 per cent of whom are female and 68.5 per cent are under 18, according to a study by Catherine Tourre-Malen, a researcher. “Women have a more sentimental and affectionate approach to horses whereas men tend to be in a role of domination,” she said. “That means women have a tendency to want to limit the use of horses.”

Mr Digard said: “Girls tried to conquer a traditionally military, macho area but the more they did so, the more horse riding became overly feminized.” The result, he said, was that “more and more horses are left in fields and given a stroke and a carrot from time to time. Paradoxically, these are the horses which are most badly treated.”

Galloping gourmets

— Horsemeat was served at the Harvard Faculty Club until the 1970s. The club abandoned the dish only when road alterations stopped delivery trucks getting through

— In the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, revellers often stop at Hot Horse, a takeaway serving colt steak burgers, on the way back from a night out

— Italians eat the most horsemeat in Europe, according to the French horse butchers guild. A sausage made of horse is a common meal in the north

— Raw horse is known in Japan as sakuraniku, sakura meaning cherry blossom and niku meaning meat