Monday, March 3, 2008

Tough Times for Romania's Horses: Cart Ban, Hay Shortage Cited

March 01 2008 Article # 11424

New transportation laws and a drought-induced hay crisis might be at the root of a recent reversal in equine welfare progress in Romania. More animals are reportedly being abandoned or malnourished than in previous years, according to numerous accounts coming from within the Eastern European nation.

Despite the presence of two international animal protection groups in Romania since 2001, the regions are scattered with "dozens of horses everywhere, left in the fields to feed themselves with the little grass available," according to Sara Turetta, president of Save the Dogs, an Italian-based charity focusing on the welfare of domestic animals in Romania. "People don't want to see them starving and dying in their home (facilities)," she said from her Bucharest station.

Recent legislation changes regarding Romanian roadways are cited as a source of the problem in an article published on Britain's Jan. 26. Author Gethin Chamberlain stated that the horses have become "victims of a disastrous attempt to bring the country into line with European Union (EU) law by banning horse-drawn carts from main roads."

However, the European Union does not specifically regulate the presence of horses and carts in any of its member countries, according to Michele Cercone, spokesperson for Transports of the European Commission. "This specific matter falls under the national competence, and on this issue there can be no EU legislation," she said.

The Romanian road law went into effect two years ago in response to high numbers of traffic accidents involving horses on busy roads, and it has yet to be fully implemented, Turetta said.

Romanian government authorities could not be reached for comment.

Rising hay prices are far more likely an explanation for the "special problem" of horse abandonment this year, according to Gheorghe Solcan, PhD, professor and vice dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in Iasi, which is in northwestern Romania. "Because of the very dry weather last year the food became very expensive," said Solcan, whose staff collaborates with the U.K.-based International League for the Protection of Horses. "But in my opinion the problem is sporadic and is not related to legislation banning the use of horses and carts on major roads."

Hay prices have gone up from less than a euro ($1.50 USD) a roll (15-20 kg, 33-44 lbs) in 2005 to more than 5 euros ($7.50) a roll in 2008, Turetta said.

Romania has been a member nation of the EU since Jan. 1, 2007.

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