An e-mail that continues to do its rounds in inboxes around the world is starting to damage the work done by the Highveld Horse Care Unit (HHCU) and the organisation is trying to counter its negative effects.
Just under two years ago an e-mail chain was started stating that all the trial horses being used at Onderstepoort Veterinary Hospital for horse sickness research were being sent for slaughter, reads a statement from the organisation.
"In addition, the individual who started the e-mail downloaded pictures of abused horses off the Internet and passed these pictures off as the horses from Onderstepoort," the statement adds. "The e-mail called for people to copy their forwarded email onto eTV and Carte Blanche, causing mass hysteria."
Two years down the line, and after numerous attempts to virally put the rumours to bed, the e-mail is still doing the rounds.
Bev Seabourne from the HHCU states: “When the news about the horses first broke, we held meetings with all the parties involved to ensure the welfare of the horses was being taken care of, and that no horse from the programme would be sent for slaughter.
"I think it is critical that the public knows that this has happened and that an agreement has been reached where these horses are being handed over to the HHCU for re-homing. Other animal welfare organisations who form the OBP Horse Welfare Committee have also taken on the responsibility of rehoming the horses."
The parties involved included: Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP), Department of Agriculture (DoA), Faculty of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort (UP), Animal Rights Coalition (ARC), Highveld Horse Care Unit (HHCU) and Wetnose Animal Rescue Centre.
The agreement reached between the parties clearly states: “Onderstepoort Biological Products (Ltd) (OBP) recently held an extremely productive workshop with interested parties to discuss the humane handling of horses used for testing vaccines. The objective was to identify alternative methods of disposal of horses and to reach consensus and acceptance by all of the parties, to the chosen methods.
“OBP is aware of the concerns that have been raised in this regard and specifically the negative publicity campaign that has targeted OBP and was driven by welfare organisations. To address the matter in an inclusive manner major role-players from the scientific arena as well as from the animal welfare community were invited to participate.”
Based on a workshop conducted by an independent facilitator, a number of outcomes were agreed upon. OBP committed to the cessation of all commercial slaughter of horses used in its facility and the formation of the OBP Horse Welfare Committee, including the participating animal welfare organisations, to assist OBP in setting standards and processes for the sale or disposal of horses.
Welfare organisations present at the initial meeting were invited by OBP to participate in the formation of the committee as members, and with the assistance of the committee, set criteria (a Code of Practice) by which welfare organisations will be approved in terms of their viability, sustainability and ability to monitor what becomes of horses placed with them.
The parties present also committed to the welfare of not only the animals used by OBP but also the thousands of equines who benefit from the research and vaccine products produced by OBP.
“We are already a long way down the line, and it is extremely disconcerting to see this email continue to be circulated, and more importantly believed by the general public," says Seabourne. "At the HHCU we are working closely with OBP and the parties involved and have already received the first intake of some 13 horses and have successfully re-homed 10 of these horses. In short, no trial horses from OBP are being sent for slaughter."