French Horses Allegedly Stolen for Meat

A Romanian national has been arrested in the case of a series of draft horse thefts in eastern France, according to an official of the country’s Comtois breed association. According to the official, the horses were allegedly stolen for illegal export to eastern Europe for their meat.

As many as 12 draft horses—primarily Comtois horses and one Ardennais mare—have been stolen from their pastures in France’s Jura department of the Franch-Comté region since June 2012, said Gilles Sornay, industry director and coordinator of the National Association of the Comtois Draft Horse in Besançon, France. None of the animals have been recovered.

All the horses were microchipped prior to being stolen, Sornay said. However, illegal export of the horses is still possible due to inconsistent border control. “Not all the agents know to scan the horses as they leave France or as they enter another country,” he said. “And not all countries require microchips or verify them, especially if they are not part of the European Union (EU), like Serbia, which is close to Romania.”

EU law requires microchipping of all horses born in or after 2009, according to a representative of the Health and Consumer Policy department of the European Commission. However, there is no verification of microchips between borders of member nations, nor as animals leave the EU. Even so, horses travelling from one country to another even within the EU should have a health certificate and a passport, which are usually checked at departure and at the arrival if officials are present.

“The microchip is certainly not an anti-theft mechanism,” said Sornay.

Transportation to Serbia or Romania would require crossing Italy, which is an EU-member nation. The journey from the Jura to Serbia would take more than 12 hours by road; to the Romanian border it would take another two hours.

If the horses had been sold to a French slaughterhouse, they would have been immediately detected by their microchip, as all horses bound for slaughter are scanned systematically, according to a representative of the French Minister of Agriculture. Likewise, if any of the horses had remained in France and had received veterinary care, they would have been scanned by the veterinarian during the consultation.

While some of the stolen horses were bred for their meat, many were intended for breeding, working, or leisure, said Sornay. Working horses would pull wagons for tourists or pull farming and vineyard equipment. The Ardennais mare had worked in an organic wine vineyard, he added.

Despite the scare, owners were not encouraged to lock their horses up at night, though they were told to watch out for strange trucks and trailers. “These are pasture horses,” Sornay said. “It wouldn’t have been fair to them to stable them just because there was a thief running around. Horses need their air, too.”

There are approximately 5,000 Comtois horses in the Franch-Comté region of France, with 300 breeders in the Jura alone.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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