EVER wondered when you buy food, supplements or pharmaceuticals that it might have an adverse consequence for animals? Could there be an equine angle? You might eat farmed salmon fed on zillions of tiny fish trawled from ocean bottoms; feed your horses (or yourself) a chondroitin joint supplement derived from shark cartilage; or drink wines filtered through fish bones, as many are. Perhaps you don’t much care about sea-life!

How about mammals? You might wear cosmetics containing allantoin extracted from a mammal’s placenta; or smoothe your wrinkles using botulinum toxin tested on lab animals. Are these sustainable practices which leave a positive legacy for those coming behind?

And what if the species were equine - would that make a difference to you? We slaughter horses in Ireland for export and consumption abroad; you may have consumed some during the ‘horse-meat scandal’ or as salami overseas; you may not have known. Many adopt a pragmatic approach to this trade:

  • ‘The horses aren’t bred for meat purposes’
  • ‘It represents a legitimate outlet at end of life’
  • ‘This is food, feeding people: it’d be a shame to have it go to waste’
  • ‘The horses are slaughtered here under our vets’ supervision’
  • ‘Far better killed under licence here than transported long distance to an unknown fate’
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    You might be taking HRT containing hormone extracted from the urine of stall-tied pregnant mares. You might be a pig farmer increasing sow fertility using PMSG (also known as eCG) produced from mares bled while in early pregnancy, often kept in dreadful conditions and aborted repeatedly so as to be made pregnant over and over again. If you’re prepared to learn more but also be shocked, then look under ‘blood farms’ at the Animal Welfare Foundation: animal-welfare-foundation.org/en/investigations/projects.

    Ever heard of ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine made from donkey skins? The trade in donkeys to harvest their hides is horrendous in its effects. It is known to:

  • Require the killing of some 3,000,000 donkeys annually in countries outside China (largely Africa and the Americas) to top up approximately two million of their own.
  • Decimate populations of still-in-their-prime working donkeys in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Destroy the livelihoods of countless people who depend on working equids. There’s a saying originating in Ethiopia: ‘Those who lose their donkey, become donkeys themselves.’
  • Risk disease spread to native equine populations on the trading route for live donkeys – witness the devastating outbreak of equine flu in West Africa recently.
  • Potentially cause the spread, via poorly preserved skins, of infectious disease such as African Horse Sickness to S.E. Asia – what of the equine populations and industries there?
  • Expose workers in the trade (in abattoirs and shipping firms) to zoonotic disease.
  • Much more from The Donkey Sanctuary can be found here: thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/end-the-donkey-skin-trade. Unintended consequences

    This is not to say that we can live without a footprint on the world (impossible!) or should adopt a ‘Holy Joe’ (pun intended), sack-cloth-and-ashes stance, lecturing others at all times – how boring! But perhaps be more aware of the unintended consequences of what we consume? Maybe assess the real harms as well as be honest about the actual benefits. And look to balance better than previously we did?

    Our generation might need to be the first to recognise that we can’t keep consuming blindly without future harmful effects. Have we had our share? Sustainability can be defined as: behaving now in a way that does least harm for the future – for humans, animals and the environment we all share. Or more succinctly as; enough for all, forever.