Jonny Rogers explores how the horseracing industry is complicit in the export of compromised meat to European markets.
Photo by Jamison Riley
A shocking investigation from BBC’s Panorama revealed that thousands of racehorses are being sent to slaughterhouses every year, the majority of which coming from Ireland. While this is often justified as providing euthanasia for injured horses, the real beneficiary is the international meat market.
Footage recorded by Animal Aid exposed the violation of multiple regulations in an abattoir owned by F Drury & Sons: horses were shot from across the room rather than close up, and some were killed in front of others. In addition, many were transported more than 350 miles by road and sea while suffering from “career-ending injuries”.
“Animal Aid wants to send the message out loud and clear to all horse breeding societies: Stop trying to label it euthanasia; these horses are being transported and slaughtered for their meat. Stop blaming the slaughterhouse and get your own house in order. Take responsibility.” – Iain Green, Director of Animal Aid
Although horse meat is rarely consumed in the UK (at least, not knowingly) there is a significant market in Europe. If the hidden abuse of horses wasn’t already too much to stomach, contaminated meat is entering the supply chain.
Only 347 of the 2,165 horses slaughtered in the UK in 2019 held passports, and many had microchips that were swapped or tampered with. These regulations are necessary to track which horses have been treated with painkillers and medication that could be harmful for humans.
It is unclear how much the horse racing industry is knowingly complicit in this system. Trainer Gordon Elliott, who was banned from the sport after being pictured sitting on a dead horse, claimed that he did not send any horses to the abattoir, instead favouring for them to be rehomed, given to other riders or humanely euthanised.
However, as veterinarian Dr Hannah Donavan argues, the fact that the horses are being transported to slaughterhouses at all, let alone over long distances, undermines any claims of humane treatment:
“This is unnecessary suffering. The bottom line is these horses, if they are to be euthanised, could and should be euthanised at home. Simple as that.”
Thankfully, recent years have seen the UK introduce new measurements to monitor animal welfare: CCTV is now mandatory in slaughterhouses in England, and the footage must be easily accessible by Official Veterinarians. However, the recent revelations raise serious questions about the enforcement of welfare regulations.
Horse Racing Ireland was quick to condemn the practices shown in Animal Aid’s footage, instead shifting blame to the Food Standards Agency for failing to maintain appropriate welfare standards. Nevertheless, as Iain Green responded:
“The sheer amount of finger-pointing and blame-shifting over the last week has been astounding and shameful. Get to the heart of the problem by reducing the number of foals being bred, and ensure that there is funding and homes for every single horse – regardless of type.”
Although the horse meat market is directly benefitting from the violation of regulations in UK slaughterhouses, responsibility is largely owed to the overbreeding of racehorses. Animal Aid have launched a parliamentary petition to place a restriction on how many equines can be bred in the country, with a view to minimising the number of unwanted horses available for slaughter.
It is clear that the entire industry, and the culture surrounding it, will need to undergo significant changes before horses and other farmed animals are treated with the compassion and dignity they deserve.
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