Photo credits: © Animal Welfare Foundation
A recent inspection report from European animal-welfare organisations about horsemeat production in Uruguay and Argentina shows serious animal-welfare violations. Already back in 2016, the European veterinary authority detected irregularities in EU-approved slaughterhouses in Uruguay, confirming the serious concerns expressed and documented by the organisation Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) for several years. «In the EU-approved slaughterhouses in Argentina and Uruguay, minimum standards like emergency killing of seriously injured horses and weather protection are not complied with. Furthermore, the type of transport vehicles used are a source of frequent injuries», criticises Sabrina Gurtner, project manager of AWF. Via the website «Respectful Life» the European horsemeat importers are trying to polish up the increasingly negative image of horsemeat from overseas.
The recent investigations conducted by the animal welfare organisations show cruel images taken at the Argentinian slaughterhouses Lamar and General Pico as well as the Uruguayan slaughter plants Clay and Sarel. «All four slaughterhouses are approved for export to the EU. In all of them, we have once again found evidence that horses are systematically mistreated and neglected», says Sabrina Gurtner. Severely injured horses are left unattended for days up to weeks. The documented handling of the horses, their supply with feed and the protection from extreme weather conditions contradict with the positive statements of the importers. Moreover, the AWF investigations from 2017 and spring 2018 prove that there is a massive level of fraud taking place in regards to the true origin of the horses. «We repeatedly filmed how ear tags were removed or applied just shortly before slaughter. The traceability guaranteed by the importers is in practice impossible to guarantee in all four slaughterhouses visited», criticises Sabrina Gurtner.
According to the importers, cameras installed in the raceways of the slaughterhouses should allow for monitoring the operations inside the plants at any time. Also a control of the ear tags. «The importers can see through their monitors if the horses are marked with ear tags; whether these have been applied illegally shortly before slaughter is not controllable via video monitoring in the slaughterhouses», knows Sabrina Gurtner.
The traceability of the horses is a prerequisite for reliable consumer and animal protection. Particularly as the EU imposed a ban on horsemeat from Brazil because of corruption, and in the south of Brazil the equine plague glanders is rampant. «Already in 2015, the police reported that about 2.000 horses had been smuggled from Brazil to Uruguay, which ended up in the EU-approved slaughterhouses. The investigators involved in uncovering this smuggle are convinced that this is only the tip of an iceberg», adds Sabrina Gurtner.
The European horsemeat importers, headed by the Belgian FEBEV and including the Swiss association of horsemeat importers VPI, are trying with the website «www.respectfullife.com» to create consumer confidence into horsemeat from overseas. «It is pretended that with regular audits, animal-welfare standards at European level can be enforced», criticise the animal-welfare organisations. In cooperation with the University Leuven, the horsemeat importers have developed a research assignment. «The studies will be conducted on a fully independent basis, in order to obtain scientifically validated results», it is stated on the website. «It is clear consumer deception, as the research reports of the scientists have nothing to do with the practices on the ground. This cooperation of the University Leuven with the importers of the horsemeat is a win-win-cooperation for both partners involved. The University Leuven receives research funds, the horsemeat importers a marketing strategy. Real animal welfare however is on the back burner, as shown for years», the animal-welfare organisations justify their request for a ban on the import of horsemeat from Uruguay and Argentina. «Already back in 2015, the EU imposed an import ban on horsemeat from Mexico, where the conditions were comparable with those in Uruguay and Argentina. Now it is time to apply the same measure to these countries».
Sabrina Gurtner, Project manager – Animal Welfare Foundation
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