New investigations show more EU-consumed horsemeat imports from torturous production overseas


New investigations show more EU-consumed horsemeat imports from torturous production overseas

14 February 2017
Eurogroup for Animals
A coalition of European, North and South American animal welfare organisations calls for a ban on horsemeat imports into the EU and Switzerland from overseas.

The coalition includes the Animal Welfare Foundation/AWF (Germany), Tierschutzbund Zürich/TSB (Switzerland), WELFARM and AFAAD (France), Eyes on Animals (the Netherlands), GAIA (Belgium), Animals’ Angels (USA) and For the Animals/FTA (Uruguay), supported by Eurogroup for Animals (Brussels).

A new two-year investigation (2015-2016) has been conducted in the USA, Canada, Uruguay and Argentina by AWF and TSB, Animals’ Angels USA and FTA. The Coalition conducted inspections of collecting stations, transports, auctions, and EU-approved slaughterhouses which have shown that welfare conditions of slaughter horses have not improved since an initial investigation conducted in 2012.

Our earlier investigations into horsemeat production have resulted in, for example, change in ownership or closure of slaughterhouses, and a ban on horsemeat imports from Mexico into the EU in 2015. It is incomprehensible why a comparable import ban has not been applied to countries like Argentina, Uruguay and Canada”, explains Sabrina Gurtner, project manager at AWF and TSB. “This new investigation clearly shows systematic animal abuse along the whole production chain in all three countries as well as a lack of traceability provisions for horsemeat”, adds Reineke Hameleers, director of Eurogroup for Animals.

It is anticipated that the new EU Commission regulation coming into force on 28.2.2017 will further aggravate the agonizing situation for 44,000 US horses slaughtered in Canadian plants as well as Brazilian horses slaughtered in Uruguay for export to the EU market. The regulation imposes a new rule requiring imported horses to be kept in the importing country for six months before slaughter. “The pens are dirty and overcrowded, there is no animal or medical care and injured, sick and pregnant horses are left unattended”, says Sabrina Gurtner, one of the coalition’s investigators.

The intention of the new EU regulation is to cope with the unsolved problem of the horses’ traceability and to minimize the risk of drug residues in the horsemeat. “This measure is ill-suited to achieve these goals and ultimately deceives the consumer“, criticizes Sabrina Gurtner, adding that “The requirement of a waiting period does not clarify the origin of the horses and it does not ensure that prohibited substances are completely degraded within the horses’ bodies within this time period. The drug phenylbutazone, which is routinely administered as pain relief to pet and race horses, definitely precludes these horses from human consumption in the EU due to concerns regarding human health”.

In the currently presented documentation, the animal welfare organisations report on systematic animal cruelty and serious violations of EU animal welfare standards. In North and South American auctions, unfit horses are loaded onto slaughter transports. EU rules would deem these horses unfit for auction or transportation and, instead, would require immediate euthanasia. Feedlots and holding pens at slaughterhouses are overcrowded and there is no possibility for the horses to retreat, which causes ranking fights, severe injuries and death. Lack of shelter afflicts the horses during extreme weather conditions, cold spells and heat waves. “There is no medical treatment or hoof care because importers believe European consumers would not pay for that”, explains Sabrina Gurtner. “The EU has imposed an import ban on Mexican horsemeat. However, nearly identical conditions prevail in EU-approved slaughter plants in North and South America. Such a ban on torturous meat production should not apply selectively”, stated Reineke Hameleers.

All supermarkets in Switzerland and many in the Netherlands and Belgium have stopped the sale of horsemeat from torturous production. However, the new EU requirement of a 180 day holding period causes further suffering of horses. “It is a business worth millions. It is not about animals as sentient beings but only about profit”, the animal welfare organisations reproach to the EU importers.

The new studies conducted by TSB and AWF show that horsemeat production in Canada, Uruguay and Argentina pose similar problems for horse welfare and consumer protection as the production in Mexico. Horsemeat production in these countries does not comply with Swiss or EU standards. There is no means of tracing horses in Uruguay and Argentina, which in large number come from illegal sources such as smuggling and theft. Also, a lack of equine passports in the USA and Canada comparable to those required in the EU results in a lack of traceability of horses and there is no way of ensuring the absence of drug residues”. The animal welfare organisations are convinced that “the only way to remedy this situation is with a European import ban on horsemeat produced in cruel conditions overseas.”