Photo ©Tierschutzbund Zürich and Animal Welfare Foundation
Thirteen international animal welfare organisations – led by Tierschutzbund Zürich and Animal Welfare Foundation – are calling for a suspension of horsemeat imports based on a lack of traceability and respect for animal welfare requirements.
Since 2012, the animal welfare NGOs Tierschutzbund Zürich (Switzerland), Animal Welfare Foundation (Germany), For the Animals (Uruguay), Animals’ Angels Inc. (USA) and the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition have been investigating abuses in the production of horsemeat. “Video footage proves that horses in the Americas are still systematically tortured. They are kept in the open, unprotected from pouring rain, permanent frost or blistering heat,” says Sabrina Gurtner of the Animal Welfare Foundation. “Injured or sick horses do not receive veterinary care, and foals often die at birth in slaughterhouse pens.”
The footage reveals several violations of the rules meat importers must respect in relation to animal welfare in order to access the EU market. Traceability is also problematic, as the origin of the horses is often unknown. In general, it is the last owner who must clarify where a horse comes from and which drugs have been administered to it – but the last owner is usually the slaughterhouse buyer.
The organisations are also strongly critical of the use of an overly positive label by horsemeat importers. With online marketing platform ‘Respectful Life’, importers’ associations FEBEV (Belgium) and VPI (Switzerland) are trying to revive imports from overseas following their suspension after cruelty to horses was exposed in 2013. “FEBEV, VPI and their members deceive consumers by referring to the research carried by two academics for ‘Respectful Life‘ as a proper audit and verification of animal welfare standards in horsemeat production,” says Sabrina Gurtner.
In fact, VPI has also commissioned the global company Société Générale de Surveillance to conduct audits to certify production sites in North and South America. However, these audits only look at the management system of the production unit. They could possibly detect issues with traceability, but do not monitor animal welfare standards applied throughout production.
The investigations carried by the NGOs also reveal how the slaughterhouses prepare themselves ahead of audits, however. Prior to inspections by the EU, the SGS or even the ‘Respectful Life’ label, pregnant and injured horses are removed from the slaughterhouse premises. “This label does not reflect the reality of horsemeat production in the Americas,” says Sabrina Gurtner.
With their call today, the coalition of international animal welfare organisations – which include Eurogroup for Animals’ member organisations Gaia and Welfarm – is asking for an immediate suspension of imports of horsemeat from countries where requirements on animal welfare are not respected, and for an end to consumer deception by the online platform ‘Respectful Life’.