While horsemeat constitutes a low percentage of the EU’s total meat consumption, it has longer supply chains and more operators involved, so it carries more risk than other categories of meat, not only for consumers but also for the horses.
Most of the imported horse meat consumed in the EU comes from South America, where minimum welfare standards for the animals slaughtered are not met, with smaller quantities being imported from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Investigations by our members have documented shocking conditions and mistreatment of horses at slaughterhouses and assembly centres in several of these countries.
Since 2012 Tierschutzbund Zürich and the Animal Welfare Foundation, together with animal advocacy organisations in Uruguay, the USA and Canada, have been documenting abuse in the production of horsemeat. Their video footage reveals that horses in the Americas are systematically tortured. They are kept in the open, unprotected from pouring rain, permanent frost or blistering heat, and injured or sick horses do not receive veterinary care. Foals often die at birth in slaughterhouse pens. Overall, the pre-slaughter mortality of horses is high.
In addition, reports from EC audits in Mexico and Brazil have highlighted poor animal welfare conditions during transport. The investigations constantly demonstrate systematic abuse, mistreatment and neglect. As audits and visits need to be announced, the visited sites take temporary measures to improve their conditions. As revealed by NGOs investigations, these measures are, however, only short lived, as for example, the day after the audit emaciated horses will appear again at slaughter plants and badly built shelters for potential weather protection will often collapse after a short period of time.
The lack of veterinary treatment also constitutes a food safety concern. When existing injuries are not treated and extensive open wounds persist, pathogens may spread through the horse’s body. Bacteriological sampling is then necessary to determine if the meat is still safe for human consumption.
An audit published by the European Commission in December 2019, found out that some Canadian slaughterhouses do not comply with EU rules on traceability, implying a risk for public health as well as animal welfare. Tierschutzbund Zürich and the Animal Welfare Foundation’s investigation in Uruguay and Argentina found that, due to a lack of identification and traceability, horses who have been raised for sports, riding, or for the production of equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG), otherwise known as pregnant mare's serum gonadotropin (PMSG), can find their way into meat production. These animals might have been treated with substances such as steroids or growth promoters, meaning that their meat would not be safe for human consumption. There are similar concerns over imports of horse meat from Australia.