Horses may end their days at a UK abattoir for a number of reasons – sickness, old age, they prove too costly, or (for race horses) they are deemed inadequate to enter or to carry on racing.
Horses may change hands many times at markets as people outgrow them, get bored with them, or (as in the case of race horses) they are not performing satisfactorily on the racecourse. Many horses will be subject to a downward spiral of neglect, before arriving at the slaughterhouse.
Dealers may visit markets on the lookout for cheap horses – there being a good financial return for the meat of slaughtered horses.
Private owners may choose to sell their horse to the slaughterman for around £300 rather than paying a vet £200 to euthanase their animal.
Horse meat is sold abroad for human consumption. It is reportedly not used in pet food in the UK.
According to The Horse Passports (England) Regulations 2004, all horses in the UK must have a Horse Passport that details owners, injuries and specific medications and vaccinations. This information is collected on the National Equine Database (www.nedonline.co.uk).
There are numerous and strict regulations surrounding the sale of horse meat for human consumption with regards to equine drugs and the length of time elapsed between medication and the consumption of horse flesh. Some medication will render the meat unfit for human consumption. The minimum delay is usually 28 days.
The slaughter of horses is governed by The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (WASK).
The term ‘slaughter’ refers to an animal being first stunned and then killed by slitting his or her throat.
The term ‘killing’ refers to an animal being killed outright without being stunned first.
Horses sent to the slaughterhouse are usually killed outright by a ‘free bullet’ fired from a .22 rifle into the brain.
The regulations specify that once the animals are dead (either through slaughter or killing), they should be ‘bled or pithed without delay’, although no specific timings are set out.
Overseeing the operation are Official Veterinarians (OVs), employed by the Meat Hygiene Service. Their job is to ‘ensure compliance by Food Business Operators (FBOs) with meat hygiene, animal welfare and other statutory rules’. (http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/welfare/farmed/slaughter.htm)
Sick Animals Awaiting Slaughter:
According to WASK, sick or disabled animals arriving at the slaughter yard should be kept separate from other animals.
An animal who is unable to walk when he or she is brought to the slaughter yard should not be ‘dragged to its place of slaughter or killing but (a) … slaughtered where it lies; or (b) if it is possible and to do so would not cause any unnecessary pain or suffering, … transported on a trolley or moveable platform to a place of emergency slaughter or killing where it is then slaughtered or killed.’ (WASK Schedule 3, Part II, 5)
Animals who have experienced pain or suffering during transport or following arrival at the slaughterhouse should be ‘slaughtered or killed immediately.’ (WASK, Schedule 3, Part II, 4).
The Food Standards Agency’s Meat Industry Guide (2006) is more emphatic on this point stating: ‘For welfare reasons (e.g. injury or an animal being unable to walk without pain or unassisted), it may become necessary to slaughter an animal immediately on arrival at a slaughterhouse, without unloading it from the means of transport.’
DEFRA’s website also stipulates that, should Official Veterinarians ‘see animals arriving at a slaughterhouse which show evidence of welfare problems arising on farm or during transport, they will report the incident to the appropriate enforcement body which will take the necessary follow-up action’.
Based on the best available evidence, Animal Aid conservatively estimates that around 2,000 race horses, who have not made the grade as racers, are killed in slaughterhouses every year.
Derek Turner of The Red Lion Abattoir told The Observer newspaper on 1 October 2006 that his abattoir kills ‘2,000-3,000’ racehorses a year – although he later revised the figure to 700.
According to the Food Standards Agency, the numbers of horses slaughtered are as follows:
2000: 6,110; 2001: 8,224; 2002: 8,284; 2003: 6,727; 2004: 5,464; 2005: 4,944
The decline in figures is almost certainly due to the introduction of compulsory passports for all horses, which means more forms and regulations when it comes to slaughter. It seems reasonable to assume that many more horses than has been normal are being shot rather than sold to slaughterhouses.
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