By Wayne Pacelle, HSUS
The horse slaughter industry has been dealt the biggest blow since The HSUS led the fight in Congress, the states, and federal courts to shut down the three operating horse slaughter plants in the United States in 2007. Today’s game-changing news: the European Commission has suspended the import of horsemeat from Mexico to the European Union (EU) due to food safety concerns.
Mexico not only kills thousands of its horses for export to the EU, but accepts tens of thousands of American horses for slaughter and shipment to Europe. This announcement could prove to be an earthquake for the North American horse slaughter industry, since Belgium, France, Italy, and other EU nations are major consumers.
HSI EU executive director Jo Swabe and I have personally appealed to senior EU regulatory leaders multiple times on this issue. I have long wondered how the Europeans could tolerate the rampant abuse and drugging of horses endemic to the North American trade, given their rigorous adherence to humane food safety standards for other species. The regulatory correction to the situation in Mexico has now finally occurred.
The suspension follows a series of audits by the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) – the most recent one was published last week. The audit is a shocking account of significant animal welfare concerns that riddle the entire horse slaughter pipeline, from the United States to Mexico. The audit also details serious concerns about the traceability of horses slaughtered in EU-certified equine slaughterhouses in Mexico; 87 percent of these animals originate from the United States.
The Commission’s decision reflects exactly what The HSUS and HSI have been saying for years – there are serious food safety issues regarding horsemeat that originates from U.S. horses because they are not raised as food animals. Horses are our companions and partners in work and sport. As a result, horses are commonly treated with drugs such as phenylbutazone and other substances long deemed unfit for human consumption. And, as the audit shows, American horses lack lifetime medical records and do not meet EU food safety regulations.
While the audit focused on food safety, it also documented appalling suffering in the United States and Mexico. It details downed, sick horses slaughtered for human consumption despite being ill, horses suffering in export facilities on U.S. soil, and horrific welfare problems during transport. The audit confirms the cruelty of the horse slaughter pipeline that The HSUS has repeatedly exposed through undercover footage. The FVO even acknowledges that the information received from groups such as The HSUS and HSI accurately depicts the extremely poor conditions in which horses are transported. Special thanks to Animals Angels for its tireless work to document this trade.
The predatory horse slaughter industry is singularly concerned with making a buck, by snatching up young and healthy horses at auction, often outbidding legitimate horse owners and rescues. For these interests, it’s never been about euthanizing old, sick horses – that’s been a fiction since the start of this debate. This lust for profit is precisely why the industry and its legions of lobbyists have fought so hard to block federal legislation that would end horse slaughter.
We’ve long argued that Congress should enact the SAFE Act (Safeguard American Food Exports Act), to halt the transport of horses for slaughter within the United States and also to our North American neighbors. With Congress last year defunding slaughter in the United States, and the EU’s action to shut down imports from Mexico, there really is no rationale for not banning this trade.
The people of the United States do not see horses as a source of food, and despite all the scrutiny and pressure coming to bear on the horse slaughter industry, it has shown itself to be consistently reckless, unsafe, and inhumane. There’s no redeeming it, and the details documented in the European Commission announcement make that plain.