Most European consumers want a ban on imports of horse meat from countries where food safety regulations do not meet European Union standards, a survey reveals.
The majority of people surveyed in Belgium, France and Italy – the biggest European Union importers and consumers of horse meat – support such a ban (84, 73 and 85 per cent respectively).
The poll, conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Humane Society International, also indicates a lack of consumer awareness about the origins of horse meat.
Most people across the three countries polled mistakenly assumed that horse meat sold in their country originated either locally or from elsewhere in Europe.
In fact, Europe imports a significant proportion of horse meat from abroad, with 27,847,700 kilograms of horse meat imported from third countries in 2011 alone.
Vast quantities of horse meat come from non-European countries, including Canada and Mexico, where most of the horses come from the United States.
In the US, horses are not raised for human consumption and are routinely given drugs and medications not intended for the food supply.
Most poll respondents said they never or only sometimes ate horsemeat, whilst only a very small percentage of those asked said they ate it frequently (3 per cent of Italians, 4 per cent of French and 6 per cent of Belgians.)
“Killing horses for meat raises serious ethical questions wherever it happens in the world,” said Humane Society International’s European director, Joanna Swabe.
“These sensitive animals can endure extreme distress and suffering during transport and slaughter, and Humane Society International is campaigning for a worldwide end to the trade.
“Horse meat imported to Europe from third countries may also pose a risk to human health.
“Without assurances that third parties have implemented food safety systems that are equivalent to those provided for by EU legislation when processing horse meat originating from the US, HSI is urging the European Commission to protect EU consumer health by banning the import and sale of meat from these horses.”
A 2010 EU regulation requires that only meat from horses with a known medicinal treatment history can be exported to the EU. However, there is mounting evidence that measures in Canada and Mexico are so flawed that they will continue to fail to meet EU standards.
The EU lies at the heart of the global horse meat trade. Each year, hundreds of thousands of kilograms of horse meat are produced domestically within the EU, or shipped to EU Member States from countries such as Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay.
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