British horses during transportation to Hungary.
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's TV show that went to air in Britain this week with an item on eating horse meat has been condemned by a leading horse welfare group as promoting an unrealistically rosy picture of the trade.
The International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), branded Gordon Ramsay's F-word programme as irresponsible.
ILPH head of campaigns and European affairs Jo White said: "While the ILPH finds the consumption of horse meat distasteful, we accept that in some cultures it is a meat animal. Our concern is how a horse gets onto the plate.
"Last night's programme was very shallow and did not reflect the reality of the trade.
"We were in discussion with their researchers in advance of the programme but their interest was only in focusing on an idyllic horse farm in France. The reality is that the long distance transport of the living animal for slaughter as opposed to a carcass trade accounts for nearly half of all horse meat, compared to one in five cows, one in six sheep, one in eight chickens and one in ten pigs.
"100,000 horses every year have to endure a journey over a thousand miles and many days from Eastern Europe, where the supply is cheap, to Italy where the demand is great. The programme did not want to know.
"By encouraging people to eat more horse meat, while glossing over the realities of the trade, the Gordon Ramsey programme is actually encouraging an increase in the totally unnecessary and cruel long-distance transport of horses for slaughter, which the ILPH is working hard to eliminate."
ILPH provided 10 facts about the horsemeat trade:
- About 100,000 horses a year are currently being transported long-distances live for slaughter within Europe, which is totally unnecessary and inhumane and should be replaced with a carcass-only trade.
- Journey times are excessively long, with horses travelling thousands of miles for days on end, only to be slaughtered when they arrive at the destination. Journeys in extreme weather conditions of around 1380 miles, taking three days, from Poland to Southern Italy are not uncommon and some are even longer.
- Proportionately, more horses are transported live for slaughter or further fattening than any other meat species, by a very large margin. Research indicates that 46% of the equine trade were transported live for slaughter or further fattening compared to 19.8% of the bovine (cattle) trade, 15.9% of ovine (sheep) trade, 13.3% of poultry trade and 10.3% of pig trade.
- Due to inhumane conditions during transportation, some serious injuries occur and sadly horses still die in transit.
- Demand for horse meat is highest in Italy, with 84% of live horses destined for slaughter entering into and moving across EU Member States travelling to Italy (by comparison 7% go to France and 5% to Belgium).
- The countries supplying the most horse meat are Poland, Romania and Spain, with Lithuania, Belarus and Serbia also being involved in the trade.
- There are currently no EU regulations about the labelling of horse meat as packaging indicates the location of slaughter, not source. Therefore consumers are unaware of the origin of the meat, and are therefore unable to make welfare friendly choices.
- Although the EU Transport Regulation has been updated this year ,the key issue remains, as before, that insufficient resources are allocated to enforcement within the Member States. There is evidence that in some Member States enforcement is extremely poor.
- One of the greatest concerns to the ILPH is inadequate provision of food, water or rest and the fact that there is no overall limit to journey times.
- There is a general decrease in the trade of horses for meat. Since 2001, the number of horses transported live for slaughter in the EU has decreased from 165,000 to around 100,000. Do we want to see these statistics rise again by creating a demand in the UK?
The ILPH has been campaigning on this issue since its launch in 1927. It is campaigning for horses to be slaughtered at source in their country of origin to avoid unnecessary suffering, and for all EU Member States to move to a carcass only trade.
Horses, the body points out, have very specific welfare needs in terms of temperament and behaviour, as well as physiologically, which are very different to other animals transported long-distances for slaughter.
The ILPH is currently gathering evidence to support its view that journey limits must be introduced. It wants partitioning of individual horses, lorries stopping at feed and watering stations, and horses being rested every 24 hours.
"The ILPH believes that the British public will continue to object to the inhumane treatment of horses that are being transported for slaughter as they have done for over 80 years. We will not tolerate the abuses that are taking place in some parts of the EU," Ms White said.