Humane society officials are pressing the European Union to place a moratorium on horse meat from North America, arguing it does not comply with EU safety regulations.
The push by the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International comes as at least 13 European nations work to unravel a horse-meat contamination scandal which has rocked consumer confidence.
The groups argued it was time for the European Commission to take swift and decisive action on the issue.
“The European Commission must act quickly and place a moratorium on the sale of all horse meat products that originate from North America and other countries that do not meet the EU’s food safety regulations,” the groups said in a statement.
“Additionally, horse slaughter is an inhumane and cruel practice, as horses endure horrific, long-distance transports.”
The two groups first called on the commission in early 2012 to investigate concerns that horse meat originating from performance and racehorses, particularly from the United States, cannot be regulated into compliance with strict EU standards.
In February and May of 2012, the organizations sent letters warning the commission of a potential threat to food safety. The letters, containing detailed information, were ignored, the groups said.
The groups raised concerns that the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office audit report carried out in November 2011 concluded that traceability and treatment records of horses transported to slaughter from US origins weare “insufficient” to meet the EU’s requirements for ensuring food safety.
“There can be no doubt that substantial numbers of the more than 100,000 American horses slaughtered each year in North America, and sold to Europe, have been administered veterinary drugs, at odds with the lifetime ban on these substances for food animals,” they asserted.
The senior vice president for equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States, Holly Hazard, said: “There is virtually no horse racing around an American track or on exhibition in the show ring who has escaped a prescription for pain-masking drugs clearly prohibited for use in food animals under EU regulations.
“In addition, there is no way to track illegal substances such as dermorphin (tree frog juice) routinely used by unscrupulous horse trainers to enhance performance because laboratories wouldn’t even know to test for these drugs.
“Sport, working, companion and performance horses do not belong in the food supply as the meat simply cannot be guaranteed safe.”
It was unacceptable and irresponsible that the commission had yet to take adequate action with respect to North American horse meat imports, they said, when audits carried out by its own Food and Veterinary Office consistently highlighted that the systems put in place by Canada and Mexico were fundamentally flawed.
“This is due to the fact that, unlike in the EU, there is no mandatory requirement in the US for horse owners to keep lifetime medical treatment records for their animals.
“While an audit system may be a deterrent for unscrupulous dealers trying to outwit the food supply system, it will have no impact on tainted horse meat originating from North America because the animals are not intended for food, often have between five and six owners before being sold for slaughter, and have no documentation of medical care.
“The only way to ensure a safe and compliant food chain is to mandate that only animals raised for food be allowed to enter the food chain.”