A snapshot of horses sold at auction in Britain reveals that buyers sourcing animals for abattoirs tend to opt for larger horses, especially thoroughbreds and other riding horses.
Buyers seeking horses on behalf of abattoirs went for thoroughbreds and riding horses for maximum meat yield, the researchers found.
They study found that animals destined for the meat trade were around 2.5 times as likely to be larger – taller than 15 hands – than those bought by other buyers.
Horse-meat buyers avoided ponies and cross breeds, opting in 43 percent of cases for thoroughbreds and riding horses, according to the findings, published the journal, Veterinary Record.
The researchers, from the Royal Veterinary College, looked at the animals put up for sale at seven randomly selected auction markets in Britain in August and September 2011, and the type preferred by dealers buying on behalf of abattoirs.
The auctions were in North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Wales (Powys), Berkshire and Cheshire, and traded equines only, but of all types, breed and age.
The study was prompted by public concerns about the possible dispatch to slaughter of pet horses and donkeys and unwanted thoroughbred racehorses.
The authors examined 384 animals, which included a broad range of cross breeds, thoroughbreds, and ponies, and found out the destination of the 294 that were sold. Ninety were either withdrawn from sale or did not reach their reserve price.
Sixty-eight were bought on behalf of the three main horse abattoirs operating in Britain in 2011, while 226 were bought by other types of buyer.
Almost half of the horses and ponies put up for sale were geldings (42 percent), followed by mares (30 percent), fillies (16 percent), colts (10 percent), and stallions (2 percent). Height varied from 9 to 17 hands, while age ranged from under 12 months to 21 years.
The price per hand for meat-trade animals varied from £1.31 to £57.79.
Dealers buying on behalf of abattoirs were twice as likely to purchase animals that had some physical abnormality, including flesh wounds, burn injuries, bruises, swellings, bleeding, discharge, hair loss, or deformity, as those buying for other outlets (26 percent compared with 13 percent).
Sixteen percent of the animals destined for an abattoir were lame, the researchers found.
“Equine buyers supplying horse abattoirs in Great Britain had a preference for purchasing larger animals and they avoided buying ponies,” the authors concluded.
“This is thought to reflect a preference for animals which provide a maximum meat yield from the carcase to cover the cost of transport, slaughter, and dressing.”
They add: “A relatively small proportion of unwanted ponies and small horses were destined for the meat trade.
“In general, the findings from this study did not support the view that the abattoir industry focused on profiting from the slaughter of pet ponies.”
Y. Bell, T.J. Gibson, N. G. Gregory
Procurement of equines for the horsemeat trade in Great Britain
Veterinary Record doi:10.1136/vr.101636