European authorities have dealt a hefty blow to the North American horse slaughter trade, imposing a ban on the import of horsemeat from Mexico.
The decision follows a series of audits by the European Union’s Food and Veterinary Office.
The most recent audit, published on December 4, found continuing problems around traceability and aired concerns that some shortcomings identified in previous audits had not been rectified.
“It’s a huge moment in our campaign to end the slaughter of American horses throughout North America,” said the president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Wayne Pacelle.
“This predatory industry has once again been exposed for animal abuse and reckless disregard for consumer safety.
“The decision to shut down this hub for the North American slaughter industry should result in tens of thousands of American horses no longer facing the dread and terror of long-distance transport and inhumane slaughter.”
The audit by the Food and Veterinary Offices raised concerns around the traceability of US and Mexican horses.
US horses account for 87 percent of the eligible horses slaughtered in Mexico for export to the European Union.
The audit questioned the reliability and truthfulness of vendor statements about horses’ medical treatment records.
The HSUS noted that American horses were raised for use in show, sport, work, and recreation and were regularly given drugs over the course of their lives that are potentially toxic to humans, the most common of them being the pain reliever Phenylbutazone.
The audit also outlined animal welfare concerns throughout the slaughter pipeline, including injured animals and a lack of adequate care at the export facilities on US soil, horses suffering during transport, and many American horses dying in slaughterhouse pens due to trauma and pneumonia.
The audit reflected many of the key concerns raised by horse advocacy groups, including the HSUS, around trade.
The HSUS believes 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 the country’s North American neighbors.
With Congress last year defunding slaughter in the US, and the EU’s action to shut down imports from Mexico, there is no rationale for not banning this trade, the HSUS says.
Humane Society International/Europe welcomed the decision taken by authorities in Europe, calling the most recent audit a damning indictment of the horse slaughter industry.
HSI’s European Union executive director, Dr Joanna Swabe, said the ban was long overdue.
“For years Humane Society International has repeatedly sounded the alarm about horsemeat entering the food chain that does not fully meet EU safety standards.
“As well as safeguarding EU consumer safety, closing our borders to horsemeat from these countries is important for animal welfare, too. Horse slaughter, regardless of which country it is in, is fraught with inherent cruelty.”
HSI said the European Commission was at last taking rigorous steps to protect EU consumer safety, but it would like to see a moratorium covering Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, where it says similar traceability problems with horsemeat exports persist.
Since July 31, 2010, the EU has required that the only horses allowed to be slaughtered for export within the Union are those with a known lifetime medical treatment history and medicinal treatment records that show they satisfy the veterinary medicine withdrawal periods.
The latest Food and Veterinary Office audit in Mexico concludes that it is not possible to guarantee the reliability of vendor affidavits and traceability for horses of both US and Mexican origin with regard to veterinary medicinal products and residues.
The ban is covered by a transitional period to avoid any disruption trade.
For a transitional period until March 1 next year, EU member states will continue to accept consignments of meat and meat products of horses imported from Mexico and intended for human consumption provided that the importer demonstrates that the products had been certified and dispatched to the Union before January 15.