The last few weeks saw news headlines in the UK dominated by revelations of horse meat in our frozen burgers, bolognese and lasagne. The meat – falsely marketed as beef – was sold in the nation’s supermarkets and served in restaurants, hospitals and schools.
For the most part, the story has now been replaced with other news, except for the odd line about a few more withdrawn products, and the supermarkets’ attempts to woo back shoppers who’ve moved their custom to local butcheries.
But to me, far more shocking than the prospect of horse meat in our ready-meals, was the deafening silence about the welfare of the animals involved. In all of the newspaper reports, radio debates and online forums I did not hear or see commentators mention this.
Shocking treatment of abattoir horses
Only four weeks previously there had been a report in the press about the appalling treatment of horses at a British horse abattoir.
According to Sky News, animal welfare group Hillside Animal Sanctuary had secretly filmed horses at this abattoir being “beaten with an iron rod, crammed into the slaughter pens”, stunned together and shot on top of one another. Sick or injured horses had been “left untended overnight rather than put down immediately,” and footage showed a horse appearing to come round from the stun while being hung upside down before being bled.
Hillside staff observed that it was not just the ill and old being slaughtered. There were also fit and healthy horses, horses with foals, pregnant mares and thoroughbreds, all being badly treated. “It blows away the myth of humane slaughter. There is a misery in that place that’s palpable,” described one. “All the horses in there had their heads hung down,” added another.
The report also indicated that the number of UK horses slaughtered every year (former pets, show jumpers and race horses) had more than doubled between 2007 and 2012.
The result of the exposé? Two slaughter-men employed by the abattoir had their licences revoked.
And what of the horses destined for food markets?
The owners of the abattoir said their horses were destined for Europe, not for British supermarkets. But if this occurred in a UK slaughterhouse, there can be no doubt similar conditions exist in parts of Europe, the origin of the horse meat found here.
After putting together this post earlier in the week, it was a relief to finally read on Friday of someone else who seemed to share my concerns about the welfare of the horses involved.
A reader of The Good Life Letter commented: “[These horses] would be the cast-offs from all over Europe…. The stud farms of Poland, Germany and other countries breed vast amounts of horses every year but only a few are good enough to be of any use… the rest are sold off for meat. That’s OK. Except that they are not cared for as animals used for meat should be. They are poorly fed, crammed into large lorries without proper food or water and transported many hundreds of miles across Europe to countries… where they are badly slaughtered and then… [enter] the food chain.”
This is the real stomach-churning scenario. Let’s pray the British and European authorities investigating those responsible for the fraud will tighten (and strictly enforce) the regulations needed to protect the welfare of those animals giving their lives to fill our bellies.