The road American horsemeat follows to get to our country is still strewn with an enormous amount of abuse, neglect, and fraud. This has been shown by new investigation carried out in Uruguay, Argentina, and Canada by the Tierschutzbund Zurich and Animal Welfare Foundation, both partner organisations of GAIA. “Belgium is the second largest importer of horsemeat from Argentina and Uruguay,” says GAIA Director Ann De Greef. “It is high time that all Belgian supermarkets stopped selling torture meat from Uruguay, Argentina, and Canada. In addition, the EU must ban the import of horsemeat from those countries. Our first study on horse suffering in Latin America dates from 2010. In the meantime, the industry made many promises, but the reality has not improved.”
Thirteen European, North American, and South American animal rights organisations are denouncing the continuing abuses: the horse holding pens, the transport of the horses, the horse auctions, and the slaughterhouses still appear to be cesspools of horse suffering and neglect. Exhausted, sick, injured, and dying horses do not receive any veterinary care. The horses have little or no protection against extreme weather conditions in both Latin America and Canada. In Canada, the horses spend months outdoors in the freezing cold, in temperatures as low as -30°C, without shelter. Foals freeze to death at birth. The origin of the horses is often unknown. That is what it’s like for these horses in Canada. Destination? Europe and Belgium, in particular.
The situation in Latin America is equally dire. Partner organisations Tierschutzbund Zürich and Animal Welfare Foundation filmed the situation in and around the Clay and Sarel slaughterhouses (Uruguay) and Lamar and Land L slaughterhouses (Argentina) between April 2018 and January 2019. Sick horses with open wounds, abscesses, and broken legs do not receive any care, nor are the sick horses relieved of their suffering. They get no water, no food, and are beaten with sticks and abused with electric prods during their hours-long transport. Horses are hunted by dogs. Animals get caught in the barbed wire at the holding pens. “Our investigation also shows that the system of traceability is totally unreliable,” explains De Greef. “The fact that only the last owner – often the one who buys them for the slaughterhouse – has to report where the horse comes from and what medicines it has been given, raises serious questions about food safety. For example, some horses come from rodeos and races and are pumped full of anabolic steroids.”
In January and February 2019, the situation in and around the Bouvry slaughterhouse in Alberta, Canada, was filmed. The horses stand outside in the snow and rain, in temperatures that drop to -30°C. Pregnant mares are not separated from the rest and their foals often die at birth. There aren’t enough dry, clean resting places (if there are even any at all). Horses with bleeding brands, open wounds on their legs, and horses that can no longer get upright, as well as injured and suffering horses are left to their fate. It doesn’t matter if they’re injured or dying; they still don’t get veterinary care. In order to fatten them up quickly, the horses are fed feeds with far too much protein, which makes them susceptible to painful colic.
In 2010, GAIA conducted its first investigation in Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil. The images led many Belgian supermarkets to stop buying horsemeat from those countries. Aldi, Colruyt, Delhaize, and Makro only sell horsemeat from Europe (Colruyt Europe excluding Romania); Lidl doesn’t even sell horsemeat anymore.
In 2015, Europe banned the import of horsemeat from Mexico and Brazil. That same year, ‘Respectful Life’ was born, a joint initiative of the Federation of Belgian Meat (FEBEV) and the Catholic University of Leuven, aimed at improving animal welfare. KU Leuven investigators carry out farm visits (slaughterhouses and holding pens) in Uruguay and Argentina. “But that turns out to been in vain,” says De Greef. “The visits are announced and the slaughterhouses prepare for them each time. For example, the new images show how, as a result of such an inspection, shelter was provided and all sick and injured horses are chased away to other places.”
The latest European Commission inspection report in Uruguay (2018) also points to serious shortcomings “in the slaughterhouses’ stalls”. According to the official report, “the situation in the holding pens visited raises new and serious questions about the welfare of the animals at the time of slaughter”.
Although the inspection team had requested in advance that the holding pens of the slaughterhouses be in operation during the control, they were empty at all three farms. The investigators also identified “a limited number of covered shelters” and a “very limited number of water tanks.”
GAIA calls on consumers to stop buying horsemeat from Uruguay, Argentina, and Canada. “We also urge the European Commission to ban imports from these countries, as was the case with horsemeat from Mexico and Brazil. And last but not least, everyone can visit www.gaia.be to send a protest email to the supermarkets (Carrefour, Match, and Renmans) that still sell horsemeat from those countries.” Albert Heijn informed GAIA today that they were suspending the sale of smoked horsemeat “because the soundness of the ‘respectful life’ label cannot be sufficiently proven at the moment”. The supermarket chain did not sell fresh horsemeat anyway.