Author highlights horse and human welfare issues behind horsemeat scandal

Not all horses are as well cared for as Carolyn Henderson's cob Podge
Not all horses are as well cared for as Carolyn Henderson's cob Podge

Equestrian author and journalist Carolyn Henderson, from West Row, raises her concern that the welfare of both animals and people is being overlooked in coverage of the horsemeat in beef products scandal. Carolyn is the author of 35 books on equestrian subjects.

She writes:

The real scandal about the horse meat scandal isn’t that you might have inadvertently eaten a fluffy pony for dinner.

Nor is it the fact that so many people – from shoppers who thought they were buying beef and pork products to the suppliers who thought they were making them – have been conned.

The real horror, if you’re a horse lover in the non-culinary sense, is that of the suffering and disease which lie behind the European horse meat trade. That wonderful charity World Horse Welfare, whose headquarters is based in Norfolk, has hit the nail on the head.

Its chief executive, Roly Owers, says: “Where there is horse meat, you can bet there is horse suffering and not just at the time of slaughter. The whole European trade is mired in inadequate laws, needless suffering and the elephant in the room is the spread of infectious equine disease.”

This is no hysterical scaremongering. WHW points out that it does not oppose humane slaughter and believes that the eating of humanely produced horsemeat is a matter of personal choice. Its campaigning focuses on the needless long distance transportation of 65,000 horses per year across Europe, in terrible conditions, to slaughter.

The charity knows from experience that meat originating in Romania or Poland could have come from horses bred for slaughter and fattened to obesity. Equally, it could have come from horses outside the country who had been travelled thousands of miles in appalling conditions, suffering injury, dehydration and disease.

“Whilst there isn’t yet a proven link between the continental horse slaughter trade and Britain’s first case of Equine Infectious Anaemia for 30 years, in 2010, the spread of disease in Europe is a real issue for horse welfare and an issue for Britain,” he says.

EIA is a notifiable disease already found in Europe. If your horse contracts it, he will have to be put down. No option. And don’t forget diseases such as African Horse Sickness, which as WHW points out, spread in the same way; if these become established in Europe, imagine the horrific repercussions in terms of health, welfare and finance.

WHW is fighting for better conditions for slaughter horses, including a maximum journey limit of 9-12 hours. This recommendation is based not only on scientific evidence which shows that horses suffer on longer journeys, it’s recommended by the European Commission’s own scientific advisors, the European Food Safety Authority.

The Food Standards Agency has ordered all British food businesses to test products for possible contamination by Phenylbutazone (bute). This was once given to people, but banned because of a link with aplastic anaemia.

Animals treated with bute are not allowed to enter the food chain because of this risk. The FSA hasn’t identified what constitutes a safe level of bute residue but claims that the risk is low.

Can we afford to take risks? No. Can we allow the horrible conditions endured by slaughter horses to continue? No.

If you’re not already a supporter of WHW’s work, please become one. Or at least, donate the price of a burger or a lasagne to help fund the campaign for justice for slaughter horses.