The European Commission Has Failed to Stem That Tide of Horse Meat Imports.

The European Commission Has Failed to Stem The Tide of Horse Meat Imports.


Swabe is the European Union Director for Humane Society International. This piece is adapted from the article Scant Progress Made in EU Hors emeat Regulation on Horsetalk. Swabe contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

The horse meat scandal, it seems, is far from over. One only needs to look at the recent case revealing Latvian horse meat in frozen meat-pies sold in the United Kingdom (UK) to see that horse meat fraud is widespread.

Even in the legal horse meat trade, things are not completely transparent. It has been three years since the European Union (EU) introduced strict new requirements for the import of horse meat from non-EU countries, yet meat from horses that should never have been slaughtered for export continues to arrive on the EU market. The European Commission has failed to stem that tide of horse meat imports.

The question is, when can we expect the commission to act?

Officials have yet to explicitly link imports from non-EU countries and the horse meat implicated in the recent UK fraud. However, for those of us working to protect horses, the discoveries of illicit horse meat in beef burgers, lasagne and pies provides a missing puzzle piece: could this be where so much of the horse meat imported into the EU is going?

Food suppliers already lawfully and routinely process horse meat into cheap convenience foods in some parts of Europe without many consumers realizing it (unless they read the small print). It is easy to see how unscrupulous operators have been able to launder horse meat into the food chain by passing it off as beef. The rise of processed meat products explains, in part, the apparent surfeit of horse meat in Europe, because most consumers are not clamoring to eat it.

Indeed, the European horse meat industry has been in steady decline since the 1960s as both culinary tastes and cultural attitudes have gradually changed. Even in France and Italy, traditional heartlands of horse slaughter and consumption, the number of horses killed has waned significantly. Statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization show that in 1961, 333,000 horses were slaughtered in France and 283,000 horses were slaughtered in Italy. By 2011, the numbers had dropped to 15,500 and 62,237, respectively.

Evidently, only a minority of French and Italian consumers are actually going out of their way to regularly consume horse flesh. A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI for Humane Society International in 2012 found that only 50 percent of respondents in France and 58 percent in Italy believed that it was acceptable to eat horses. Moreover, most respondents said they never or only sometimes eat horse meat, whilst a mere 3 percent of Italians and 4 percent of French claimed to eat it frequently.
The fact is, Europe's declining horse meat industry is supplemented by significant global imports. EU import statistics show large quantities of horse meat annually being imported from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and Uruguay.

Even when horse meat appears on the label of processed meat products with no question of food fraud, without mandatory origin labeling, EU consumers still have no idea where that meat came from. Why does that matter? Because imported horse flesh that fails to meet EU food safety standards poses a potentially serious health hazard.

The end of July marked three years since the EU introduced stricter import requirements. Only imports of horse meat from horses with a known lifetime medical-treatment history, and whose records showed they satisfied veterinary medicine withdrawal periods, are supposed to be allowed in to the EU. Yet, measures taken by export countries to preclude veterinary drug residues from entering the food chain are not fit for purpose.

Approximately 20 percent of horse meat consumed in the EU comes from Canada and Mexico, but the majority of that meat actually derives from U.S. horses — which are not raised for slaughter, but instead vendors acquired the horses from random sources. This is worrying because, in the United States, the use of veterinary drugs such as phenylbutazone — a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory prohibited in the EU for use in food-producing animals — is widespread, and there is no mandatory, lifetime, veterinary medical record-keeping.

Canada's and Mexico's lack of compliance has been exposed multiple times by non-governmental organizations, journalists and the European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO), including the problem of so-called "kill buyers," who purchase U.S. horses at auction and ship them long distances over the border to be killed for food. Since 2010, FVO audits have found that Canada and Mexico have failed to ensure that all horse meat meets EU requirements.

In the aftermath of one of Europe's biggest-ever food scandals, the European Commission has consistently failed to act to stop imports of horse meat from third-party countries that do not meet EU food-safety requirements. With consumer confidence at an all time low — exemplified by this recent survey from Ireland — it is the Commission's duty to ensure that meat not considered fit for human consumption by EU standards no longer ends up on EU consumers' plates.
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The Fuzzy Math Being Used to Justify Horse Slaughter in the United States

The Fuzzy Math Being Used to Justify Horse Slaughter in the United States

The Fuzzy Math Being Used to Justify Horse Slaughter in the United States

Did closing slaughterhouses really lead to an increase in animal abuse?

The animal entry of a slaughterhouse. (PHOTO: GOEKCE NARTTEK/SHUTTERSTOCK)

The vast majority of Americans—over 80 percent—oppose the idea of slaughtering horses in the United States. Not surprisingly, there was minimal public opposition when, in 2007, Congress, citing rampant welfare abuse and safety violations, cut off funding for the USDA inspection of U.S. horse slaughterhouses. This decision effectively ended the business of slaughtering horses domestically.
In November 2011, however, an agriculture appropriations bill signed by Congress reinstated funding for inspection. The legislative path for states to reopen horse slaughterhouses is now clear. Today, with the domestic cattle market in a drought-induced tailspin, New Mexico, Missouri, Wyoming, Tennessee, Iowa, and Oklahoma are on the verge of sending horses it once sent to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses into the clutches of domestic abattoirs. Other states, seeking a way to capitalize on horses that have lost their value or can be bought cheaply at meat prices, are eager to follow. A New Mexico meat processing plant has even made arrangements with the Navajo Nation to corral wild horses in anticipation of the impending slaughter fest. All that’s holding this off for right now is a lawsuit from the Humane Society of the United States.

They’re bucking horses that won’t buck and racehorses that won’t win and quarter horses that nobody is buying from breeders because hay prices are too high.

The pivotal piece of evidence that convinced Congress to change its mind on the matter of domestic horse slaughter was a GAO analysis published in June 2011 (PDF). Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Representative Jack Kingston (R-Georgia) commissioned it. Titled, “Actions Needed to Address Unintended Consequences From Cessation of Domestic Slaughter,” the report found “a rise in investigations for horse neglect and more abandoned horses since 2007”—the year the plants were closed. The “unintended consequence” of closing horse slaughterhouses, the report explained, was an increase in the abuse of horses. Reinstating domestic slaughterhouses, it suggested, would diminish this rising problem of neglect among owners who neither wanted to keep their horses nor were willing to send them abroad for slaughter. This argument was one that the slaughter lobby has been making since slaughterhouse closings in 2007. Pro-slaughter advocates were more than pleased to hear the news.

Something about this report, however, seemed suspicious before it was even published. Charlie Stenholm, former Texas Congressman and now policy advisor to the D.C.-based law firm Olsson, Frank, and Weeda (which specializes in helping agribusiness negotiate federal red tape and recently hired an attorney who specializes in agricultural deals with Native Americans), told a conference of pro-slaughter interests in Las Vegas that the GAO report—which would not come out for another six months—contained very good news.

When the report officially dropped in June 2011, Stenholm was proven correct. The Senate quickly wrote an appropriations bill removing the provision that defunded inspection. Because the House had an amendment preserving the language, the bill went to committee, where the vote was three to one in favor of restoring funding for domestic horse slaughterhouses. Those three votes came, alas, from Senators Kohl and Blunt and Representative Kingston.

All very fishy. But what really stinks about the GAO report is the math. Because national data is not available on reported horse abuse, the GAO went to six states and found—in the only case of hard numbers that it provides in the entire report—that “Colorado data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse increased more than 60 percent from 975 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009.” Sounds pretty dramatic—until you recall that the slaughter ban passed in 2007. Not 2005.

As it turns out, horse abuse in Colorado did rise rapidly from 2005 through the end of 2007 (before the ban). But, starting in 2008, it declined precipitously through 2010 (a year for which numbers are available but the GAO tellingly admitted). The report thus made it seem as if abuse spiked after the closing of slaughterhouses. In fact, it continued for less than a year after the ban was instated and then declined rapidly.


Figure 1: Colorado Department of Agriculture data

It is further worth noting that the GAO had access to similar figures on horse abuse investigations from five other states—Illinois, Idaho, Georgia, Maine, and Oregon. The GAO’s decision not to include this information makes little sense unless it was deliberately trying to skew the picture of horse abuse in favor of pro-slaughter interests. To wit: Four states for which there are data show a dramatic decline in horse abuse after 2007 while one—Idaho—shows no movement one way or the other. Ignoring these figures, the GAO decided instead to focus on Colorado, evidently hoping nobody would notice its creative presentation of the numbers.


Figure 2: Data from the agriculture departments of six states

Despite the report’s suggestion that the need for local slaughterhouses is an urgent matter, the GAO fails to note something quite extraordinary about the situation: Only about one percent of existing domestic horses are slaughtered every year. Ninety-two percent of that one percent, according to Temple Grandin, are healthy and devoid of behavioral problems. They’re bucking horses that won’t buck and racehorses that won’t win and quarter horses that nobody is buying from breeders because hay prices are too high. The only thing that’s urgent in this entire scenario is the desire to profit from sending these healthy horses to slaughter.

Horse abuse and neglect is a small problem that got smaller with the closure of slaughterhouses. The GAO—and the slaughter lobby it seems to represent—falsely presents it as a large problem getting larger. It wants us to envision a situation in which a recession and drought are overwhelming horse owners to the point that they’re neglecting sick and ailing horses en masse. Give them easy access to a domestic slaughterhouse, so goes the argument, and abuse will decline.

In fact, it is the exact opposite that’s true. Abuse went down after slaughterhouses were closed. All that domestic slaughterhouses would provide is an easy and profitable excuse to send many more healthy horses to a premature death for meat that we don’t even eat in this country. It’s all very sad logic upon which to rebuild an industry.

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BREAKING! New Mexico Court Grants Temporary Restraining Order Against Opening Proposed Horse Slaughter Plants!

Great news!

Judge Blocks Planned Horse Slaughter At Two Plants

 — A federal judge on Friday temporarily halted plans by companies in New Mexico and Iowa to start slaughtering horses next week.
U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo issued a restraining order in a lawsuit brought by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups.
I deliberately did not post the rest of the article because it's rife with the usual disinformation about "thousands of abused and unwanted horses across this country," and other ridiculous pro-slaughter propaganda like that.
Here is the link if you want to go comment. The only accurate thing about this story is the temporary restraining order!
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BREAKING! EWA & ALC Issue Press Release With Proof That GAO Report On Horse Welfare After Closing of Domestic Slaughter Plants FRAUDULENT BREAKING1

2013.07.30 Press Release: Evidence to Prove GAO report FRAUDULENT

    July 31, 2013    



    John Holland, President, Equine Welfare Alliance



    Laura Allen, Executive Director, Animal Law Coalition



    EWA and ALC produce evidence showing GAO Horse Welfare report was fraudulent    

    EWA (Chicago) - The Equine Welfare Alliance (EWA) and the Animal Law Coalition (ALC) announced today that they have irrefutable evidence showing that the Government Accountability Office fraudulently misrepresented horse abuse and neglect data in their report GAO 11-228.    

    The GAO report blamed falling horse prices and increased abuse and neglect on the closing of the domestic slaughter plants in 2007. Shortly after GAO issued the report, a conference committee reinstated funding for horse slaughter inspections, opening the way for slaughter to return to the US. Widely quoted in the media, the report is also provided as evidence in the lawsuit filed by Valley Meats against the USDA.    

    The EWA and ALC have provided both a video and a white paper showing how the fraud was committed. The ten minute video, How the GAO deceived Congress about horse slaughter was released on YouTube, and shows step by step how the GAO hid information in its possession showing abuse and neglect was in decline and misrepresented the data as showing it was increasing.    

    The fraud was discovered by the EWA while collecting data for equine abuse and neglect rates across the country. "We were looking for the correlation between various factors such as unemployment, slaughter and hay prices on a state by state basis," explained EWA's John Holland, "and when we looked at the Colorado data, we were reminded of its mention in the GAO report."    

    The GAO claimed in the report to have contacted state veterinarians across the country and to have been told that abuse and neglect was increasing everywhere in the wake of the closing of the US plants in 2007. These were the same officials EWA contacted looking for states that kept records.    

    The EWA found data from six states; Oregon, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Georgia and Colorado. The records showed that abuse and neglect had been in decline between 2008 and 2010 (the last year of the GAO study), and that the GAO had used the wrong dates on the Colorado data to make it appear abuse had increased 60%.    

    "We had accepted that abuse was probably increasing as the result of the bad economy," says Holland, "so imagine our surprise when we found it had been decreasing." The EWA study finally showed the reason: drought. Drought and the subsequent increases in hay prices correlated tightly with the abuse and neglect numbers, and outweighed the influence of the recession and other factors.    

    "Not only did the GAO misrepresent the data, they completely missed the importance of hay prices and availability." said Holland. The EWA filed a FOIA request for the data used by the GAO and the request was denied. The EWA also filed an IG complaint, and finally had a conference call with the GAO to request the report be withdrawn. The GAO refused any response except to say that their reports were flawlessly cross checked.    

    Victoria McCullough, owner of Chesapeake Petroleum and internationally known equestrian, said "Acceptance of lower standards results in failed policies and most significantly failures of public interest. Special Interest encroachment within Washington must not be allowed to erode public trust."    

    - # -

White Paper: http://www.equinewelfarealliance.org/uploads/How_the_GAO_Deceived_Congress-final.pdf

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"From my earliest memories, I have loved horses with a longing beyond words." ~ Robert Vavra