14 Feb


As children, we were told that horses went to the glue factory. Today, foot and mouth disease has sent increasing numbers of them from North to European dinner tables.

Every sheep, pig and cow slaughtered, and every litter unborn, leaves a gap in the European market that is being filled by horsemeat. Some of the horses are racehorses.

In Zurich, Willy Fischbacher runs a butcher’s shop specialising in horsemeat. Since the foot and mouth outbreak, following on from mad cow disease mad cow disease: see prion.

mad cow disease
 or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)

Fatal neurodegenerative disease of cattle. Symptoms include behavioral changes (e.g. , Fischbacher has been doing a roaring business selling horse burgers, horse `dogs’ and horse fillets.

The meat comes from the US and Canada, where horses are routinely slaughtered to meet demand overseas. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

3.  the US Department of Agriculture, an average of 100,000 horses are killed every year, with three-quarters of the meat exported to Belgium and France. North Americans do not eat horsemeat, but North America is the world’s leading supplier of horsemeat for human consumption.

Not all the horses are mustangs, burros or ponies. An unrecorded number are thoroughbreds, called `toppers’ by meat traders, and excellent for hamburgers.

The number of slaughterhouses has fallen in recent years. Today, there are four licensed by the USDA to slaughter horses for human consumption-two in Texas, and one each in Nebraska and Illinois. There are three more in Canada, where about 35 per cent of the horses killed come from the US. 

Five major companies are involved, four of which have Belgian owners. The fifth is Bouvray Exports Calgary Ltd, with strong French connections. According to Claude Bouvray: “Production has stepped up recently to meet European demand. We currently produce about two million 100g servings a week.” Exports this year are expected to break all records.

No-one knows how many of the horses were once racehorses because slaughter records do not differentiate between thoroughbreds and any other type of horse, although racehorses have a Jockey Club number tattooed on their upper lip.

According to Christine Berry, director of Equine Placement Network: “The Jockey Club and State Racing Boards don’t want to keep records like that. Once a horse has broken down, doesn’t race or doesn’t win, most owners don’t want the expense of keeping them. No-one wants to know where these horses go.”

Workers in equine welfare want owners and racing authorities to adopt a more responsible approach, and for “slaughter-for-profit” to be banned, as it has been in California.

Proposition 6 of the 1998 Prohibition of Horse Slaughter and Sale of Horses for Human Consumption Act asserted: “Hundreds of thousands of California horses have been slaughtered for food in order to provide a gourmet meal to foreign markets.” The Act banned the activity in California, and reinforced regulations governing the transport of horses.

“Sending a racehorse racehorse

refers usually to thoroughbred but may also include standardbred, trotter. , after years of service, to a slaughter-for-profit auction is the worst betrayal,” says Berry. Equine welfare activists insist that slaughter is not euthanasia, a perhaps kind final decision, but dismissal to a distant slaughterhouse slaughterhouse: see abattoir; meatpacking.  in dubious conditions, to extract a final few dollars.

No-one knows how many racehorses are killed at slaughterhouses, but some estimates suggest that as many as one in nine of all the horses to have raced in North America have been killed for food, with thoroughbreds second in the list to quarter-horses, and between 20,000 and 40,000 unwanted foals killed each year.

Once a week, at New Holland, on the East Coast, horses are sold for slaughter. They arrive from Kentucky and Florida. According to the auction house, they sell between 500 and 900 racehorses a year, about 25 per cent of which are said to go to slaughter. Welfare workers believe the true figure is higher.

Racehorses have appeared at New Holland with Fasig Tipton and other sales companies’ hip tags still attached. Sometimes meat traders buy horses and then offer them for sale to equine rescue centres.

Six sales companies, including Fasig Tipton, raised the minimum bid from $500 to $1,000 to deter those looking to buy thoroughbreds for slaughter, but the foot and mouth epidemic has pushed up the value of a horse for slaughter to above $1,000.

At some small racetracks, some small trainers trade horses with `kill-buyers’ for cash-a convenient way of ridding an owner of an unwanted asset, in danger of becoming a liability. The slaughter hauliers’ trucks

are licensed and many states have legislated against cruel transport practices, but allegations of poor, overcrowded conditions persist. One haulier has been repeatedly arrested for transporting horses in double-decker trailers, but fines can be as low as $200.

Not far from Churchill Downs, at Shepherdsville, there is another auction house where racehorses are sold, then transported to Beltex slaughterhouse at Fort Worth Texas, and the meat exported.

In 1976, Exceller, owned by Nelson Hunt BunkerNelson Bunker Hunt (born February 22, 1926) is an American oil company executive. He is chairman of Hunt Exploration and Mining Company (HEMCO).

He is the son of Lyda Bunker and H. L. Hunt. , won the Grand Prix de Paris and Prix Royal-Oak; in 1977, the Coronation Cup, Grand Prix de Saint Cloud and Canadian International; in 1978, he beat two Triple Crown winners, Affirmed and Seattle Slew, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup The Jockey Club Gold Cup, established in 1919, is a prestigious thoroughbred flat race open to horses of either gender three-years-old and up. It is typically the main event of the fall meeting at Belmont Park, just as the Belmont Stakes is of the spring meeting and the Travers . Retired to stud in Kentucky, Exceller was subsequently sold to a Swedish owner who went bankrupt, and the horse, too old to race or breed, was killed.

The Exceller Fund, set up to raise awareness about the fate of racehorses, was named after him. There are now many equine retirement homes; Fasig Tipton has set up Blue Horse Charities to raise funds for racehorse retirement and horse care programmes from a 0.25 per cent of sales turnover donation; Paul Mellon bequeathed $5 million to the Thoroughbred Retirement FoundationThe Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) is an American organization founded in 1982, whose mission is stated to be: “To save Thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter. , and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association has a charity subsidiary involved in facilitating racehorse adoptions. But retraining  broken-down racehorses is a difficult task, and rescuers report that there is often little chance of finding the horses homes. Equine rescue groups are overwhelmed by demand.

Welfare workers are critical of the unknown number of breakdowns on US tracks, and the possible link with liberal medication policies. Gary Bisantsz, a member of  NTRA Charities, says: “While medication improves performance, the net result is that many horses’ careers are shortened. Bute allows us to

get one more race out of a horse who probably shouldn’t have run.”

Responsibility lies with

owners, but information directed at new owners makes no mention of responsibility towards a horse upon retirement, even if that merely means euthanasia rather than sale for slaughter.

Welfare charities want to see more horses retired before they break down and want owners to be encouraged to consider euthanasia, and to contribute to a horse retirement fund.

Kathy Doyle, founder of California Equine Protection, says: “We are concerned with the number of breakdowns at the tracks. We are concerned with responsibility for a racehorse after it stops making money. We are not promoting killing your horse, but if the choice is a slaughter auction, and if you love horses, euthanise them in a kind way.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: