Horse meat from animals exported from North America could potentially pose a risk to human health, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
In a recent blog post, HSUS’ chief executive officer Wayne Pacelle stated that because the majority of horses in America are not farmed for human consumption, they do not have, or need, lifetime medical records. He added: “American horses – whether companion animals, show horses, pleasure horses or race horses – receive a myriad of veterinary drugs throughout their lifetimes.”
Since most of the drugs are performance-enhancing, Pacelle explained, they are not intended for use on horses destined for the human food chain. Alongside performance-enhancing drugs, Pacelle said horses in the US also receive common veterinary drugs, including the anti-inflammatory drug bute, which is so dangerous that there is no acceptable withdrawal period, and meat from the horse should never be consumed by humans.
Pacelle used a recent HSI report to back up his argument. The report showed consumer beliefs from European countries that import large amounts of horse meat. According to the report, entitled ‘An investigation into the availability of horse meat in Belgium, France and the Netherlands’, the majority of European consumers wanted horse meat imports from countries that do not meet European Union safety standards to be banned.
Consumers were surveyed from Belgium, France and Italy and, of those, 84%, 73% and 85% respectively supported a ban on imports of horse meat from countries such as the US, Mexico and Canada.
The report also highlighted that, across the three countries surveyed, there was a lack of consumer awareness and most people asked thought the horse meat they consumed originated from their country or another EU country. Contrary to the belief that its horse meat was home-grown, Europe actually imports a large proportion of its horse meat from outside the EU and 27,847,700kg of its horse meat was imported from third countries in 2011.
HSI Europe director Dr Joanna Swabe said: “Without assurances that third parties have implemented food safety systems equivalent to those provided for by EU legislation when processing horse meat originating from the US, HSI is urging the European Commission to protect EU consumer health by banning the import and sale of meat from these horses.”
In April this year a New Mexico rancher was granted permission to open the country’s first horse abattoir since a ban was lifted. The lifting of the ban caused HSUS outrage and said it “runs counter to American values”.
The US once had three horse-dedicated abattoirs, but they were all closed in 2007. Since the lifting of the ban in 2011, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) denied several horse slaughterhouse applications, as applicants wanted to process other animals alongside the horses. The Food Safety and Inspection Service does not allow the slaughter or preparation of horse meat products in the same area in which cattle, sheep, goats and pigs are slaughtered and prepared.