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February 21, 2013

Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States Deliver EU Consumers’ Petition to Stop Sale of North American Horsemeat

Humane Society International

  • Most European consumers want a ban on the sale of horsemeat from countries whose food safety regulations do not meet EU standards. istockphoto

BRUSSELS – Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States delivered a petition with more than 9,000 signatures from European Union citizens who are calling on European Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner Tonio Borg to implement a moratorium on the sale of horsemeat that does not meet EU food safety standards.

HSI/EU Director Joanna Swabe, Ph.D., presented the petition during a meeting with members of Borg’s private office regarding concerns about the safety of horsemeat imports from North America.

“Humane Society International has repeatedly raised serious concerns about the safety of horsemeat sourced from North America, particularly with regard to horses of U.S. origin; this is due to the ubiquitous use of veterinary drugs, such as phenylbutazone, which are banned for use in food producing animals and are supposed to be excluded from the EU food chain,” Swabe said. “With consumer confidence at such a low ebb, the European Commission runs the risk of further public outcry should it fail to take action to prevent horsemeat from entering the market that clearly does not meet EU food safety standards.”

A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of HSI in 2012 shows that most European consumers want a ban on the sale of horsemeat from countries whose food safety regulations do not meet EU standards. The majority of people surveyed in Belgium, France and Italy - the biggest EU importers and consumers of horsemeat - support such a ban (84, 73 and 85 percent respectively). [1]

The poll also indicated a lack of consumer awareness about the origins of horsemeat. Most people across the three countries polled mistakenly assumed that horsemeat sold in their country originates either locally or from elsewhere in Europe. Horse slaughter, too, is an inhumane and cruel practice, as horses endure horrific, long-distance transports and grisly deaths at abattoirs.

The horsemeat scandal has left many EU Member States, the European Commission and the food industry reeling. Given the sheer volume of horsemeat sourced from Canada and Mexico (about 20 percent of the EU market), it could just as easily have been meat of North American origin that was implicated in this disgraceful consumer fraud, with the added negative that such meat should never be allowed into the EU in the first place [2].

HSI and The HSUS believe that EU consumers would be outraged to learn that the European Commission has not yet taken adequate action with respect to North American horsemeat, despite the fact that audits by its own Food and Veterinary Office have consistently highlighted that the systems put in place by Canada and Mexico to meet EU import requirements are fundamentally flawed, specifically with respect to meat from horses of U.S. origin. [3] This is because, unlike in the EU, there is no mandatory requirement in the U.S. for horse owners to keep lifetime medical treatment records for their animals and no reliable identification system for horses. [4]

Notes for Editors

1. The Ipsos MORI poll was conducted in Belgium: 23—31 July 2012, 1,000 respondents aged 18+; France: 20—24 July 2012, 1,012 respondents aged 18+ ; and Italy: 24—27 July 2012, 1,000 respondents aged 18+
Results for Italy: 35 percent polled thought most horsemeat sold in Italy originated from Italy; 20 percent from elsewhere in the EU; 10 percent from another European country; 6 percent from outside Europe; 29 percent said don’t know.
Results for France: 25 percent polled thought most horsemeat sold in France originated from France; 32 percent from elsewhere in the EU; 5 percent from another European country; 12 percent from outside Europe; 25 percent said don’t know.
Results for Belgium: 23 percent polled thought most horsemeat sold in Belgium originated from Belgium; 14 percent from elsewhere in the EU; 5 percent from another European country; 15 percent from outside Europe; 43 percent said don’t know.

2.There is strong evidence that horsemeat from Canada and Mexico has been implicated in previous horsemeat frauds in the EU. For example, the Dutch meat trader who has been implicated in the present horsemeat scandal was previously prosecuted for selling horsemeat from both North and South America to French companies in 2007 and 2008 fraudulently labeled as Halal certified beef from cattle slaughtered in the Netherlands. See the Dutch Court verdict:
            http://zoeken.rechtspraak.nl/resultpage.aspx?snelzoeken=true&searchtype=ljn&ljn=BV1265&vrije_tekst=paardenvlees

3. European Commission, Health and Consumers Directorate-General (2012) Final report of an audit carried out in Canada from 13 to 23 September 2011 in order to evaluate the monitoring of residues and contaminants in live animals and animal products, including controls on veterinary medical products DG(SANCO) 2011-8913 - MR FINAL.
European Commission, Health and Consumers Directorate-General (2011) Final report of an audit carried out in Canada from 23 November to 06 December 2010 in order to evaluate the operation of controls over the production of fresh meat, meat products, minced meat, meat preparations and casings for human consumption destined for import to the European Union under the auspices  of the agreement between the European Community and Canada on sanitary measures to protect public health and animal health in respect of trade in live animals and animal products. DG(SANCO) 2010-8522- MR FINAL.
European Commission, Health and Consumers Directorate-General (2011) Final report of a mission carried out in Mexico from 22 November to 03 December 2010 in order to evaluate the operation of controls over the production of fresh horse meat and meat products intended for export to the European Union as well as certification procedures. DG(SANCO) 2010-8524 – MR FINAL.

4. When presenting horses for slaughter across the border in Canada and Mexico, vendors are simply required to sign an affidavit stating that the animal has not been administered veterinary drugs that would exclude it from being slaughtered for human consumption. However, a lack of veterinary medical record-keeping--coupled with the fact that most U.S. horses presented for slaughter will have recently been purchased at auction by ‘kill buyers’ who have no prior knowledge of the animal’s lifetime medical history–means that it is impossible to verify the reliability or veracity of such signed vendor statements. Evidence of widespread fraud with these affidavits and Equine Identification Documents has already been uncovered in Canada [see 5, below].
Each year about 100,000 horses are transported to Canada and Mexico from the United States for slaughter. These animals are often subjected to long-distance transports that severely compromise their welfare. The majority of horses slaughtered in these two North American countries were actually born and raised in the United States.  In turn, the EU is the biggest export market for horsemeat from Canada and Mexico. According to official EU statistics, 14,303,600 kg of horsemeat valued at €43,469,577 was exported from these countries to the EU in 2011 alone [see 6, below].

Additional Notes

5. From Pasture to Plate (2011) Canadian Horse Defence Coalition report
http://canadianhorsedefencecoalition.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/pasture-to-plate.pdf

6. Statistical data on EU27 imports of meat of horses, asses, mules or hinnies, chilled or frozen (020500) from Canada and Mexico extracted from the Eurostat database, EU27 Trade Since 1995 By HS6. Accessed 13th August 2012. A more detailed overview of the extent of the EU horsemeat trade, see:
http://www.hsi.org/assets/pdfs/horses_EU_facts_figures_EU_horsemeat_trade.pdf

ENDS

Media contacts:

Wendy Higgins, +44 (0)7989 972 423, whiggins@hsi.org

Rebecca Basu, +1-240-753-4875, rbasu@humanesociety.org

Humane Society International and its partner organisations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organisations. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals through the use of science, advocacy, education and hands-on programmes. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide — on the Web at hsi.org.

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