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December 6, 2012

HSI: Horsemeat Isn’t Just a Cruel Trade; It Could Be Bad For Your Health

HSI Poll Shows Consumers in Three EU Countries Support Ban on Horsemeat Imports 

Humane Society International/Europe

  • The EU lies at the heart of the global horsemeat trade. Jennifer Kunz/HSUS

BELGIUM, Brussels—A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Humane Society International shows that most European consumers want a ban on imports of horsemeat from countries whose food safety regulations do not meet European Union 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).

The poll also indicates 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. In fact, Europe imports a significant proportion of horsemeat sold here from abroad, importing 27,847,700 kg of horsemeat from third countries in 2011 alone. Vast quantities of horsemeat come from non-European countries, including Canada and Mexico, where most of the horses come from the United States. In the US, horses are not raised for human consumption and are therefore commonly given drugs and medications not intended for the food supply.

Most poll respondents said they never or only sometimes eat horsemeat, whilst only a very small percentage of those asked said they eat it frequently (3 percent of Italians, 4 percent of French and 6 percent of Belgians.)

“Killing horses for meat raises serious ethical questions wherever it happens in the world,” said Joanna Swabe Ph.D., HSI Europe’s director. “These sensitive animals can endure extreme distress and suffering during transport and slaughter, and Humane Society International is campaigning for a worldwide end to the trade. Horsemeat imported to Europe from third countries may also pose a risk to human health. Horses in the US are companion, race or work horses routinely given veterinary drugs banned for use in food-producing animals in Europe. Current measures are failing to stop these drugs from entering the food chain. Without assurances that third parties have implemented food safety systems that are 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. ”

A 2010 EU regulation requires that only meat from horses with a known medicinal treatment history can be exported to the EU. However, there is mounting evidence that measures in Canada and Mexico are so flawed that they will continue to fail to meet EU standards.

The EU lies at the heart of the global horsemeat trade. Each year, hundreds of thousands of kilos of horsemeat are produced domestically within the EU, or shipped to EU Member States from countries such as Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay. However, an investigation conducted by HSI reveals that many EU consumers may be completely unaware of the origin of horsemeat or that they are buying horsemeat at all, due to inadequate labelling.

The full report on the investigation showing the availability of horsemeat in Belgium, France and the Netherlands can be downloaded here [PDF].


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


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+
 Italy: 24—27 July 2012, 1,000 respondents aged 18+

Results for Italy: 35 percent 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 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 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.

Results for Italy, France & Belgium respectively:
Have eaten horsemeat at least once: 62 percent; 67 percent; 67 percent
Consume horsemeat often: 3 percent; 4 percent; 6 percent
Consume horsemeat sometimes: 11 percent; 16 percent; 20 percent
Have never and would never eat horsemeat: 34 percent; 28 percent; 28 percent

2. Data on EU27 imports of meat of horses, asses, mules or hinnies, chilled or frozen (020500) from Canada, Mexico, US, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand extracted from Eurostat database , EU27 Trade Since 1995 By HS6. Accessed 13th August 2012.

Humane Society International/Europe and its partner organisations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organisations — backed by 11 million people. 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 hsieurope.org.

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