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January 17, 2013

Humane Society International: Horsemeat Scandal Raises Ethical Questions about Slaughtering Horses

Humane Society International/Europe

  • In addition to manifold ethical questions, the consumption of horse meat poses a health hazard. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

LONDON – In the wake of recent revelations that quantities of horsemeat have been found in beef burgers for sale in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Humane Society International affirms that there is widespread confusion about the origin of horsemeat in the European food chain as well as an aversion to eating horses, as indicated in a recent survey by Ipsos MORI. HSI also raises concerns about inadequate labelling and potential health risks.

“We don’t yet know how horsemeat came to be in these beef burgers, but consumers have rightly raised questions about how much is really known about the origin of our food,” said Joanna Swabe, Ph.D., European Union director of HSI. “Killing horses for meat raises serious ethical questions and causes extreme disquiet. Horses are sensitive, sentient animals for whom the long-distance transport and slaughter process can be hugely distressing. Research commissioned by Humane Society International shows that many EU citizens would prefer to avoid eating horsemeat altogether and only a very small percentage claim to eat it frequently.”

A retail investigation recently 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.

HSI’s report into the availability of horsemeat in Belgium, France and the Netherlands found horsemeat products to be widely available to consumers in these countries in a variety of forms: fresh chilled products, processed horsemeat products, such as sliced smoked meats, salami and sausages. Horsemeat was also found as a ‘hidden ingredient’ in cheap convenience meat snack products, particularly in Belgium and the Netherlands. The study observes that it is likely that consumers may be completely unaware that these products contain horsemeat.

The retail investigation found that only fresh, chilled cuts of horsemeat were labelled with reliable country of origin information. In contrast, the study concluded that it is impossible for consumers to ascertain where the meat used in processed horsemeat products originally comes from because the product markings, if present, refer to where the product has been manufactured and packaged, rather than to where the animals from which it derives have been raised and slaughtered.

The horsemeat trade in Europe results in around 200,000 horses being killed for their meat in the EU. Tens of thousands of horses suffer long-distance transportation to satisfy this trade.  An additional hundreds of thousands of kilos of horsemeat gets imported into the EU annually from abattoirs in other countries, such as Canada and Mexico. Video footage of a horse slaughter undercover investigation by HSI’s affiliate organisation The Humane Society of the United States can be viewed here.

Horsemeat imported to Europe from third countries may pose a risk to human health. Horses in the United States that end up slaughtered are routinely given veterinary drugs banned for use in food-producing animals in Europe. Without assurances that third parties have implemented food safety systems equivalent to those provided by EU legislation, HSI urges the European Commission to exercise the Precautionary Principle and place a moratorium on imports of horsemeat of U.S. origin.

The full report on the availability of horsemeat in Belgium, France and the Netherlands can be downloaded here.


Media contact: Wendy Higgins: +44 (0)7989 972 423

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

  1. The Ipsos MORI poll was conducted in Belgium: 23rd -31st July 2012, 1,000 respondents aged 18+; France: 20th-24th July 2012, 1,012 respondents aged 18+; Italy: 24th -27th  July 2012, 1,000 respondents aged 18+

Results for Italy: 35% thought most horsemeat sold in Italy originated from Italy; 20% from elsewhere in the EU; 10% from another European country; 6% from outside Europe; 29% said don’t know.

Results for France: 25% thought most horsemeat sold in France originated from France; 32% from elsewhere in the EU; 5% from another European country; 12% from outside Europe; 25% said don’t know.

Results for Belgium: 23% thought most horsemeat sold in Belgium originated from Belgium; 14% from elsewhere in the EU; 5% from another European country; 15% from outside Europe; 43% said don’t know.

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

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