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September 20, 2016

Humane Society International/Europe raises horse welfare concerns in new EU horsemeat import rules

EU to tighten up import rules following traceability issues with Canadian horsemeat

Humane Society International/Europe

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The European Commission is set to adopt long-awaited requirements to more strictly regulate the import of horsemeat from non-EU countries following the latest audit finding that Canadian horsemeat may not meet EU food safety standards. Humane Society International/Europe says that whilst tackling the issue of traceability of horsemeat is important, the new rules risk compromising horse welfare by potentially keeping large numbers of horses on feedlots for long periods of time. HSI wants to see an EU import moratorium on meat from these horses instead.

The European Commission identified traceability issues with the horses during its audits of Canadian horse slaughter plants. HSI has repeatedly highlighted risks to EU consumer safety from the fact that the majority of horses slaughtered in Canada originate from the U.S., where the use of veterinary drugs banned for use in food-producing animals is rife and there is no mandatory veterinary record-keeping. The new EU rules mean that from 31 March 2017, horses destined for slaughter in non-EU countries but for export to the EU, must undergo a minimum six-month residency requirement. This decision is likely to impact the horse slaughter industry in Canada and several South American countries, where horses for slaughter may be sourced from neighbouring countries.

Dr Joanna Swabe, HSI/Europe’s executive director, said:

“The current lack of traceability of horsemeat from outside the EU is a real concern, so we cautiously welcome the European Commission’s move to tackle this issue. However, it mustn’t be at the expense of horse welfare which we fear will be seriously compromised if horses are held at feedlots for six months waiting to be butchered for the European market. The risks to EU consumer health from Canadian horsemeat imports do need to be taken seriously, because most of the horses slaughtered in Canada actually originate from the U.S., where veterinary drug use is rife, meaning that a myriad of substances lifelong banned for use in food-producing animals could be entering the EU food chain. However, whilst the intension of the six-month residency requirement is a step in the right direction, it overlooks the welfare of the horses whilst at the same time being insufficient to guarantee the safety of the meat. These veterinary drugs often have no maximum residue limit, so there are also no withdrawal periods associated with them. Instead of holding horses for long periods in what are likely to be sub-standard conditions, these animals should be excluded from the food chain entirely, and that means an EU moratorium on horsemeat imports.”

Take Action to Suspend Horse Meat Imports.


  • Since 31st July 2010, the EU has required that the only horses allowed to be slaughtered for export within the Union are those with a known lifetime medical treatment history and medicinal treatment records that show they have not been treated with banned substances and satisfy the veterinary medicine withdrawal periods.
  • In 2014, the latest Food and Veterinary Office audit in Canada concluded that it cannot be guaranteed that horses slaughtered for meat export to the EU have not been treated with illegal substances within the last 180 days before slaughter.
  • In 2014, the European Commission suspended the import of Mexican horsemeat imports owing to serious traceability and food safety concerns.
  • More than 25,000 EU citizens have joined HSI/Europe’s call to the European Commission to suspend horsemeat imports from non-EU countries that do not comply with EU food safety standards.

Media contact:

Raul Arce-Contreras, rcontreras@humanesociety.org, +1 301.721.6440

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