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October 29, 2013

Horse Slaughter: Importing Cruelty

Humane Society International/Europe

  • Horsemeat is imported to the EU from countries such as Argentina, Mexico and Canada. Kathy Milani/The HSUS

What many European horsemeat consumers do not know is that, in addition to the 250,000 horses that are annually slaughtered for food in the European Union, huge quantities of horsemeat are also routinely imported to the EU from the other side of the globe. Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Uruguay and Brazil are the main exporters of horsemeat to Europe. [1]

Born in the USA

Canada and Mexico are presently two of the main exporters of horsemeat to Europe. However, the majority of horses slaughtered in Canada and Mexico are in fact born and raised in the United States. Data from the European Commission [2] has shown that at least 85 per cent of horses slaughtered at EU approved Canadian horse slaughterhouses originated in the US and 50 per cent of the horsemeat produced from those animals was exported to the EU.

Long distance transport and slaughter welfare concerns

Horses in both North and Latin America are often subjected to horrific long-distance transport to slaughterhouses and animal welfare can be seriously compromised at slaughter.

Undercover footage taken at Canadian slaughterhouses (and here) revealed significant animal welfare concerns, including the failure to ensure that horses were killed humanely. The establishments featured in this footage are specifically approved for the export of horsemeat to the EU.

Likewise, shocking film footage from a European coalition of animal protection groups revealed the appalling conditions under which horses are cruelly kept, transported and slaughtered in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. The publicity surrounding this footage eventually led to horsemeat from these countries being removed from some major food retailers’ shelves and a conspicuous reduction in imports to Belgium from these countries.

Belgium: The lead EU importer

Belgium is not only the biggest importer of horsemeat from outside the EU, but Belgian companies also have an important stake in horse slaughter operations in both North and Latin America (as well as in Australia and New Zealand) either co-owning abattoirs or engaging in joint ventures with local partners.

The majority of horsemeat shipped to Belgium is exported to other EU Member States, notably France, Italy and the Netherlands.


1. Read our briefing notes on horse slaughter in Mexico [PDF], South America [PDF] and Australia & New Zealand [PDF] to find out where the meat is exported to and the welfare concerns related to this trade. We have also compiled statistics showing the number of horses killed for horsemeat worldwide [PDF].

2. 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.

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