The EU ban followed audits by the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO), which revealed serious problems with the lack of traceability of horses slaughtered for EU export. Horses originating both in Mexico and the US consistently lacked reliable veterinary medical treatment records.
HSI’s EU executive director Dr Joanna Swabe said the ban was long overdue. “For years, Humane Society International has repeatedly sounded the alarm about horsemeat entering the food chain that does not fully meet EU safety standards.
‘Safeguarding EU consumer safety’
“As well as safeguarding EU consumer safety, closing our borders to horsemeat from these countries is important for animal welfare, too. Horse slaughter, regardless of which country it is in, is fraught with inherent cruelty.”
At present, 87% of the eligible horses slaughtered in Mexico for meat export to the EU originate from the US. But horses are not bred for human consumption in either country.
“The use of veterinary drugs such as phenylbutazone, banned for use in food animals, is widespread and mandatory lifetime medical record-keeping is non-existent in both countries,” said the HSI.
FVO officials have consistently questioned the reliability and accuracy of vendor statements about US and Mexican horses’ treatment records. That meant meat from the horses could contain banned veterinary drugs, it said.
Could contain banned veterinary drugs
The latest audit in Mexico concluded that it was impossible to guarantee the reliability of vendor affidavits and traceability for horses of both US and Mexican horses with regard to veterinary medicinal products and residues.
In addition to safeguarding EU consumers, the ban was said to also benefit animal welfare impact in reducing the number of horses claimed to be suffering in the Mexican slaughter pipeline. The FVO also confirmed HSI’s concerns regarding the poor welfare conditions at export facilities sited in the US, during transport from the US to Mexico and at Mexican slaughterhouses.
The HSI also called for a ban on horsemeat from Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, where similar traceability problems with horsemeat exports were said to persist.
The EU has ruled since July 2010 that the only horses allowed to be slaughtered for export were those with a lifetime medical treatment history and medicinal treatment records showing they satisfy the veterinary medicine withdrawal periods.
In May 2013, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) boss Andrew Rhodes said that traceability was the key to assessing food safety risks. The swift traceability of meat involved in the horsemeat crisis had allayed fears about food safety, said Rhodes, FSA head of operations.
“What we have seen in these [horsemeat] cases is that the traceability immediately showed where the horsemeat had come from. As it had come from approved slaughterhouses, the issue here was really labelling and that’s how we can say we don’t believe there was a risk.”
Meanwhile, earlier this month researchers at the Institute of Food Research, at Norwich, released news of a new DNA test, claimed to rapidly and cost-effectively, distinguish horsemeat from beef.