In the wake of an investigation by Animals’ Angels in November, 2009, European Union officials have announced an investigation into the conditions and treatment of horses at slaughter houses in Mexico specifically the Jerez facility.
EU’s concerns significant
"As you know," writes the EU Animal Health and Welfare Director, "the European Commission attaches great importance to animal welfare. Animals are recognized as sentient beings by Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union…"
The director goes on to state that after analyzing the Animals’ Angels report, they would consider such conditions at the Jerez plant as "not equivalent" to Article 13 requirements. Practices at the plant, such as "when unfit horses are dragged on the floor causing additional pain" as documented in Animals’ Angels investigation, would be clear violations of EU requirements.
The cruelty of Mexican horse slaughter houses has been well known for years. In the U.S., Congress is well aware the cruel treatment in Mexican slaughterhouses violates the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, 7 USCS § 1901-1906 but some members have held up passage of the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, H.R. 503/S.B. 727 which would stop the export of American horses to other countries for slaughter for human consumption.
Thousands of American horses are sent to Mexico each year for slaughter for human consumption. The horsemeat is then typically sold to markets in the EU, South America and Asia where it is consumed as an expensive delicacy.
In Mexican horse slaughterhouses, typically a puntilla knife, a small knife, is used to jab the horse to stun the animals and sever his spinal cord. The horse is left unable to move or breathe, but still sensitive to pain and is actually slaughtered while conscious.
It was not better in the U.S. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found in 2004 the most frequent violation noted by inspectors in slaughter houses was ineffective stunning, meaning "in many cases … a conscious animal reach[ed] slaughter." GAO also noted there had been no effort made to stop the ineffective stunning and the records kept by inspectors were so poor, it was impossible to tell in a followup investigation that there had been any improvement.
The EU is acting now because it was just this past December, 2009 that Article 13 was adopted in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:
"In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage."
Also, pressured by a flood of letters from outraged consumers upset by revelations of the cruelty of horse slaughter, the European grocer, Delhaize has announced they will no longer accept horse meat from Mexico & Brazil. Makro & Colruyt have issued statements that they will not buy horse meat imported from outside Europe. Several other grocery concerns in Belgium and The Netherlands are considering similar steps.
Article 13 – and grassroots opposition to the barbaric practice of slaughter – could close the EU market to horsemeat from horses slaughtered in Mexico. We can only hope.
Then there are the drugs
The EU’s announcement also addresses concerns about drug residues in horse meat, acknowledging that the current system of controls is inadequate. The EU is "currently in a process of strengthening the controls in the implementation of the Community legislation on residues," the Animal Health and Welfare Director writes. An inspection mission to Mexico is planned.
The EU announced previously that effective July 31, 2010 it will begin enforcing restrictions on the sale of meat from horses that have been given certain drugs and steroids. This means that Mexican slaughterhouses cannot ship horsemeat to the EU unless they can establish the horse had not ingested any of the prohibited drugs and steroids in the preceding 6 months. By 2013, all horses to be slaughtered for human consumption in the E.U. must be accompanied by veterinary records from birth that show the horse has never been given banned substances.
This is impossible for American horses.
American horses are not tracked, and there is no way to know the drugs, steroids or medication given to them. Horses in the U.S. may have several owners, and those that end up at slaughter are usually purchased at auctions or otherwise by kill buyers. These kill buyers probably know nothing about the horses’ veterinary or drug history which, beginning July 31, will mean the horses cannot be slaughtered for sale of their meat in the E.U.
Also, a recent study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, Association of Phenylbutazone Usage With Horses Bought for Slaughter: A Public Health Risk, brings home just how dangerous, how deadly, American horsemeat is for consumers. For more on this…
The E.U. is now looking to the Mexican government for its procedures for enforcement of these regulations. The result may be good news for American horses as most will not be eligible for slaughter in Mexico – or Canada, for that matter.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Please participate in the EU’s recently announced online survey and help improve EU policy on animal welfare. The survey ends on July 1, 2010 so please don’t delay. Do it today. Let them know how you believe EU policies should be re-evaluated.
Investigation at Texas Export Pens raises new questions
The ordeal for horses en route to Mexican horse slaughter houses begins at the export pens, several of which are in Texas, located in Eagle Pass, Socorro and Del Rio, are all operated by the Texas Department of Agriculture. Animals’ Angels investigations have found:
"Despite the fact that horses will spend 38 hours or more in transit, no food is provided for the horses at the pens. This is a clear violation of the commercial transport of equines to slaughter regulations. (9 C.F.R. Sec. 88.3, .4) Also, go here for information about the 28 Hour Law.
In the early morning, horses arrive at the export pens from locations as far as 15 hours away. They are unloaded into barren pens, where they remain for the day.
In the evening, the horses are loaded onto Mexican trucks and transported to the horse slaughter plants in Jerez & Fresnillo, Mexico, both approx. 800 miles away from the border. Animals’ Angels followed one of the trucks from the Socorro export pen to the Jerez plant – the journey took 16 hours and 30 minutes."
Horses are transported across the border in open roof trailers designed for cattle.
These trailers are too low to afford adequate head room, so horses hit their heads on the metal pipes and get stuck between the pipes. The trailers offer no protection from the elements, exposing horses to intense sun, wind and rain on the 800 mile long transport to the plant.
Particularly unacceptable is the practice of returning lame, sick, blind or injured horses with the shipper.
Horses that do not pass the inspection by the Mexican veterinarian are loaded back onto the truck of the owner/shipper immediately – exposing the horse to another long distance transport and an unknown fate. No records are kept about the refusal of the horse and no charges against the shipper are filed. Horses in such condition should not be allowed to leave the export pens. Protection laws require veterinary care and possible euthanasia. 9 C.F.R. Sec. 88.3, .4
Animals’ Angels asks, "In addition, new information about the cost to taxpayers to run these export pens truly begs the question: Why should the American taxpayer subsidize wealthy Belgian horse slaughter companies, an industry a very significant majority of Americans oppose? Documents obtained by Animals’ Angels prove that the cost of operating the pens far exceeds the modest fees collected on the horses awaiting export for slaughter.
"Why would we want to subsidize wealthy foreign interests whose profits require inherently cruel and inhumane treatment, a business which thrives on overbreeding and even horse theft, and an industry that makes responsible horse owners sick at the prospect of selling a horse because it can so easily end up in the wrong hands?"