Health fears raised over American horsemeat imports


EuroPolitics | Brian Beary in Washington | Tuesday 02 April 2013

images-21An animal welfare group is alleging that unsafe horsemeat is ending up on European dinner plates due to lax controls by North American and EU authorities. The Humane Society is trying to raise awareness among EU lawmakers and officials about the complex supply chain in which horses from the United States are transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, with their meat then being exported to the EU. This poses a threat to consumer health, the Humane Society’s Cheryl Jacobson told Europolitics, because some 90% of horses in the US are treated with phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug whose use the EU bans for all animals intended for human consumption. In addition, as the US does not require records to be kept of the medical treatments horses receive, the only way to know they have not been given banned substances is to test 100% of consignments but this does not happen, Jacobson said.

The issue is already on the European Commission’s radar. Audits conducted by the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office in 2011 and 2012 in Canada and Mexico concluded that the monitoring and controls systems did not meet EU food safety norms. Even though the Commission requires 100% of consignments from Mexico to be tested, Jacobson noted that these consignments are only tested for growth-promoting substances, not for phenylbutazone. Meanwhile, authorities in Canada test for phenylbutazone but they only test about 20% of consignments, she added. An official from Canada’s Food Inspection Agency told Europolitics that it had a “zero tolerance” policy for phenylbutazone. The official added that since 2010 Canada requires operators in the horse slaughter industry to provide a record of all vaccinations and medications given to each horse in the previous six months – both for domestic and imported horses.

In recent weeks, the Humane Society has been stepping up its campaign. Representatives from the organization have met with officials from 20 of the 27 EU member states, Jacobson said. While the member states with the most amount of trade in horsemeat, notably Belgium, France and Italy, were sympathetic to their concerns, she said that they were reluctant to raise the issue at the Council of Ministers as they felt the onus was on EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, Tonio Borg, to take action. Because the EU horsemeat market is much smaller than other sectors like beef, poultry and pork, this issue has gotten less attention, Jacobson said. According to Eurostat, €93.9 million of horsemeat was imported into the EU in 2011. The country that exported the most horsemeat to the EU was Argentina (€29 million), while Canada and Mexico were the second and third biggest exporters, with €26.5m and €17.1m respectively. Horsemeat produced from US horses is thought to account for around 20% of the horsemeat consumed in the EU.


The reason no horsemeat is exported directly from the US to the EU is because Congress in 2007 imposed ade facto ban on slaughtering horses inside the US. This led to a surge in exports of live horses from the US to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. However, in 2012, Congress allowed that ban to lapse. One company that wants to open a new slaughter facility in the US has already applied to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a permit. A USDA spokeswoman told Europolitics that while their agency is legally obliged to process that application, it would prefer if Congress re-introduced the ban. A bill to this effect was introduced to Congress – both in the House and Senate – on 12 March 2013. Regardless of whether or not Congress renews the ban, the issue will not go away, Jacobson said, because it is impossible to trace what substances US horses have been treated with. Unlike in the EU where each horse must have a ‘passport’ that records its medical history, no such requirement exists in the US. Jacobson explained that this is because there is no tradition of rearing horses specifically for human consumption there as Americans rarely eat horsemeat. The US horses whose meat is exported to the EU are typically racehorses, pets and show horses, which are sold at auctions.

This has undoubtedly been a memorable few months for the EU when it comes to horsemeat. In January and February 2013, a scandal erupted when it was discovered that various batches of meat that had been labelled as beef was in fact horsemeat. Commissioner Borg is due to present a new package on animal and plant health aimed at tightening controls in the meat industry and imposing stiffer fines for falsely labeling food. He is also considering whether to extend ‘country of origin’ labelling requirements beyond fresh meat to cover processed meat products too.

Meanwhile, on the trade front, EU negotiators are gearing up to begin talks this summer on a free trade agreement with the US, all the while trying to wrap up talks with Canada on a free trade pact. Food safety concerns in the agro-trade are likely to feature prominently in the EU-US negotiations. The transatlantic partners already have longstanding disputes to resolve stemming from divergent food safety rules in the poultry, beef and pork sectors. Should the concerns about the horsemeat trade start to gain traction, it could become yet another thorny agro-food safety issue for negotiators to have to handle.

AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • Amy Roth

    I pray they all don’t get sick. The Bible says only eat those with completely split hooves w/ 4 legs (clover) and chews it’s cud. What’s wrong with these people!!!!

    April 5, 2013
  • kathy

    The Consumers of Horse Meat really need to pop their heads out of their asses, The Horse Slaughter Industry doesn’t give a rats ass about any risk associated with consuming the meat from RANDOMLY Gathered Horses, By now it should be Clear, all those claims from the Industry that Horse meat was sourced from happy purpose raised horses frolicking in knee high grassy pastures here in the USA are nothing more than bull shit..Foreign Consumers You all have been had, and in an Epic way…

    April 5, 2013
  • Mary Adkins-Matthews

    Drug filled, disease filled horse meat is what they get when they take horse meat from horses here in the United States. I certainly would not feed my family or children meat from ANY animal that has not been bred for human consumption and no other country should have to either. The United States does NOT breed horses for human consumption and I imagine we never will.

    April 5, 2013
  • equine worker

    Agree with the above comments. Sure there are folks bragging about eating horse meat, Mr Ed jokes and so on. Almost always males; maybe as kids they were the boys who ate gross things for attention. But they are the outliers. I hope Europeans read our news instead of the false advertising over there about horse meat – especially pregnant women who put the life of their unborn child at risk by exposing themselves to brood mare drugs, like regu-mate – a progesterone that can cause miscarriage in tiny residues. So many brood mares go to slaughter out of the racing industries, it’s like playing Russian Roulette. And the Bute can cause birth defects, as well as cancer and non dose dependent fatal liver failure in adults. I hope the people who’ve been duped about US horse meat learn the truth, it will be a safer world for them, and our horses.

    April 6, 2013
  • equine worker

    I hope the truth gets out to doctors in the EU, so they connect the dots between the drugs in the horse meat and proper treatment for their patients. This conspiracy – from the mislabeled beef to the hundreds of drugs US horses get that are flat out banned, or not even on the radar – is an outrage. Just last month, three race trainers in Oklahoma – the state that just passed a law permitting horse slaughter! – were suspended for juicing their horses with Bath Salts. Cheap race tracks are a revolving door for slaughter, and the drugs make Bute look tame by comparison.

    The people responsible for putting drug-tainted US horse meat into the food supply need to be held legally responsible – from the wink and nod regulators in Europe, Canada and Mexico, all the way back to US owners signing false drug paperwork. People have a basic right when they buy food, for it to be labeled properly, and not contain substances like Bute that are a danger to their health.

    The only way to keep US horse drugs out of the food supply is to stop the sale and transport of US horses to slaughter. The people lying about drugs in their slaughter bound horses will keep doing it.

    A win-win- horse people won’t have to spend millions implementing a joke of a passport system – and US taxpayers will save millions a year in USDA salaries, too.

    US Horses are not food.. they are companion, sporting, therapy, working. They need common sense meds to do their jobs for us. They’ve earned a decent retirement, and proper euthanasia at the end of a natural life. Breeding and owning horses is a luxury, not a necessity.

    April 6, 2013
    • susan carter

      I just read a letter from the NM Farm and Livestock Bureau asking the US Sec of Ag to hurry up and open the horse slaughter plant in NM. This place is a filthy hell-hole. The Cowbelles, wives of the cattlemen, who promote eating BEEF, also signed on! WHY?

      June 8, 2013
  • linda spinazzola

    I don’t know about anyone else….but..i CAN’T for the life of me figure out why this even has to debated at all!! American horses get dewormers, vaccinations, meds, cortisol, adreneline, and get a slew of other diseases…including ones that are similar to mad cow! does anyone remember that? the powers that be…have been turning a blind the fact that kill-buyers have been selling thousands of america’s horses thru mexico & Canada! knowingly and intentionally poisoning the people in foreign countries! I am wondering if those countries are aware that they have been buying tainted meat? I think they should be told! in this day and age…more and more people are buying organic and going green..eating healthier.. and turning to natural remedies… instead of drugs.. WE the people pay these politicians salaries…yet they insult us…by ignoring the LEGAL majority of tax-payer wishes! they laugh at us all the way to their banks! it is time to take a stand and make them listen!!! the time is now! and WE THE PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER!! no means no! hear us d.c.!

    April 6, 2013