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Slaughter of horses for human consumption in Italy in 2017: numbers and a few worrying facts


In 2017 ISTAT, which uses a system of data sampling, gave the number of equids slaughtered for meat for human consumption as 28,181, whereas the Ministry of Health, via the BDN (Banca Dati Nazionale dell’Anagrafe Zootecnica) recorded 46,053: so the reduction in consumption of horsemeat - indicated in some recent reports based on ISTAT data –in reality never was. In any case, to date it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the system of horse slaughter for meat since this inconsistency in data gathering and plain statistics persists, resulting in uncertainties, gaps in information, and lack of clarity.

As IHP has said for many years, the roots of these problems can be found in the system of registration of equids, which is not under one single authority covering the whole country, and which does not guarantee the traceability of the animals. The databank BDN (Banca Dati Equidi), managed by Mipaaf (Ministero delle Politiche Agricole e Forestali (which is in itself an anomaly, given that registration of other animals is managed by the Ministry of Health (Ministero della Salute), is extremely fragmented: registers of the breeds Sella Italiana, Thoroughbred and Trotter are headed up by Mipaaf, whereas some other breeds (for example Arab, Maremmano etc) are registered with individual breed associations. Registration of equids not falling under specific individual breed categories is with the various associations throughout the country (Associazioni Provinciali degli Allevatori). These different and separate authorities are not in any way linked, and there is no one central databank; we don’t even know how many equids there actually are in the whole country.

Regarding the Regions where equids are slaughtered, Puglia holds the sad title of first with 15,591 (35% of the total) in 2017.
After that come the Veneto – 9,439 (20%), Emilia Romagna – 6,215 (13%), Sicily –4,969 (11%), Lombardy – 2,747 (6%) and Piedmont – 2,189 (5%). Numbers in other Regions are far lower.

So to date there is no reliable method of tracing the origins of horsemeat on sale to the public, and not even at the EU level is there a labelling system equal to that of, for example, beef. See for yourself – just step into any butcher’s or supermarket where horsemeat is sold, and take a look at the labelling, which will give no factual information on the origin of that meat.

Another fundamental question is, where do these horses that arrive at Italian slaughterhouses, come from? According to data released some years ago by the Italian Veterinary Association (Federazione degli Ordini dei Veterinari Italiani), just 10-15% of horses slaughtered for meat were supplied from farms specialising in raising them for meat: so where do the rest come from? One legitimate supposition would be that many of the horses that finish up in the slaughterhouse come from the racecourse and other equestrian sports: maybe they have come to the end of their competing career, or animals that were passed on from the competing circuits to riding schools, or trekking outfits, till they were finally ‘useless’. This supposition is borne out by the statistics provided by the Ministry of Health. An examination of those for 2015 shows that of 49,350 animals slaughtered, 22,640 were imported, while the total listed in the BDE, Italian and imported together, was 13,348. In 2016 the data relative to horses listed in BDE go as far as April, then vanish altogether in 2017.

And so what of checks and controls? In 2011 the head of the Emilia Romagna Food Hygiene veterinary service (Servizio Veterinario e Igiene degl iAlimenti) sent the regional ASL and the Ministry of Health a document concerning the “essential aspects of control of horses destined for slaughter for meat”, stating that
“one critical aspect is that of the trading of equids at the end of their working lives, animals which are frequently passed on by their owners to dealers, both animals registered as destined for the food chain, or not. Many of the equids arriving at the Region’s slaughterhouses are from abroad, both from within and outside of the EU, with a resultant variety of documentation both of shipment and of identification. Among the different types of equids, those causing major concern are those with passports issued abroad, including those destined for slaughter. In point of fact, these are the categories of animal frequently shown to have falsified documents”.

Worryingly, none of this has changed in the intervening years since this document was sent, as was shown by two investigations carried out by IHP in collaboration with SkyTG24 and Le Iene, both revealing fraudulent moves to make horses simply ‘disappear’ on their way to illegal slaughterhouses.



Those advocating consumption of horsemeat frequently claim it is highly nutritious. But is horsemeat really that special? A 2012 study carried out by Dr Maurizio Ferri, of the Pescara ASL veterinary service, and vice-president of the European Union of Veterinary Hygienists, revealed that at the microbiological level, horsemeat has the same profile as beef, but that at the same time it carries risks, in variable proportions, associated with the presence of pathogens, parasites and heavy metals, in particular Salmonella, Yersinia enterocolitica, Listeria monocytogenes, Trichinellaand Cadmium, the latter listed as dangerous, by the EU.
Most significantly, Dr Ferri highlights the frequent and elevated presence of Phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug used for the treatment of various joint problems, and which has a range of toxic effects in the human body, and for this reason is strictly forbidden in animals destined for the food chain, while it can be used freely in animals not so destined. The obvious conclusion of course is that these latter animals also end up in the slaughterhouses via other routes.

TABLES – SLAUGHTER OF EQUIDS IN ITALY (Ministry of Health stats ISTAT stats)
Reproduction permitted, quoting IHP Onlus 2018 as source