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Slaughter of horses for human consumption in Italy: 2018 data – strange facts from a twisted system


In 2018, as in previous years, there is a discrepancy between the data provided by Istat and those published by the Ministry of Health, regarding the exact number of horses and other equids slaughtered for meat in Italy.
According to Istat (which works on the basis of sample surveys), 20,466 (a drop of 27.4% from 2017) equids were slaughtered in 2018. The Ministry of Health (which gathers monthly data from the Regions), the figure was 41,056 (a drop of 10.9% from 2017).

Even results from the Ministry itself are not always consistent: if we examine the total data published by the Anagrafe Nazionale Zootecnica (managed by the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale di Teramo), the number is actually 41,056. However, if we add the data up Region by Region, the number comes out as 36,814 – a difference of over 4,000 animals.
So apparently the various offices answering to the Ministry do not agree among themselves.

Probing the data for each Region brings up further mysteries, especially if we compare the numbers with those of the preceding year: Puglia, the Region that slaughters the most equids, seems to have had a dizzying fall of nearly 40%.
Campania, Basilicata and Sardinia (which slaughter much lower numbers than Puglia) appear to have had a drop of 50%. Not to mention Liguria and Calabria, which appear to have virtually stopped slaughtering equids altogether, compared to 2017. This would be sensational news. And that is why we say ‘apparently’, because there is the distinct and very worrying possibility that the data have in some way been falsified, perhaps through late submission or only partial reporting.

These are perfectly legitimate doubts, given the useless system of registration of equids, which is both fragmented and opaque, making it almost impossible to track the transportation of horses hither and thither, with the result that it becomes impossible to trace the origins of the meat (read our 2017 article).
This whole system has little or nothing to do with any “culinary tradition” using the meat of animals that have come to be considered pets by the public at large; but of course it all works very well in the interests of the horse industry – i.e. racing and other equestrian competitions – which each year needs to dispose somehow of animals that are no longer performing well.
What has been clearly confirmed, on the other hand, is the systematic presence in the meat of pathogens, parasites and heavy metals, respectively Salmonella, Yersinia enterocolitica, Listeria monocytogenes, Trichinella, and Cadmium, not to mention phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat some joint ailments, and which is strictly forbidden in slaughter animals.

It is well documented that there are unfortunately many ways of skirting the laws so that horses from anywhere can end up in the food chain: only just recently have we heard of the arrests made by the Ferrara police connected with a series of fraudulent activities by a gang which tricked trainers, breeders and private owners to hand over their horses, promising that the animals would spend their remaining years in green pastures. In reality the horses ended up either on illegal racetracks or in the slaughterhouse.

This trickery was revealed long ago by IHP, thanks to investigations carried out in collaboration with LE IENE and SKYTG24: