...my treasures do not sparkle they clink,
they shine in the sun and neigh in the night...



Equine meat and bovine meat: what is the real scandal?


(2013, February 22nd)

In the past weeks, all the European newspapers reported the news that unaware consumers ate horse meat passed off as beef.
Aside the fact that, in any case, they still ate the flesh of sentient beings and that, philosophically speaking, it makes little difference if it was bovine, equine or canine, were the consumers really unaware? Or are they outraged by something they could have easily guessed? And then, what is the real problem? The commercial fraud or the health of millions of European citizens?

In Italy alone there is an equine population ranging from – according to different estimates -- 300.000 to 800.000 heads.
Every one of these horses has a potential lifespan of 30 plus years, but the average competitive life of each of them is far shorter. Basing on the sport imposed to them and their results, it can last only two-three years. The euthanasia of healthy specimens is not permitted all over the European Union. Every few years the entire number of animals is renovated—perhaps only every five years. Where do these horses end when they no longer run/jump/drive with satisfying results? Somewhere there should be hundreds of thousands of older horses, perhaps up to three times the number of the horses still in activity. But there aren’t.

But Italy isn’t one of the countries with the greatest number of horses, nor one with the lowest average lifespan. Across Europe there are millions of animals that must be “disposed” because the industry of the equine sports must renovate its “rolling stock”. United Kingdom alone houses more than a million horses, and the same goes for Germany and France. Spain too has about a million. Italy is the Country in Europe with the highest number of legally slaughtered horses but it is not the Country with the highest number of animals to be “disposed” after racing. Data on horses tells us that illegal slaughtering could be present in every corner of Europe.

The equine slaughter involves risks for the public health different from the bovine one. In fact, while a bovine is always bred for food production, most of the equines are bred for sporting purposes. So there are a series of rules which should avoid that an equine treated with certain drugs could be slaughtered and thus put at risk the consumers’ heath. In some sports, such show jumping, the greatest part of the horses are unfit to be slaughtered.

Anyone with some knowledge about show jumping knows that, in theory, in any riding stable there should be a lot of older horses, at least the same number of those in activity. No one ever saw these horses or at least not with those numbers.

In the racing world there is a lesser number of horses banned from food production, but the turn-over is quicker due to the shorter competitive life of the horses. Thus the standardbred and thoroughbred farms should be filled with an impressive number of older horses. Which aren’t there.

There are university studies, investigations promoted by animal rights associations, documents by the European Commission, notes by the Italian Health Ministry, by the competent authorities of other European Countries, and by the Regions that evidence the system doesn’t work and make us understand the slaughtered horses are more than the fit to be slaughtered ones, with very serious consequences for the public health. But why?

The horse industry roughly works like this: the horses are bred and used for sport for a period that can go from a tenth to half of their life. After that they are slaughtered. And if they are unfit for slaughter? How can a thoroughbred breeder (just to make an example, the situation is the same in all sports, but the times are different) support for 30 years an equine that showed to be unprofitable as two-year-old?

According to a 2008 study, about 40% of the equines is not suitable for the sport they were bred for. Of the remaining 60%, how many satisfy the breeder’s expectations? Even admitting that 60% does really good, a breeder “producing” 5 horses per year, should have 2 horses per year who happily graze for 30 more years. Which means that after twenty years of activity, the breeder should have 15 horses in activity, 40 retired ones because unfit and 45 horses retired because too old. Is that believable? How can a business activity survive paying hay, feeds and veterinaries for 100 horses having only 15 producing money? In reality all 85 “retired” horses have been slaughtered. And what if they were not fit for slaughtering? This association strongly believes that they could be “discreetly” slaughtered.

Do we really think the consumed amount of horse meat in Italy, France, Belgium, Germany and Sweden is able to make work this breeding-use-slaughter mechanism of millions and millions of horses in all Europe? Or perhaps the amount of horse meat is higher than stated and, especially, in part illegal and dangerous for health? But who takes up the task to block the European (and Extra European) horse industry solving in a definitive way the huge number of faults ours and other associations and even institutions have reported in all the appropriate offices? And where does this illegal meat go? Mixing it to bovine meat could be an efficient, albeit illegal, solution.

Who sells a product passing it as something else commits a crime. Who slaughters an animal unfit for slaughter commits a crime. Who falsifies documentation commits another crime. Who overlooks controls commits a crime. But if all these offenders work in the same sector in apparent synergy and if it is this way of working that allows to an entire sector not to drown in its “wastes”, then it means that sector is sick. And while it is right to punish the single culprits, it is not enough. It is necessary to take a stand that really goes in the direction of putting an end to the commercialization of life (and maybe, why not, reduce the health problems due to the consumption of dangerous meats for those who have not yet abandoned the omnivorous diet).