Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Anti-Horse Meat Protest in Perth, 10th Oct 2010

Against the sale of horse meat for human consumption in Australia?

If you're in Perth on the 10th of October, please join other like-minded people at a peaceful protest at the Wellington Street Reserve on Wellington Street in East Perth.

Details are available on Facebook, please RSVP to this Facebook event so the organisers can keep you updated on any developments:

For more information on the argument against the consumption of Australian horse meat, please read Why not eat horse meat from Australia?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Talking Horses asks the National Party about Horse Meat in WA

The Talking Horses radio show on Perth 91.3 SportFM is a great show for anyone interested in horses. It is hosted by Diane Bennit, who is Chair of the Western Australian Horse Council. On their 10th of August episode they spoke to Lynne Craigie, National Party candidate for Durack in the upcoming federal election.

They spoke about issues including horse meat, aerial culling of brumbies (and other animals) in remote areas, as well as establishing more multi-use trails around the state. Here is a link to download the podcast from the 91.3 SportFM website. (As Sport FM only have four podcasts from each of their shows available for download on their podcasts page, it's possible that this link may only work for the next couple of weeks.)

Here is a transcript of the section of the interview covering the legalisation of horse meat for human consumption in WA:

Diane Bennit - Moving along to an emotive issue, the horse meat debate, how does the National Party... where do they stand?

Lynne Craigie - The National Party again, doesn't have a stance on it, I guess if you look overseas horse meat has been a delicacy in some countries, I think France for example, they see it as a delicacy. Personally I'm not in favour of it, I think we have enough choices already and I don't see the need to bring it on board, but as I said at this point the Nationals don't have a policy on it, it's all fairly new, but certainly again it's something we need to lobby our electors enough and about. For myself personally, I don't think I could manage to eat horse, no.

While I'm glad that she is personally against it, it does seem a little strange that no-one mentioned that the Minister who legalised it in the first place, the Honorable Terry Redman MLA, is a member of the National Party. While it's reassuring to see that the legalisation of horse meat for human consumption is not a nation wide policy of the National Party, and that at least one of its members is against it, I really wish someone had mentioned that it was the National Party that brought this in!

I hope that people take her advice to heart, regarding lobbying our electors about this enough to make a difference. Politicians are the ones who brought this in, and politicians are the ones who can put a stop to it. Letters and emails written to Western Australian Shadow Minister for Agriculture Michael (Mick) Murray MLA have resulted in Mr Murray stating that he will ask Terry Redman questions in parliament regarding food safety and animal welfare with regard to horse meat. Hopefully this will be a step in the right direction. Contact details for Mr Murray are here if you would like to offer any suggestions or support.

Here is the section of the Talking Horses interview on aerial culling of wild horses, as Vince Gareffa has brought this issue into the debate as part of his justification for selling horse meat in his shop:

Diane Bennit - The final question is on aerial culling. I realise that a lot of this is a financially practical way, up north, but it is actually hard to kill an animal, even if an animal is standing in front of you, and to hang out of a helicopter at 60km an hr and leave an animal lying on the ground, ANY animal, with maybe four bullet holes in it, and it does take them a long time to die. I know I did see a documentary in New Zealand, they were killing goats in the high country, and they were doing that with aerial culling, and there were goats running around screaming, with broken legs, with blood pouring out of holes. Absolutely it was on of the most distressing thing I've ever seen. Is there any plans, and this would be of course to do with country, are there any plans by the National Party to maybe try and find a more humane way.

Lynne Craigie - Not that I'm aware of, everything I can find about aerial culling, and I have been looking at it since getting your questions the other day, it appears that it is done for financial reasons, because it's mainly out in very remote areas that they do it. Of course according to cost and everything else it's the most efficient way to do it, however I agree with you, I can't see that it is humane in the way that it's done, because how do they know that the animal is dead or not. Again I'm probably a bit naive on this, I'm not sure of what other methods are available. But certainly we should be looking into it.

Diane Bennit - I think you can pretty much guarantee that a very large percentage of them are not actually going to be dead, and I know that they're going to start now, apparently there's a million camels too many in Australia, and they're going to start culling those, so it's not just the horses. It's any type of animal.

Lynne Craigie - Maybe there is room there to look at some forms of employment or industry out in those remote regions, I know with camels it's been talked about before. Perhaps there is room out there for some indigenous enterprise in looking at the ways of what we can do with camel, and culling of camel. Surely the same could be extended to horses, and look for more humane ways to do what we do and to also utilise the animals to their best, perhaps I'm not saying that in the best way, rather than having them lying around and rotting what more can we do?

This supports my previous argument that Vince Garreffa selling horse meat in his shop in Perth will have no impact on brumby culls in remote areas.

Many Australian brumby groups have been suggesting more humane brumby management programs for quite some time. Their suggestions include the establishment of indigenous enterprises that involve rounding up brumbies, training some for domestication and suppressing their numbers in the wild by reducing their ability to breed. Tourist dollars would contribute significantly to such a scheme.

Next week Talking Horses will be interviewing Judi Moylan from the Liberal Party.

On a more general note, even if you're not in Western Australia, Talking Horses is a great podcast to download, because they have interesting segments on things like horse breeds and nutrition which are of interest to any horse person.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Vince Garreffa, Animal Rights Activist?

Surely a butcher can't be an animal rights activist? I wouldn't think so, but in this interview with FoodDesigner Linda Monique from Melbourne, "Celebrity Butcher" Vince Garreffa is certainly trying to come across as someone who is deeply concerned about horse welfare.

I'm certainly left dizzy by the mishmash of ideas he seems to be putting forward. Please watch this, and tell me... is he really claiming that he's going to save thoroughbreds from extinction by eating them? Or stop brumbies being shot from helicopters by selling the meat of domesticated horses in his shop?

I agree that stricter regulations are required, but I disagree on so many other points, many of which he's brought in randomly, seemingly to muddy the waters... My detailed response is below the video.

So to respond to a few of the key points he makes (skipping over some of the smaller stuff, because this post is already too long...):

Vince Garreffa - "...this meat is produced, not to West Australian standards, but it's produced to Australian standards, ok? In a proper abattoir that does my beef, my lamb, my pork. So for the first time ever we've got horse meat that is produced to the highest standards in this country made available to its citizens."
To start off with, I don't know how you can talk about using "the highest standards" when there are no standards. Horse meat has only just been made legal for Aussies to eat, and as such, any food safety standards must have only just been written. If you're referring to the export standards, then they're not very high standards at all. The European Union, who have been consuming horse meat for a very long time, have just brought in new standards due to health concerns. The EU now require that horses are individually tracked, with a complete veterinary history following each horse throughout its life. This is something that definitely does not happen in Australia. So it would appear that "the highest standards" fall short of the EU's standards, which begs the question: if Australian horse meat isn't good enough for the EU, why is it suddenly good enough for Australians?

VG - "We would rather have all these wild horses that have been distributed throughout this country, shot from a helicopter, drop dead on the ground and rot, than kill them humanely. The moment a meat becomes worthy of human consumption everybody wants to protect it."
Who would rather that? I doubt very much you could find one sane person who would admit to preferring inhumane over humane. That is, assuming that you can find a humane slaughter technique for horses.

Approximately 20% of the horses slaughtered for export are wild horses, known in Australia as brumbies. According to the governments in charge of brumby culls from helicopters, these culls are only carried out when the horses cannot be captured, due to reasons such as difficult terrain or isolation. If you want to find out more, please see the websites of the various brumby welfare and rescue groups on the contact page.

Yes, there are huge problems with brumby management in Australia, but I fail to see how a butcher selling horse meat derived from domesticated horses is really going to be a step forward for them. I do appreciate the mention though, as more people need to be aware of how unsustainable current brumby management strategies are.

VG - "So I'm thinking what I've created, is a conscience, of making sure we discuss this issue, that we start humanely treating... It costs about $500 to bury a horse. In England they won't allow you to bury a horse without a license, because when you bury a 500 kilo horse you can contaminate the water table. And so all of a sudden people are hiding horses, by shooting them illegally, and burying them in lots of places. Ok? And I'm saying here we are that we could say, "hey stop mistreating 'em, start looking after them, treat them well, they're a valuable commodity.""

This is a muddled line of thought indeed, so I have transcribed it in full... Firstly, while yes, you have brought horse welfare to national, mainstream media attention, something that no horse welfare or rescue group has been able to do, you haven't "created... a conscience". What you have done is increase awareness. Unfortunately your method of doing so leaves a lot to be desired, effective as it may be.

Grandiose claims aside... why is the English situation relevant? Yes, it is expensive to get a horse buried or cremated, but people aren't "hiding horses" or "shooting them illegally" in Australia. Last time I looked, Australia was a whole lot bigger than England, with a considerably smaller population. Obfuscation, anyone?

Debates about whether you can really call burying a dead horse "mistreating" it, and consuming it "respecting" it, I shall leave well alone.

VG - "...everyone will talk to you about the fact that to save old breeds of anything, pork is a classic case, all the old breeds of pork, all the old breeds of beef, all the old breeds of anything, have been saved only when they're eaten, because when they're eaten it keeps them safe... from, from extinction!"
Wow, "old breeds of anything"? Better tell the Rare Breeds Network at once! Those dog breeders will be thrilled!

I think you'll find that you've just listed rare breeds of pork and beef. Sure, they may have been saved by people wanting to eat them, but that's the reason they were selectively bred in the first place. Horses are quite different, and I think you'll find that thoroughbreds are in no danger of extinction. Quite the opposite in fact. Which we'll get to in a moment.

Anyone breeding a rare breed of horse in Australia, is not doing so in order for people to eat them. I'm sure they would be quite horrified at such a suggestion.

VG - "So I think it's been quite an unbelievable little "ride" that's happened the last few weeks, and the protesters have hurt quite a few restaurants, but there's no way in the world I can change... the business that I'm in, and I'm only doing what is legal."
Yes, by getting the law changed, so that you not only have legalised a new meat, but have a monopoly on its sale. To claim you couldn't have changed that, maybe by not doing it in the first place, is a bit far fetched.

Any business that gets involved with controversial issues that people feel strongly about can't really claim to be all that surprised when people share their strong opinions. To my knowledge, there has been one protest at a Melbourne restaurant, which has since made it clear that it will not serve horse again. Other than that I only know of people contacting restaurants by email and other means, to let them know of their displeasure, to outline their concerns, and state their unwillingness to dine there ever again if horse meat is put on the menu. Surely it is standard practice for restaurants to adjust their menu in response to whether their customers like it or not? This is an unusual case, sure, but the owners of these restaurants can't pretend they didn't know that putting horse meat on the menu would be controversial.

And to be honest, the horse puns aren't helping...

VG - "I feel for people that find it hard to seperate the pet, and the meat, because there's no way in the world that there isn't probably ten thousand young kids out there have got pet lambs on farms, and they know that lambs go and get slaughtered, but they don't want their pet going to get slaughtered, and that's fine! I'm not out looking for people's pets. All I'm out there looking for is clean horses, without drugs, that are destined for the knackeries, that I can agist for a few months, get the all clear from the health department, fatten them up, and turn them into a commodity that deserves respect. Instead of them rotting on the ground somewhere, or being used by dog and cat food."
I hope you're looking very thoroughly indeed for these "clean horses". Does the health department blood test them? There's no system for tracking drugs given to horses in Australia, and horses "destined for the knackeries" are hardly going to have thorough veterinary records kept on them.

Are you simply taking the previous owner's word for it that they're clean? If the person you're buying them from didn't breed the horses, then they can't say for sure, as they'd have no idea what the horse may have been given prior to them owning it. If a horse is from a large breeding operation, how confident is the owner that none of the staff looking after the horses gave the horse anything? When giving drugs to horses, people tend to consider things such as the horse's health and whether it will be tested for drugs at the races or other competitions. There's no way that people would have been looking after these horses with slaughter for human consumption in mind, because it was only made legal in WA a month ago.

With no government regulation in place to track horses' identities, let alone their veterinary records, risks to human health can not be ruled out.

I guess now we see why the horse meat in your shop is considerably more expensive than the price it gets for export. Agisting and fattening up the horses yourself can't be cheap.

VG - "...all the best trainers in this country will tell you that they need to close a blind eye to what's going on, because they need for their excess horses to be gotten rid of somehow. It has been known, it has been known, that great champions that nobody wants anymore, when they no longer race, have finished up at knackeries. Because no-one wants to feed them anymore. That's an industry that will on one hand tell me that I'm inhumane in killing a lovely animal, and on the other hand is allowing ten to twenty thousand horses a year... be unwanted... and let's just get rid of them behind closed doors, and let's pick on Vince Gareffa, but not wake up to the fact that we need some good rules and regulations for horses going to the, the pet factory, they should be treated with respect, and if they're valuable as a food commodity, you see how many more horses end up with a better life."
To say that horses owners are ALL condoning what goes on is pretty insulting. Lumping all Australian horse people in together is pretty convenient for your argument, but unfortunately it doesn't accurately portray the "horse industry" in Australia.

The non-racing section of the horse owning public is huge, but how is the average Aussie with a horse supposed to put a stop to the excesses of the big business of racing, with their huge earnings and considerable lobbying power?

To illustrate this in a way that non-horsey people will be able to more easily understand, let's substitute dogs for horses for a moment. How many dog owners do you know who are not happy about the thousands of perfectly healthy dogs being euthanised in shelters each year because they can't find a home? About racing greyhounds being put to sleep because they're not fast enough?

What is the average dog owner supposed to do about the huge number of dogs being bred by irresponsible people?

If all of the problems in an industry haven't been solved, that doesn't mean everyone is happy for there to be problems!

I agree wholeheartedly that much stricter regulations are required, both on horse breeding and on the procedures at knackeries. I think you'll find that the many horse welfare and rescue groups operating in this country agree on that particular point, if you take the time to ask them.

Mr Garreffa, to put it plainly, you can't claim that people don't care about the tens of thousands of horses being sent to slaughter each year, just because no-one has approached you directly to talk about the issues prior to you selling the meat in your shop.

Vince Garreffa - "RSPCA's happy with us!"

Linda Monique - "RSPCA? Have approved? Yes?"

Vince Garreffa - "They are happy, because of the fact that they only worry about when the horse is alive, and when they know my story, they realise that I'm making the life of the horses destined for the table a much happier one for the last few months."

Have they overseen the slaughter of the horses in question? Have they undertaken to ensure that the abattoir workers in what is clearly a non-horse abattoir, are trained in the handling of horses? That the facilities are appropriate for horses?

I'm interested to find out about this claim of RSPCA approval. I'll see what I can find out, and share my findings in a future blog post.

In summary, I'm glad to see this interview in an unedited form, where Mr Garreffa has been allowed to basically ramble through his diverse "arguments". Seen in context, it's easy to see that he is even more misguided on many aspects of this issue than I had originally thought.

But we agree on one thing. Horse welfare in Australia is in a very sorry state indeed, and in desperate need of attention. For those who have made it to the end of this very long blog post, please see "How you can help" for simple things that any concerned person can do to help Australian horses.

Monday, August 2, 2010

New Horse Meat Regulations in the European Union

One of the major export markets for Australian horse meat is the European Union. People living in Italy, France, Belgium, etc, have eaten horse meat for a very long time, and as such have a pretty good understanding of the health risks to people eating horse meat that has not been monitored to rule out prohibited substances.

The European Union have now brought in standards that require countries exporting horse meat to the EU to comply with the following:

"Taking into consideration that in most cases horses are not specifically reared as food producing animals and usually end up in the food chain at the end of their productive lives, special attention needs to be given to the requirements of Council Directives 96/23/EC and 96/22/EC which should guarantee that the horses slaughtered are safe for human consumption. Notwithstanding third countries' existing obligations to implement a residue monitoring plan and submit this on an annual basis to the Commission services for approval, third countries are expected to implement the following measures for those equidae, meat from which is intended to be exported to the EU:

  • Equine animals intended for food production should be identified and a system of identity verification should be established.
  • In third countries where anabolic steroids are marketed for fattening purposes, there should either be a prohibition on the administration of anabolic steroids for growth promotion purposes to all equidae or there should be a separate system for equidae which may be slaughtered for export of equine meat to the EU. This would require that equidae intended for meat production for the EU would be identified and segregated from those equidae treated with anabolic steroids.
  • Treatment records. The purpose of recording treatments of animals with veterinary medicinal products is to ensure that animals are not slaughtered within the withdrawal period of the medicine in question, thus providing guarantees that the EU Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) for the particular pharmacologically active substance is respected. In the EU stock farmers are required to keep medicines records. On that basis it is expected that treatments with veterinary medicinal products should be recorded on a document linked to and accompanying the identified animal when moving from one premise to another or to the slaughterhouse (food chain information).
  • At the time of moving the animal to the slaughterhouse, the competent authority of the third country should be able to guarantee that the required withdrawal periods for veterinary medicinal products administered to the animal and recorded in the food chain information have been respected.
  • The third-country exporting equine meat should set up a risk based programme for controls on the use of veterinary medicinal products and substances prohibited for use in the EU. The control programme should include regular inspections on holdings, collection centres and at slaughterhouses."
"Any horse in the EU treated with phenylbutazone must be excluded from the food chain and be signed out of the food chain in the equine passport."

Put simply, all horses that are to be slaughtered for human consumption must be identified (microchipped) and their individual veterinary histories must follow them from owner to owner, and then finally to the abattoir. No anabolic steroids, no Phenylbutazone, indeed none of these commonly used products and medications. Measures to comply with this new system are to have been in place by the 31st July, 2010.

Currently, there is no system of registering horses in Australia, and definitely no system of tracking their veterinary histories. Here is a link to the European Union's horse passport system, in all its technical glory. Australia is a very long way from having that sort of system. So far in fact, that some of the products that exclude a horse from slaughter can be purchased by anyone over the counter, with no veterinarian required.

So what will happen now?

Will the two Belgian owned export abattoirs, one in South Australia and one in Queensland, simply sell more meat to markets outside of the EU? Japan for example? In which case, how long will it take for Japan to become dissatisfied with meat that the EU has deemed to be unsafe?

Will racehorse breeders who rely on getting rid of their horses in this way start keeping detailed records on each horse voluntarily, as part of a "split system"?

Will there be a demand for more brumbies to be slaughtered, instead of domesticated horses?

This is not impossible, as you will see here in the section of the above document from the EU that relates to brumbies:

"For equidae caught in the wild, the provisions as laid down for wild land mammals apply. These provisions foresee the submission of an annual residue monitoring plan which is restricted to the analysis of environmental contaminants (e.g. heavy metals). Countries so approved will be listed in the Annex to Commission Decision 2004/432/EC under the column entitled "Equine"."
It seems that in the most recent Annex to Commision Decision 2004/432/EC, Australia is listed as an approved country. See here for the document in question, 2010/327/EU, dated 10th June 2010. So brumby meat will not be affected by the new regulations.

These are interesting times indeed for the issue of horse slaughter for human consumption.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Your Questions Answered #3

This post is in response to a twitter exchange with someone asking for question suggestions for an interview with butcher Vince Garreffa.

My answers unfortunately don't fit into 140 characters or less, but I shall endeavour to keep them brief!

The Twitter exchange so far:

Them - Interviewing Vince from Mondo Butchers to clarify why he sells horse meat. What are some things you want me to ask?
Me @them - would love to know his thoughts on the rational argument against consuming Oz horse meat: :)

Me @them - Oh, and I'm very interested in what screening/food safety procedures the govt made him follow, re: drugs in horses :)

Them - Interview with Vince from Mondo butchers will be posted on Youtube tonight. Was a real eye opener! some of the facts...

Them - Horse meat he sells has been approved by the RSPCA, yet Vince is banned from sellling horse burgers at the Truffle Fest on Saturday

Them - @DontEatAusHorse He has an extensive list of screening procedures at the same abattoir he gets his lamb, beef. Screened for steroids

Them - @DontEatAusHorse 60-70,000 horses are being shipped out of Oz to JAP, HOLL, GER, FRA, BEL for why can't a butcher sell?

Firstly, I'm looking forward to the Youtube video. Hopefully you've been able to go into greater depth than the mainstream media has so far.

Regarding the RSPCA approval, has the RSPCA specifically looked into the slaughter of the horses at the abattoir he is using? I'm very interested to learn more about this, as there are no abattoirs in Western Australia specifically set up for horses. The only two horse abattoirs in Australia are the two Belgian owned export facilities in South Australia and Queensland. (To clarify - horse abattoirs are different to knackeries that slaughter horses for pet food, fertiliser, etc.)

The Truffle Festival decided to ask Vince not to sell horse meat at the festival because they were concerned about people protesting there. An understandable decision by the organisers, as they wish to hold a successful event, not one disrupted by protesters.

I would love to see the list of screening procedures. Glad to hear they were screened for steroids. I'm hoping they were screened for other things also, particularly Phenylbutazone. I understand that the limited scope of Twitter may have prevented you from listing further substances, so I look forward to seeing more in the Youtube video.

The well worn argument of "it's good enough for people overseas, so it's good enough for Aussies" would no doubt be quite valid if it were true. New food safety measures being brought in for the European Union on July 31st 2010 will exclude Australian horse meat from their dinner tables, because in the EU they have stringent health standards for tracing prohibited substances in the meat, something which Australia does not do.

You listed France, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium among the countries importing Australian horse meat. They will all be affected by the new health standards for horse meat in the EU.

I will post more from this document later, but here are some of the key requirements of third countries exporting horse meat to the EU that definitely impact on Australian exports:
"Equine animals intended for food production should be identified and a system of identity verification should be established.
Treatment records. The purpose of recording treatments of animals with veterinary medicinal products is to ensure that animals are not slaughtered within the withdrawal period of the medicine in question, thus providing guarantees that the EU Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) for the particular pharmacologically active substance is respected. In the EU stock farmers are required to keep medicines records. On that basis it is expected that treatments with veterinary medicinal products should be recorded on a document linked to and accompanying the identified animal when moving from one premise to another or to the slaughterhouse (food chain information)."
Currently in the EU:
"Any horse in the EU treated with phenylbutazone must be excluded from the food chain and be signed out of the food chain in the equine passport."

Australia has no system for registering horses, definitely no system for tracking medications given to horses, and Phenylbutazone is one of the most common drugs that is used here.

Australian horse meat is NOT "good enough" for people in Europe, who have been consuming horse meat for a very long time, and therefore know a bit more about the health risks. From this it is fairly easy to conclude that it is also NOT "good enough" for Australians.

The figure of 60-70,000 horses being exported is disturbingly large, and I'd be very interested to know the source of that figure. A study published in 2008 has the following to say about the number of horses slaughtered in Australia for export markets:

"The number of horses slaughtered has been estimated from data collected from Ramsay (1994) and has dropped from over 30,000 in the late 1990’s to the current levels of approximately 11,000 – 13,000 horses per annum."
Source - RSPCA knowledgebase report, Amanda Doughty 2008, from the School of Animal Studies and The Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics The University of Queensland, Gatton. The full report (thesis) is available in PDF format here (file size 1.26mb.)

Another figure that I've seen quoted is 40,000 horses per year. It is very difficult to accurate information on this. The government collects the figures, how about they start making them publicly available?

I hope that has covered everything. Sorry if it's a bit on the long side, but I believe it is important to be thorough!

Once again, I am happy to answer all questions, so keep them coming. Comment on the blog, or send me a tweet @donteataushorse

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Interesting Comments from the Interwebs

Just a quick post today on the discussion around the WA situation, as I've found a couple of interesting comments on the internet that I thought were worth sharing.

Firstly on Twitter, two tweets from a food and wine writer from Perth:

"International roaming charges worth it to hear update on horse saga straight from the proverbial Vince Garreffa's mouth."

"Perth: looks like no horse meat at truffle festival and there are plans for another slaughter in August (that Vince hopes is more low-key)"

So to anyone who thought this was a once-off, some sort of publicity stunt perhaps, I'm afraid you were mistaken.

The other interesting comments are some I found on a livejournal post that linked to this blog. The post is "I love horses, but I couldn't eat a whole one".

This comment in particular:
"A few more things the media isn't saying:

- Mondos is the only butcher in Australia allowed to supply horse to the public.
- Horse fillet is currently $95/kg. Rump, Sirloin $60/kg. More per kilo than the best quality beef.
- He's been working on this project for *years* to bring it to market. The word I heard was the supplier is breeding the animals specifically for the purpose. "
Those prices are MUCH higher than horse meat for export, which was worth an average of $4.20 per kg in 2007 (source). Obviously once the meat reaches Europe and other markets it costs more than that for consumers to purchase it from a butcher, but it should be noted that one of the attractions of horse meat has always been its relative cheapness. (And more recently, that there is no risk of Mad Cow Disease, but I will leave these points, and other aspects of the international situation, to future posts.)

Very interesting indeed. At those prices he can afford to pay a lot more for a horse than the few hundred that they normally get for meat. Or perhaps the price is a reflection of the investment in "rearing" the horses to the point of slaughter. Hypothetically, a horse breeding "partner" could have got on board with this earlier and kept horses with this end in mind, despite the sale of horse meat for human consumption being illegal when the horses were bred.

Other possible options:
  • Mr Gareffa has put so much work into lobbying for this, that he wants to see a serious return on his investment and has put a huge mark-up on the meat.
  • He's got a monopoly on this, and can charge what he likes.
  • A less likely option being that he may be concerned about how long he can continue given the public outcry, and wishes to make as much money as possible before the rule is changed again.
Of course Vince Garreffa has come out in the media to say that he won't be giving details of where he got the horses from, or where they were slaughtered, which is understandable given the threats he's received. I imagine many members of the community would not be too keen on the possibility of Australia having a "horse meat farm" in WA. Sure to trigger more emotional outpouring, if it did turn out to be the case.

Even if these horses have been raised in a way to reduce health risk to consumers, unfortunately these horses have still been slaughtered using a technique that has been proven to be inhumane. I will be posting in greater depth about the slaughter technique in future, in as clean and inoffensive a manner as possible. (Seems there's a never ending stream of important issues, and not enough hours in the day...) A basic outline, with links to more detailed sources, is given here.

One thing remains clear. Vince Garreffa is obviously very committed to carrying on with this, given his years of planning and lobbying, and the possibility that the supplier may have deliberately invested considerable time and money in order to bring these horses to the market.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Addressing Specific Misconceptions #1 - Horses are not "reared" for human consumption in Australia

I discovered this article today on the subject of the legalisation of horse meat for human consumption in Australia.

The use of "rearing" in this article is incredibly misleading to those who are unfamiliar with how the industry works.

Domesticated horses that are slaughtered for export markets are NOT reared for this purpose. These horses end up at the abattoirs because there are simply not enough homes out there for them. The majority of these horses are bred for racing, with tens of thousands of thoroughbreds and standardbreds discarded to slaughter each year.

Horse slaughter is an industry that is the direct result of excessive overbreeding.

Anyone attempting to make money by "rearing" horses for human consumption would soon find it to be an incredibly unprofitable venture.

The costs of rearing a horse for even the first two years of its life, plus the upkeep of the mare while she 's carrying the foal for 11 months, are more than the money you would get for it as meat, even if only the basic needs of survival are met. In the incredibly unlikely event of the sale price being more than the cost of rearing the horse, the tiny profit margin would not be worth the effort involved.

Selling horses to slaughter is only profitable when people pick up unwanted horses very cheaply, or for free, and sell them very quickly so they do not have to pay for much upkeep. Abattoirs pay for horses by weight, and one of the reasons there is an export market at all is that the meat is cheap.

Quality horses can easily fetch thousands of dollars, and will always be worth much more sold for purposes other than slaughter. Anyone involved in breeding horses who is not aiming to produce quality is "doing it wrong".

The horses slaughtered for Vince Garreffa in Western Australia were definitely not "reared" for slaughter. Or at least they shouldn't have been, seeing as the sale of horse meat for human consumption was illegal until a week ago. The breeder/s of these horses have clearly failed in their attempts to breed saleable prospects for a more profitable horse buying market.

The second misconception raised by this article is that people have suddenly decided to have a problem with horse slaughter because it is legal to sell horse meat in WA... As if the export industry has been given the thumbs up by everyone in Australia, merely by the fact that it exists.

I assert that this is an artificial impression due to the issue only just having made it to the mainstream media. There are people out there who have been working hard to raise awareness of many horse welfare issues for many years. The fact that they have not been on the radar of journos can be compared to other animal welfare issues, which rarely make it into the media.

How many average Aussies had given thought to the goings on at pig farms until sow stalls were brought to their attention? How long after battery cages became widely known about, did it take for free range eggs to become popular, or even available for purchase?

It is only when people are given information about what is going on that they are in any position to have an opinion on it. Any industry that relies on unpleasant things happening to animals is not going to go out of their way to publicise their activities, and politicians are not going to legislate to improve matters for the animals involved until the wider public is aware of the situation and start to show that they are displeased with it.

The wider issues of horse welfare are now a little closer to being "on the radar" since horse meat went on sale in WA, but until journalists themselves become a little more aware of the reality of the situation, it looks like we're going to see more frustrating articles such as this one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Your Questions Answered #2

I was asked the following questions on Twitter:

A few q's: If we implemented a drug-tracking system for horses, where would the funding come from? Gov or industry funded?
and if it were Gov funded, why should those who do not eat horse have to pay taxes so those that do eat it can?

To my knowledge, all proposals for systems of horse registration to date have required funding from horse owners through the charging of registration fees, as is the case for owners of dogs or even cars.

Estimates place the number of domesticated horses in Australia at about one million, but no-one knows for sure, because there is no registration system. As horses change owners more frequently than other companion animals, there would no doubt be fees required for transfer of ownership, as well as initial and perhaps yearly fees for simply registering a horse. A system keeping track of that many horses will require quite a number of government employees to maintain.

For a truly reliable system, all horses would need to be microchipped. Currently horses must be branded, however brands can be hard to read and difficult to trace. The requirement that horses be branded is not enforced, and as a result many horses remain unbranded.

To implant a microchip in a horse's neck requires a suitably qualified person, usually a vet. In my experience a standard visit from an equine vet costs more than $100, for travel, call out fee, examination of the horse, etc. The fee for implanting the microchip would be added to this. In the case of there being several horses on the property being seen at once, the basic charge for the visit may be spread between them, but if there is only one horse on a property, the "cost per horse" will clearly be higher.

The cost of microchipping would more than likely be covered by the horse owner, unless government funding could be secured.

It is very unlikely that the horse slaughter industry itself would provide any funding for such a system, seeing as they only bring in around $10 million a year from export.

As you can see there are many issues that need to be ironed out before a system could be implemented. Regarding taxpayers paying to regulate an industry they do not support... well I suppose that would be nothing new.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Horse drugs - They have safety standards though, right?

If you've read my summary of the two main points of concern regarding horse slaughter for human consumption, whether it be in WA, or at the two export abattoirs in SA and Qld, then you'll know that if there are prohibited horse drugs in the meat, it can be toxic to humans.

But surely the people who work in the horse slaughter trade know this, and there are safety measures in place, right? I mean... many products that are used on horses have a meat withholding period in the first place because the industry is regulated... right?

Sure, horse meat apparently comes under the National Residue Survey, so that for each horse slaughtered, apparently $5 must be contributed towards monitoring and assessing chemical residues in exported agricultural products.

Many consider the current system to be insufficient, and assert that a national system of horse registration is required to keep track of substances used on horses.

The problem can be illustrated thusly: Sandy has a one year old horse. The horse cuts his leg and it blows up like a balloon, so she calls the vet. The vet prescribes Ilium Dermapred ointment to be applied to the wound, and Phenylbutazone to help ease the inflammation.

Both of these drugs are very commonly used on horses, but "NOT TO BE USED on horses that may be slaughtered for human consumption" (says so right there on the label, with those exact capital letters.)

Sandy has no plans for her horse to be slaughtered, so it's not a problem.

The horse takes a little while to heal up, but because treatment was started straight away he heals up really well with no visible scar. Thank goodness for that!

So some time goes by, horsey is now three years old, so Sandy gets him "broken in" to saddle and starts riding him. He bucks, and Sandy falls off a couple of times. She decides that he's too much for her to handle and she needs to sell him. Sandy will be sad, but that's what happens with horses. She needs to make room in the paddock for a horse that she can ride.

So Gus buys him from Sandy. He's an experienced rider who wants to make him into a showjumper. Sandy thinks that'll be great, so the sale goes through.

At no point does it occur to Sandy to tell Gus that she gave the horse 2 restricted medications two years ago. Why would she? The horse healed up perfectly, there's no problem with the horse now. Gus would think her very strange indeed for even mentioning it.

What's more Sandy is under NO LEGAL OBLIGATION to tell ANYONE what drugs she has given to her horse. The vet does not have to report it, no one has to say anything.

So the horse goes showjumping, but he can't jump high enough, so 6 months later he gets sold to a guy called Mark.

Mark has the horse for a while, but then the horse injures himself in the paddock. The injury means the horse can no longer be ridden. Mark isn't going to keep a horse that can't be ridden, so he calls the phone number in the paper for "that guy who buys unwanted horses."

So the horse ends up with the local horse dealer who buys any horse, no matter what's wrong with it. Because the horse is injured he ends up being sold to the abattoir. While the abattoir may ask the person selling them the horse if the horse has had any prohibited medications, there is no way the horse dealer, or even Mark, would know what previous owners have given the horse.

In the absence of any system of registering and microchipping horses to track the medications they are given, each horse needs to be tested for prohibited substances to be sure that there is no health risk to those consuming the meat.

But is testing each horse financially viable?

Of course not. You can't drug test every horse for $5 a head... And this is why I have grave concerns about our export industry.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that I'm a "horse person", and you can argue bias all you like, but I would find this part just as much of a concern as if Australia were exporting contaminated tofu...

Edit: Sorry, nearly forgot to mention what happened in WA!

Apparently the WA Health Department "screened" each of the horses slaughtered for Vince Garreffa to make sure they were safe for human consumption. So far my simple question "What did the screening process actually involve?" has gone unanswered. If they had to do a background check or scientific test on each horse, then surely that's an unsustainable method if horse meat is to find a market here? Is the government going to run around doing this extra work for a meat market that is, in Vince Garrefa's own words, "small potatoes"?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Wow, an Interview with Someone who isn't a Butcher...

Amongst the sensational media coverage of the Western Australian horse meat "scandal", I've finally found a half decent interview where the journo has spoken with someone opposed to horse slaughter in Australia.

Click here to listen or here to read the transcript of an ABC news interview, first with butcher Vince Gareffa, then with Glenys Oogjes from Animals Australia.

One of the excellent points that Glenys raises is that those who are concerned about this should be looking to the source - the overbreeding of horses, particularly by the thoroughbred and standardbred racing industries who breed twenty to thirty thousand foals each year with only a fraction even making it to the track. This is known as "wastage", and you can read more about the problem in the article "What is horse 'wastage' in the racehorse industry?" on the RSPCA knowledgebase website.

In the interview, Ms Oogjes tells of how she has personally been to the abattoir in South Australia (Peterborough) where horses are slaughtered for export. She then goes on to say that Animals Australia is opposed to adding any more animal species to our plates.

Unfortunately she does not cover the specifics of the two key issues that I believe need to be addressed by the export industry and the WA State Government. Perhaps they are just too complex to get across in a brief interview? Perhaps we still need the media to interview someone who is aware of the specific issues relating to horses...

On a different note, in this interview the point is raised that Mr Garreffa will only have about 20 horses slaughtered each year. "Small potatoes" indeed when compared to the tens of thousands slaughtered for export, but surely he won't be allowed to hold such a monopoly on the horse meat market if it becomes established? If the sale of horse meat becomes a normal everyday thing in WA, surely there will be other butchers in all states who will also wish to follow suit, resulting in many more healthy young Aussie horses being slaughtered.

Clearly this issue is of national concern, and those who are opposed to it cannot afford to become apathetic.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Regarding Mr Vince Garreffa, "Celebrity Butcher"

If anyone can spot a "media tart" when they see one, it's me. I lived in Brisbane when Peter Beattie was premier. Enough said.

One thing is clear, the media LOVE this guy. At this point Mr Vince Garreffa has done many interviews with various media outlets. In many of which his opinion is the only one put forward, such as this lovely interview from ABC online.

Don't get me wrong, he raises some good points and has done a lot for bringing the issue of horse slaughter to the mainstream media. However, it is frustrating that a "celebrity butcher" is dominating the conversation, and many of his claims are not exactly accurate. (I will be addressing some of the points he has raised in future posts.) Call me a hopeless optimist if you will, but I'm going to put a little faith in the media, that we will soon see a sensible journalist out there get in contact with someone with an opposing viewpoint. Such as Second Chance Horse Rescue from Western Australia (their media release on the WA horse meat issue is covered in this blog post).

This situation illustrates a huge part of the problem with horse welfare in Australia, and the reason why so many have been unaware of the scale of horse slaughter up until now. While there are horse rescue and welfare groups out there made up of hardworking volunteers, they are spread far and wide, and are clearly not as well equipped to deal with the mainstream media as Mr Garreffa, who has established media contacts from his many appearances.

I had not been aware of Mr Garreffa until now, but he clearly loves the spotlight. For those who are also new to this guy, a quick google shows that he makes regular appearances on 6PR882, The West, ABC Esperance, Spice Magazine, SBS, Scoop Online, 3AW and the Today show.

On Perth ABC Radio 720ABC he is apparently "Afternoon's very own butcher" (hate to tell you Gillian O'Shaughnessy, pretty sure he's not your "very own"!)

Mr Garreffa obviously knew that there would be a backlash against him for this, and he's had plenty of time to prepare his media strategy. Welfare groups and horse lovers found out about this after the Agriculture minister Terry Redman had already given the green light, and have been scrambling to catch up ever since.

So a request to the media... please do some research on this, and don't let your loyalty to a popular media figure cloud your judgement. This is not a case of "lovable Perth man vs crazy animal rights activists", there are serious issues that need to be investigated. (Click here for a basic overview of the rational argument against the consumption of Australian horses.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Horse meat is not even meat?

Just had my attention drawn to a tweet from a student of nutrition...

@triplejHack According to Food Standards (see pg.6) - horse is not even considered "meat" by definition in Australia!

So what standards are they using to ensure the horse meat being served in WA is safe for human consumption? Food safety policy is not something you can make up as you go along...

Your Questions Answered #1

I'd like to share a twitter conversation I had this evening with a curious member of the twittersphere. I'm sure the questions asked may be of interest to others. I've removed the name because it seemed like the polite thing to do :)
  1. @personontwitter Pt1- Need to implement registration system for tracking drugs given to horses = $$ blocked by industry every time it's brought up
    @personontwitter Pt2 - USA has recently banned slaughter for human consumption because no suitably humane slaughter technique could be found

Further details

- A registration system has been put forward recently by Charlie's Angels Horse Rescue. See link here for more information. I hope it is seriously considered, because it would also be hugely beneficial for reasons other than those relating to the consumption of horse meat, but I am not holding my breath that it will be taken up. Various industry groups block it every time, which is incredibly frustrating.

- Horse slaughter for human consumption was banned in the USA in 2006 because they could not find a slaughter method that did not contravene their Humane Slaughter Act. The unpleasant details are here if you feel like you can handle them. The problem involves the necessity for blood to be drained from the animal so that the meat will be fit for human consumption. There is no suitable method of stunning a horse so that the blood can be drained, due to the shape of their skull and the naturally flighty natures of horses. A horse in a stressful situation, such as being in the kill box at an abattoir, is very difficult to keep still so the slaughter-person can get a clean shot.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! I promise I am rational and friendly. Just trying to share information that I feel is pretty important. Send me a tweet @DontEatAusHorse or comment on any post if you'd like to join the discussion :)

Article in The West does not address the real issues

The West published an article on their website this morning about the anti horse meat backlash... unfortunately they've focussed on animal rights activists instead of the real concerns of those of us willing to engage in reasonable debate about this!

Human health risks? No mention... Animal welfare concerns in the slaughter process? No mention... Someone ringing up and mentioning "Underbelly"? Well of course that got in there...

Who would expect such a thing from a newspaper... Hmmm... Oh dear, so easy to be cynical...

Link to the story: "Threats over horse meat sales"

Media Release from Second Chance Horse Rescue

Here is the official media release from Second Chance Horse Rescue regarding the current situation in Western Australia. Second Chance are a horse welfare and rescue organisation who operate in WA.

Second Chance Horse Rescue Inc – Media Statement - Slaughter of Horses for human consumption in Western Australia – July 2010

Second Chance Horse Rescue is a not for profit organisation dedicated to the welfare of horses in Western Australia. Second Chance is opposed to the slaughter of horses for human consumption and urges the State Government to remove the horse as a declared animal under the Western Australian Meat Industry Authority Act 1976 (WA).

Second Chance has reached this position for the following reasons:
1. Concern for Animal Welfare

a. Slaughter of horses
Second Chance is not opposed to the humane euthanasia of horses. Second Chance is however concerned that the slaughter of horses for human consumption will result in poor welfare for the horses involved. This is because there is no purpose built abattoir for killing horses for human consumption in Western Australia.

Horses are naturally more flighty than cattle or sheep and abattoir facilities designed for those species are not suitable for horses without compromising their welfare. Unless a race and holding/stunning box is specifically designed for horses, a horse is likely to be able to move excessively which results in ineffective stunning, causing unnecessary pain and suffering during the slaughter process, an unacceptable result.

In addition, personnel at abattoirs are unlikely to be experienced in handling horses. As a minimum, Second Chance would expect anyone involved in handling horses for slaughter to have undergone training in stock handling techniques specified for horses, as is done for other species, in order to minimise stress on the animals and improve safety and welfare.

b. Lack of enforcement of Animal Welfare Legislation
Second Chance is concerned that if a market for horse meat for human consumption is established in Western Australia, the welfare of horses will not be controlled given the current appalling state of animal welfare law enforcement in Western Australia. Such a market could result in horses frequenting saleyards, enduring long distance transportation and the establishment of 'backyard breeders' in an effort to produce large numbers of young horses as cheaply as possible.

The sole animal welfare agency of the State Government, the Animal Welfare Unit of the Department of Local Government and Regional Development, has only 2 inspectors who are responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act 2002 (WA) in all of Western Australia. It is clear that there will be nobody to regulate such an industry and ensure animal welfare standards are complied with.

2. Drug Residues and Food Safety

Horses are not included in the National Livestock Identification System and do not require waybills when sold or moved within Western Australia, unlike other livestock. This means it is impossible to know where horses have come from in the event of a disease outbreak or food safety or residue contamination issue.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to trace a horse's origin removing incentive for sellers to ensure that horses destined for slaughter are free of chemical residues. Given that the equine industry uses large quantities of drugs, such as phenylbutazone, that have been banned by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for use in food producing animals, the Government will be placing human health and safety at inexcusable risk. This risk is especially real if the majority of horses destined for slaughter are by-products of the racing industry, an industry which has a high demand for veterinary drugs such as phenylbutazone.

3. International comparison

Second Chance finds the decision of the State Government to legalise horse slaughter for human consumption especially unfathomable given the recent banning of this exact same practice in the United States in 2006.

Link to source

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thinking of Trying Horse Meat in WA? Read this first...

Here is a simple summary of two major issues of concern with regard to the recent decision to allow the sale of horse meat for human consumption in Western Australia.

1. Human Health

Horses in Australia are routinely treated with medications, feed additives and even products such as insect repellents that have "NOT TO BE USED ON HORSES THAT MAY BE SLAUGHTERED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION" written on the label.

Horses slaughtered for human consumption are not bred for this purpose, and as such their owners and trainers use these products without a second thought. For example, if you want a racehorse to be a winner, of course you will do whatever necessary to keep it fit and healthy. While the horse is still racing there is no problem, but what happens if that horse is too slow, ends up being put through an auction and is purchased by a meat buyer?

In Australia there is no system of tracking individual horses and the medications, etc, that they have been given throughout their lifetime. It is difficult even to track down information about who may have owned the horse in the past, let alone what treatments it may have received.

One very commonly used drug that is of major concern is Phenylbutazone, known in the horse world as "bute". It is used by many horse owners as if it is "horsey panadol", given to horses whenever there is even the slightest thing wrong with them. One of the key reasons why Europe introduced a system of horse "passports" was to track the use of Phenylbutazone, which is not safe for humans to consume at any level in horse meat. Until such a system is introduced in Australia, there are serious risks to human health in bringing horse meat to the table.

Edit: In the case of the horses slaughtered for Vince Garreffa, the WA Health Department "screened" the horses to ensure they were safe. The exact screening procedures are not known to me at this point, despite repeated requests for this information (I will update this if my questions are answered at some point.) If the screening involves such measures as background checks or blood tests on each horse, this would seem to be a ridiculously unsustainable method of ensuring food safety... particularly bearing in mind that other butchers will no doubt also wish to start selling horse meat.

2. Inhumane Slaughter Technique

Without going into unpleasant details... The method of slaughter used on horses intended for human consumption is designed for cows, not horses. Horses are not rendered unconscious in the same way as cows, due to the different shape of their skulls. This results in them suffering terribly in the slaughter process.

A humane technique has yet to be found, and this has led to horse slaughter for human consumption being banned in the United States.

If you can handle the unpleasant details, please click here or here for more information. (These links are from the USA, but the technique is the same as that used in Australia.)

Please take a look at this online petition regarding the decision in Western Australia. It will only take a moment of your time if you decide to sign it.

Unfortunately this matter in Western Australia is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the massive problem of horse slaughter in Australia. We will be updating this blog regularly with more information, but until then, for further reading visit Horse Slaughter FAQs and Do you need to breed? (A 278kb PDF file that you are encouraged to print out and plaster about where horsey people might see it!)