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.