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Footage of UK abattoir slaughtering racehorses 'does not happen here', Irish officials say

The British Horseracing Authority has promised to examine content of the BBC Panorama investigation.

shean DAG Michael Sheahan, deputy chief veterinary officer DAFM. Source: Oireachtas.ie

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE officials have said the method of horse slaughter which appeared to be shown in a BBC Panorama investigation broadcast last night “is not something that happens here”. 

The programme, entitled The Dark Side of Horse Racing, broadcast covert footage filmed inside one of the UK’s biggest abattoirs – which it is claimed showed rules surrounding the slaughter of horses being breached.

The programme also reported that horses had been transported from Ireland to the UK with an injury before arriving at an abattoir – which is against the approved practices. 

The Department of Agriculture has said that health certificates were not required to move horses between Ireland, Britain and France prior to 1 January, only passports were, but that this has since changed. 

The British Horseracing Authority has said that it will look at the issues raised as a “matter of urgency” and will hold meetings with the independently-chaired Horse Welfare Board to discuss the content of the BBC Panorama investigation.

Horse Racing Ireland responded after the programme too, stating: “Horse Racing Ireland unreservedly condemns the practices shown in the images from the Swindon, UK abattoir, portrayed this evening in the BBC documentary Panorama.

HRI supports calls for an investigation by the relevant UK authority into this abattoir. This footage showed both animal and human health issues and is not reflective of the care that racehorses receive in the horseracing industry throughout their lives. 

Speaking at an Oireachtas Committee this morning, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer at the Department of Agriculture Michael Sheahan said he had seen the programme “for the the first time last night” so he cannot comment in detail.  

Despite this, he said that some of the issues around horse slaughter were “most striking”. 

“In the footage we appear to see horses being led into a sort of a room or an anti-chamber and we appear to see a slaughter man with a rifle, in some cases it appeared that he was taking a shot at the horse from a distance and in other cases it looked like he was, holding the horse by the halter with one hand and apparently trying to shoot the horse with the other hand. So I have to say that was, putting it mildly, very surprising for all sorts of reasons,” Sheahan said. 

You know for health and safety reasons if nothing else, but from an animal welfare point of view as well that certainly was somewhat surprising.

He added: “For the avoidance of any doubt, that is certainly not something that happens here. I don’t know if it’s ever happened in the distant past or not but certainly not in my time. When horses are slaughtered here in a slaughter plant here they’re dealt with in pretty much the same ways as cattle.”

Speaking about the alleged transportation of injured horses, Sheahan said: “Up until January of this year, there was a so called tripartite agreement in place which effectively allowed for the free movement of horses between ourselves and Britain and indeed France. It meant that you didn’t need health certificates or any other documentation, other than the passport, if you wanted to move your horse from here to Britain or indeed horse here to France. That has changed since 1 January, if you want to move a horse from Ireland to Britain you have to go through the full rigours of getting a vet involved and a health certificate and so on.”

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Contaminated meat

Another claim in the Panorama programme was that contaminated horse meat was finding its way into the human food chain via the fraudulent practice of switching microchips inside horses to evade passport checks which may show an animal had been treated with Bute.

In response, the UK’s Food Standards Agency said in a statement: “Upholding animal welfare and the safety and authenticity of the food we eat is a top priority for Government.

“The Food Standards Agency and Defra work closely with food businesses and slaughterhouses to ensure that animal welfare is maintained at all stages of food production and that all our food is correctly labelled and safe to eat.

“The FSA has asked Panorama to supply the footage that has been obtained during this investigation. If there is any evidence of mistreatment of animals, they will take action and investigate thoroughly.”

- With reporting by Press Association 

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Rónán Duffy

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