The alleged inhumane practices surrounding the slaughter of horses in the UK – including several hundred Irish racehorses – contained in a BBC documentary would never happen in Ireland, the Department of Agriculture said. ‘Food and Navy.
BBC Panorama has revealed that thousands of racehorses are sent to slaughter in Ireland and the UK. A secret video recording from a slaughterhouse in Swindon showed animals being killed in a seemingly cruel manner, slaughterers shooting animals together and from a distance, and injured animals apparently being transported hundreds of miles.
Michael Sheahan, the deputy chief veterinarian for the department, told the Oireachtas agriculture committee that horses slaughtered in Ireland are treated the same as cattle.
“The most surprising thing [in the documentary] was the method of slaughter, ”he said.
“We seem to see horses being led into a room or anteroom and seem to see a slaughterer with a gun. In some cases, it seems he was pulling the horse from a distance.
He said no such thing would be allowed in Ireland. “There is no doubt that we would allow a horse to walk around a room and then be held by one individual and then shot by another,” he said.
He said what happens in an Irish slaughterhouse is that the horses are sent to a squeeze box, are properly restrained and are then knocked out and then killed.
“They operate to exactly the same standards as a beef slaughterhouse,” he said, saying there was always a veterinarian from the Agriculture Ministry present.
Mr Sheahan said that only one horse slaughterhouse was licensed in Ireland: “I am happy to say that we are happy with the way things are working in the slaughterhouse.”
He admitted that the horse movement traceability system was “nowhere near as good” as in the cattle industry.
He said the traceability of livestock in Ireland was one of the best in the world. “We have a Rolls Royce system for cattle,” he said, saying it took 50 years to develop it.
He said the traceability of horses has improved dramatically and now there is the microchip. In addition, 27,000 premises where horses were kept had now been registered, the committee was told.
Mr Sheahan said there are still several pieces of the puzzle to be completed in terms of tracing, the main one being an equine census.
Mr Sheahan said transporting an injured animal long distances, as shown in the documentary, was illegal. “It is unequivocal,” he said.
He also pointed out that the system of moving horses to and from the UK has changed since Brexit. Before January, horses could be easily moved without the need for controls, but that had changed since then.
Members of the committee, including Chairperson Jackie Cahill (Fianna Fáil), expressed their revulsion and horror at some of the practices disclosed in the BBC film. Mr Cahill told the committee it had been difficult to watch and said the committee would return to specifically investigate the matter at a later date.
Joe Flaherty (Fiann Fáil) endorsed the program designed for ‘heartbreaking observation’ and said there was an issue with the traceability of horses in Ireland.
“We are a nation that loves horses and are very proud of our reputation as an equine nation.
“We know the life of a calf from the day it is born until the day it is put on a plate,” he said.
“We need the traceability of the horses in a central database,” he added.
Senator Rónan Mullen said the presentation of horse racing to the public was that there was a great love for the horse
“We may be a nation that loves horses, and while there may be people in horse racing who love horses, there seem to be a lot of people in the horse racing industry who don’t. ‘dislike horses and see them as money-making machines, “he said.
He asked department officials if they were being too conservative in their approach to the case file and were they pursuing an animal welfare program and were they aware of such practices?
Department Assistant Secretary General Kevin Smith responded, “I categorically state that I did not know until I saw (the program) last night. There is a legitimate way to treat injured animals or euthanasia. It can be done humanely.
Regarding the apparent issue of discussion for the committee – the doping allegations in the horse racing industry – Mr Smith was asked about the funding, salaries and independence of the Irish Horse Racing Board ( IHRB), which regulates the industry, in collaboration with the department.
Mr Smith defended transparency, but said that an issue had arisen regarding the independence of the IHRB board of directors as well as its gender balance. Several MPs, including Matt Carthy of Sinn Féin, said the board included “insiders” from the equestrian industry and could not be considered independent.
“The relationship is far too warm. The IHRB is an independent body. Part of the difficulty is that it is not seen as independent.
“It is seen as an organization for and by the industry, and there is no independence in terms of a board of directors,” Carthy said.