The British Horseracing Authority is entering a rule change that will ensure that horses that run in the United Kingdom will not be allowed to be sold to abattoirs from January 2022. The decision follows a July investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme which discovered that as many as 4,000 former racehorses entered the food chain between July 2019 and the time of the investigation. Some of the horses were owned by prominent figures within the world of horse racing, though the practice has been widely condemned.
The Director Of Equine Health & Welfare for the BHA, James Given, said that transporting horses to an abattoir before selling them for consumption was an approach that the horse racing industry shouldn’t tolerate. He was also clear that such a practice should ‘not be classed as euthanasia’. One of the key reasons behind the rule change was in order to ensure that all horses were treated with the most appropriate drugs when injured on a racecourse. Any horses not signed out of the human food chain can’t be given certain drugs.
What Has Been Happening
The investigation carried out by the BBC’s Panorama team discovered that thousands of racehorses were being sent to abattoirs in Great Britain and Ireland. On top of that, some of the top slaughterhouses in the country were ignoring rules that were designed to stop horses from being killed in a cruel manner. Since the start of 2019, more than 4,000 former racehorses, most of whom had been trained in Ireland, had been slaughtered for meat. Many of these horses were young thoroughbreds, much to the disgust of Animal Aid.
It was not just failed horses that were sent to the slaughterhouse, with many of them having had illustrious careers that saw them win thousands of pounds in prize money. A number of the horses had come from the yard of trainer Gordon Elliott, who was already in hot water at the time of the programme’s release after photos of him sitting on the body of a dead horse to take a phone call emerged early in 2021. He denied having anything to do with the horses going to abattoirs, saying two had been sent to a horse dealer and one to another rider at the request of its owner.
Regulations say that horses should not be killed within sight of each other, but footage recorded horses being shot together 26 times over just four days of filming. A veterinary behavioural specialist from the University of Lincoln called Professor Daniel Mills explained that this would have been ‘very distressing’ for the horses. The regulations also say that every effort should be made to make sure that the death is as rapid as possible, but that’s not what the footage seemed to show. As many as 91 of the horses were shot ‘from distance’, resulting in them still being able to turn their neck and heads.
Not only did the horses suffer during their final moments, but in many cases they also suffered on their way to the abattoir. A number of the horses sent to the Drury and Sons slaughterhouse had suffered career ending injuries, yet were transported as much as 350 miles from Ireland in order to be euthanised. That, according to veterinary expert Dr Hannah Donovan, was ‘not a human process’. Drury and Sons denied any wrongdoing, stating that they ‘take great care to maintain high welfare conditions’, in spite of the evidence to the contrary.
What The BHA Is Doing
The British Horseracing Authority’s response to the Panorama episode has been to pass new rules that will ensure that such things cannot happen in the future. From January 2022, horses will be able to be sent to abattoirs as a means of being put down but will not be allowed to then be sold into the food chain. The change to the rule was actually suggested in January of 2021, but required approval from the board and rules committee of the BHA, which is why it has taken so long to become a genuine rule change.
The new rule will apply to all horses that are trained as runners in the United Kingdom, meaning that entries will be declined if it does not say in the horse’s passport and the Weatherbys app that the horse will not be used for human consumption. The British Horseracing Authority is also liaising with other jurisdictions in order to ensure that the rule change will apply to international horses running in Great Britain too. Given declared it to be a ‘great development’ the ‘follows on from work done last year by the Horse Welfare Board’.
Does It Go Far Enough?
Welfare charities are unconvinced that the rule changes being introduced by the BHA go far enough. There are talks from some quarters that an ‘underground trade’ will still exist and that the move is not the ‘welfare panacea it might appear’. The Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, Roly Owers, believes that it is ‘an interesting development’ but that it might well end up having ‘unintended consequences’. Owers feels that the British Horseracing Authority will need to closely monitor the impact that the change has and ‘act where necessary’.
“Equally this change will make the need for lifetime responsibility and traceability for all former racehorses ever more important as the slaughterhouse will no longer be an outlet. And until there is a robust digital equine identification system there is still a risk that some racehorses will be entered into the food chain fraudulently in an underground trade that we know carries grave risks for equine welfare.”
Still, Given is convinced that it is a step in the right direction and pointed out that the ‘four cornerstone stakeholder groups’ in horse racing were all consulted and ‘all unanimously agreed that this was the right and proper thing to do’. He said,
“The transporting of horses to an abattoir to be sold for consumption should not, in my view, be classed as euthanasia and is not an approach that we should tolerate in our sport, which is why a rule preventing this practice is a positive step. I am confident that most British trainers and owners agree with me on this and already observe this principle.”