Since 2012, Tierschutzbund Zürich has been investigating about horsemeat production in North and South America. We have documented the whole production chain: from auctions and rodeos via collection centres and transport through to the slaughterhouses. The findings of these investigations are clear: horses are systematically neglected and mistreated before being slaughtered for export to the EU and Switzerland. Injured, sick and dying animals are left to their own devices. We have nowhere seen veterinary care or emergency killing. Most horses have no protection from adverse weather conditions, and the handling is violent. The conditions at the slaughterhouses do not meet EU animal welfare standards, although the plants are EU-approved, and many are even certified for animal welfare by SGS. The transport in inappropriate vehicles often lasts for days – without supply of water and feed. The animal transport regulations in North and South America are far below Swiss or EU standards and do not offer the animals adequate protection. Furthermore, stolen horses enter the horsemeat production chain in Argentina, and smuggled horses in Uruguay. Because of unreliable documents and opaque production chains in North and South America, it is impossible to guarantee traceability. Since 1st of March 2017, the EU demands a six-month residency period for US horses sent to slaughter in Canada for the EU market. During this period, the horses have to stay in Canadian feedlots in order to ensure that there are no drug residues in the meat. The goal of this quarantine requirement is consumer protection, and it prolongs the suffering of the horses.
In 2015, the EU Commission imposed a ban on horsemeat imports from Mexico, which also applies to Switzerland. In the audit report of the EU veterinary authority, our findings regarding animal cruelty were explicitly confirmed. In 2017, horsemeat imports from Brazil were also suspended. The report about an EU-audit in Uruguay published in May 2017 comes to the following conclusion:
“With regard to horsemeat destined for export to the EU, the system in place does not provide adequate guarantees concerning some of the statements contained in the "EQU" certificate; in particular weaknesses have been noted concerning the controls aimed to ensure that the requirements on residency at the holdings, on administration of veterinary treatments at the animals and on animal welfare at the time of killing are met.”
It is now an import ban on horsemeat from Mexico and Brazil – We continue until a ban on all horsemeat from North and South America follows, as in the other countries the conditions for the horses are just as torturous.
2016: Slaughterhouse Lamar, Argentina
We have been monitoring the slaughterhouse Lamar near Buenos Aires for years. On December 19th 2016, we return to Lamar in order to see if any improvements have been done. We want to document the handling of the horses and find out what happens to injured and sick animals. The findings are unacceptable. The conditions are as bad as the years before, or even worse. On the large paddocks, there is still no weather protection for the horses, with temperatures rising up to 38°C. After rain, these paddocks get very muddy and partially flooded. The smaller pens are overcrowded and a lot of fighting can be observed, what causes stress and injuries. The handling by employees is very rough and unprofessional. They beat the horses in the pens and alleys, splash strong water jets into their faces. At the entrance to the slaughterhouse, they repeatedly hit the horses on their heads to force them into the stunning chute.
On some days, there is no feed available and hungry horses are observed searching the dirt floor for something to eat. On other days, there are a few straw bales, but weak horses are chased away by dominant ones and stay hungry. Horses of all genders, ages and health conditions are mixed together, what causes unnecessary agitation and a risk for weaker animals. We see several stallions with a metal wire tied through their mouth, to keep them from biting. The poor animals are unable to eat. Many horses are in a deplorable condition: injured, lame, weak, sick, very thin or severely emaciated. Most common are leg and head injuries, some of which have likely occurred during transport. A lot of horses have overgrown, neglected hooves, some with cracks. We also see several mares that appear to be pregnant as well as new-born foals. On every single day, we see severely injured horses that are unfit for transport according to EU standards and should never have been transported to the slaughterhouse in the first place. Or, if the injury happened during transport, they should have been emergency killed right upon arrival. At Lamar however, they are left in the paddocks for several days before being relieved from their suffering. In addition to very poor animal welfare, there are also strong concerns regarding traceability. We see several horses without ear tags, all of them well-fed and well cared for. We wonder if they are part of the many stolen horses that get into the slaughter pipeline (see below “The scandal in the Argentinian slaughterhouse Lamar”).
We also visit a horse collecting station that supplies Lamar with horses, among other slaughterhouses. There are 80 horses at the moment. The custodian tells us that the majority of these horses are sick and suffer from equine infectious anaemia (EIA). In the EU, horses with EIA would be excluded from slaughter for human consumption. The Argentinian veterinary authority SENASA requires that they be slaughtered, and they end up in EU approved slaughterhouses, including Lamar.
At another slaughterhouse in Entre Rios we discover a hole full of dead horses right next to the plant. We are told that horses regularly die on board the trucks, on hot days up to four horses on each truck. They break down during the long journeys and are trampled to death.
2013: The scandal in the Argentinian slaughterhouse Lamar
Simultaneous to the publication of our investigation "Horsemeat originating from torturous production" as well as the attempts of the GVFI Basel to downplay the malpractices at the slaughterhouse Lamar despite defamatory allegations and results of their own audit, the media in Buenos Aires is full of reports concerning criminal procedures in connection with horse slaughter at exactly that slaughterhouse. There, stolen horses are slaughtered to a great extent.
stolen - slaughtered - sold - for the Swiss market
Our findings on the ground surpass our worst expectations. We speak with victims, police officers, horse dealers, veterinarians, polo horse breeders, an informal employee of the government, and slaughterhouse employees. We meet the lawyer that managed to halt the slaughter procedures in February. We see horses that were already on the slaughterhouse premises and could be saved last minute. The statements of our conversation partners give a clear depiction of the situation: In Argentina horse theft is part of the daily agenda, run by criminal organisations and corrupted officials. In the EU-certified slaughterhouse Lamar, where up to 50% of horses slaughtered are stolen, stolen goods for the Swiss market and the EU are produced. The business is covered and promoted by "the top ranks in politics".