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'I'm going to say the unthinkable: Selling horses for food would help end this cruelty,' says ex-editor of Horse and HoundsAbigail Butcher believes horsemeat trade could end welfare issuesLast year more than 700 horses reported as abandonedHorses can be bought for 5 at auction and sold as meat
01:16 GMT, 17 February 2013
13:00 GMT, 17 February 2013
We might be appalled at having unknowingly eaten horse, but as a horse lover, I believe we need a horsemeat trade in Britain. If used properly, it could solve some of our desperate horse welfare problems.
I worked as head of news for Horse & Hound, the UK’s equestrian bible, for six years. During that time, I was horrified by daily stories of neglect. Not necessarily the sort of neglect that results in an RSPCA prosecution, but nonetheless brought about by owners shirking responsibility.
We call ourselves a nation of animal lovers, but there is a growing crisis in the horse world and our charities are awash with unwanted and abandoned equines.
In a minority: Horse lover Abigail Butcher, pictured riding in Argentina, believes that selling horses for food could put a stop to welfare problems such as neglect
The sheer expense of keeping a horse means that prices – even of decent competition animals – have plummeted with the economy. These days, low-value animals and horses that can no longer be ridden – either through injury, old age or bad behaviour – can barely even be given away. As a result, they often languish, neglected and forgotten, in fields.
Last year, more than 700 horses were reported abandoned to the horse sanctuary Redwings – up from 160 in 2009. Another charity, World Horse Welfare, last year rescued double the number of horses it did in 2006.
Why is this happening Aside from financial issues, it’s because we have bred too many low- standard animals for too long and we can’t face up to our responsibilities. When my ex-racehorse could no longer be ridden because of injury, I chose to have him destroyed. The alternative was to leave him in a field, unhappy and in pain. By having him put down, I knew his suffering was over.
I am, however, in the minority of owners who choose humane destruction. One reason is that disposing of a horse is not cheap: a vet will charge at least 150 to put one down.
Neglected: Hundreds of horses, such as this animal in North Wales, have to be rescued every year as it is too expensive for owner's to look after them, or have them put down
Even then it is illegal to bury a horse unless you get an individual licence, so the body must then be disposed of at a cost of between 100 and 400, usually by either a local hunt kennels or a knackerman. The horse’s carcass will be incinerated or fed to the hounds or animals at a local zoo.
If you want your horse cremated and its ashes returned, you can say goodbye to nearly 1,000. But there is a ready market in continental Europe for horsemeat. And the slaughter trade provides a humane and logical way to dispose of unwanted animals.
There is a financial incentive, too. If a horse has not been given drugs unsafe for human consumption, an abattoir will pay roughly 300 for it. In 2008, Horse & Hound investigated horse dealer James Gray, who was found with more than 100 horses in various stages of ill-health and decay on his farm in Buckinghamshire. At the time, no one could work out why he had them. Now we know.
There are an estimated one million horses in the UK and the ones swilling around at the bottom of the market can be bought by dealers for as little as a fiver at auction – and sold on for meat.
Humane: Abigail Butcher says horse meat is consumed by millions of people in continental Europe, such as shoppers at this horsemeat butcher shop in Paris
People hoped this trade in unfit horses would slow in 2004 when the EU introduced horse passports to track what drugs a horse had been given. If the horse had been given the painkiller phenylbutazone, or ‘bute’, it would be signed as unfit for human consumption. But Labour failed to police the system and until recently it has been easy to circumvent the scheme.
Each year, about 10,000 horses are sold for meat in the UK. Native ponies make up a proportion of that number, and around 1,000 racehorses end up in the food chain each year, too. However, the British Horseracing Authority has just announced that the number bred for racing in Britain and Ireland has fallen by just under a third compared with five years ago – meaning fewer will finish their careers unwanted at an abattoir.
So the majority must be leisure horses, finding their way there via a dealer. In all my years at Horse & Hound, and as a horse owner, I don’t know of a single person who has sold a horse for meat – or admitted to it.
But why not We eat cows, sheep and chickens, so what’s wrong with allowing people to eat horse The horse is a meat animal consumed by millions in continental Europe.
If humane destruction at a well-regulated abattoir in the UK is the kindest option, isn’t that preferable to allowing a beautiful animal to suffer I think so.