Since 2012, TSB and AWF have been investigating about horsemeat production in North and South America and documented the whole supply chain of horses: from auctions and rodeos via assembly 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 without assistance instead of receiving veterinary care or being emergency killed. The handling is often violent, and the majority of horses have no protection from the elements. The conditions at the slaughterhouses do not meet European animal welfare standards, although the plants are certified for animal welfare by SGS and participate in the project “Respectful Life” created by the European importers. The horses are transported over long distances in inappropriate trucks – without supply of water and feed, and often without protective roof. Furthermore, stolen horses enter the horsemeat production chain in Argentina, and smuggled horses in Uruguay. Because of unreliable documents and identification of horses in North and South America, it is impossible to guarantee traceability. The last owner - usually the slaughter merchant - provides information on the origin of the horses and the veterinary treatments during the last six months. 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, in order to ensure that there are no drug residues in the meat. The goal of this quarantine requirement is consumer protection, but it prolongs the suffering of the horses in the feedlots. They are kept in the open without any shelter, at temperatures as low as -30°C in winter, which leads to foals freezing to death at birth.
The imports from Australia to Switzerland have almost doubled since 2013. Therefore, we have started to investigate about the production of horsemeat in Australia in 2019. The transport vehicles are the same as in South America: open and absolutely inadequate for horses. The transport distances to slaughter are extremely long, with up to 1,500 km. Horses frequently die on these cruel transports. In the slaughterhouse as well, the horses are tortured systematically. They are beaten, kicked and receive electric shocks. Stunning failure often occurs, and many horses are shot several times. Some horses are hoisted and bled whilst being fully conscious. With horsemeat from Australia, the risk of drug residues is particularly high, since more than 50% of the slaughtered horses are racehorses.
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 the latest EU audit in Uruguay in April 2018 stated that the assembly centres of all three slaughterhouses were empty, despite the previous request of the audit team to see them in operation. This was criticised in the audit report, and serious questions were raised regarding animal welfare and traceability of the horses. Our footage from 2018 shows how the slaughterhouses prepare themselves for announced audits. Pregnant, injured and emaciated horses are removed from the slaughterhouse premises. Only a small number of healthy horses are slaughtered. Provisional shelters are built, and transport vehicles are roofed with a tarpaulin.
It is now an import ban on horsemeat from Mexico and Brazil – we continue until a ban on all horsemeat from America and Australia 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.
Corruption: Stolen, slaughtered, and 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".