Horse Racing Ireland has said the rate of thoroughbreds being euthanised and sold for meat is on course to further reduce this year.
Figures released by the Department of Agriculture Food & Marine show that almost 3,000 thoroughbreds have been slaughtered for meat since the start of 2020 when DAFM began recording separate statistics for thoroughbreds.
A total of 1,549 were slaughtered in 2020 followed by 1,105 last year. So far in 2022 over 300 have been sold for meat.
All of them had been given passports from Weatherbys Ireland but were not necessarily foaled in this country.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy has described the figures as “horrifying” and said they put into question government support for the racing and breeding industries.
Horse Racing Ireland will get €70.2 million in state funding this year.
However, HRI has pointed to the declining rates in relation to thoroughbreds being slaughtered for meat and how it is a highly regulated and legal trade supplying markets mostly in Europe.
“The numbers are reducing which is a good thing. The numbers (foal crop in Ireland) we are producing are still a quarter below the peak of 10 of 12 years ago.
“The numbers quoted show a year-on-year reduction by 50 per cent and tracking to be down again in 2022,” said HRI’s director of equine welfare John Osborne.
“It is legal, highly regulated and controlled by Department of Agriculture officials.
“Horses that have not received certain things like bute (an anti-inflammatory medication) during the course of their lives can be presented to a meat factory.
“It’s become less socially acceptable and we’ve seen a big reduction in the number presented. But it’s for aesthetic reasons. It’s not illegal to do that.
“There is a well-developed market in certain parts of the world. There is no horse meat consumption in Britain and Ireland but meat from these parts has found its way to those markets historically and it is an EU policy that they do not want to follow the lead in America.
“They want to retain that trade in Europe and we are part of Europe. It’s not illegal to do this. It is just that socially it has become less acceptable as an outcome in the life of a horse,” he added.
There has been no legal processing of horses for human consumption in the US since 2007. Live exports of all breeds of horses continue from there to Canada and Mexico, including former racehorses.
Osborne repeated HRI’s view that “true euthanasia” involves putting an animal to sleep where it lives, a point he made last year on the back of a BBC Panorama programme which examined how some Irish racehorses were transported to abattoirs in the UK for slaughter.
“We have one remaining abattoir in Ireland which is tightly regulated by DAFM.
“Some people are uncomfortable with it but at least that route is regulated and we know it’s done to the highest standard possible, albeit we would still maintain true euthanasia involves putting an animal to sleep at its place of residence if you like, disposing of the carcass.
“But then that carcass is not usable for any other purpose. So, for some people, that’s wasteful. But for others it’s unacceptable to use the animal - when it’s dead it should be respected.
It is a really difficult subject. I don’t want to get into the ethics and the morality of it but all we can do is the best we can and make those decisions in good faith and see things from the perspective of the horse,” Osborne commented.
“Where I see it, every horse has a unique story to tell and has a unique identity and a unique life. Unfortunately for some it doesn’t work out. Then it’s really important that the end of life is managed in a really controlled and respectful way.
“The end of all of us is inevitable. There are probably 40,000 thoroughbreds in Ireland. There will be horses dying every year, unfortunately. It’s about making sure that is done in a very controlled and sensitive way,” he added.