Mathews blames ‘failed’ horse passport scheme for meat scandal

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LACK of Government controls on the movement of horses and other equines is a factor in horse meat entering the food chain, a Larne councillor has claimed.

Alliance representative John Mathews branded DARD’s horse passport scheme a failure and has won the support of Larne Borough Council to ask the NI Local Government Association to re-examine horse licensing by councils.

The Larne Lough councillor opposed the EU-led horse passport programme within months of it being introduced in March, 2010, pointing out that it is dependant largely on voluntary organisations and councils.

“In Northern Ireland, largely because of DARD’s reclassification of horses, not as agricultural animals but as animals of comfort, they rely solely on the horse passport scheme, which is a wholly inadequate way of controlling the movement of horses,” said Cllr Mathews.

“The irony is that thousands of horses from the island of Ireland have been exported for slaughter, or slaughtered over here and then the meat exported and put in to the food chain whether as pet food, or as has been discovered, in food intended for human consumption.

“That would not have happened had these animals been registered and properly controlled in the way that cattle and sheep are. If there were proper controls, at least we would know which animals have been exported and what medication they may have been given,” Cllr Mathews added.

There are concerns that horse meat that entered the food chain may have contained bute, an equine anti-inflammatory drug which is thought to be potentially carcinogenic to humans.

“The fact there is not the same level of control on movement of horses as for cattle and sheep has a consequence for rate payers because it falls on councils to care for horses that are neglected or in distress. It is costly enough looking after stray and unwanted dogs, so how much more will it cost to take care of horses? Yet there is no legislation enabling councils to monitor the movement of horses.

“We have to ask: what happens to redundant race horses? A few may be suitable for dressage and some are bought as hunters, but the rest – they are slaughtered for their meat. I spoke recently with a horse owner who said he didn’t mind that his animals might be slaughtered for meat at the end of their useful lives, so long as they were treated humanely. But he can’t know that. The fact is there is no monitoring of the conditions that horses are transported under. There aren’t the same controls as for cattle and sheep.”

DARD says the objective of the horse passport legislation is to ensure that horses which have been treated with veterinary medicines not authorised for use in food-producing animals, cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. It is a legal requirement for all horses and ponies (and other forms of equidae) in Northern Ireland to have a passport identifying the animal, which should also be micro-chipped.

DARD minister Michelle O’Neill told Stormont this week that around 2,000 horses go missing in Northern Ireland each year. The USPCA estimates that in the past five years 70,000 horses were unaccounted for on the island of Ireland.