WHY RACEHORSES ARE AT LOW RISK OF ENTERING THE FOOD CHAIN - Q&A
Q: What measures does racing take to stop racehorses entering the food chain?
A: The British Racing industry is not responsible for regulating what people eat. That responsibility lies with the Food Standards Agency. However, on account of British Racing being among the most strictly regulated of all equine activities, there are extensive and robust measures in place to ensure the correct steps are taken to prevent such an outcome.
Since 2000, every thoroughbred registered in Britain has had a microchip enabling each horse to be identified. All racehorses are also issued with their own passport. The passport accompanies the horse whenever they move stables and also contains information regarding their lack of suitability for consumption.
Like any athlete, during the course of their career racehorses are likely to be treated with some form of medication. The administration of such medication makes horses unsuitable for human consumption and their passports are required to be marked accordingly.
Q: What happens to racehorses who are put down on the racecourse?
A: Unless a horse dies of natural causes, for example, following a heart attack, the standard procedure in the unfortunate event of severe/untreatable injury being sustained is for a veterinary surgeon to administer an injection which humanely puts the horse down. On account of the chemicals involved with such a practice, horses put down by injection are not eligible for either human or animal consumption.
However, of more relevance to the debate regarding horsemeat, is the fact that no horse may enter the human food chain unless it is slaughtered at an abattoir itself. No horse that dies or is killed away from a licensed abattoir is eligible for human consumption.
Each racecourse is required to have its own arrangements in place with suitably licensed organisations for the removal and disposal of carcasses of horses that have been put down. However, it is not uncommon for owners to either request a post mortem or, in some cases, to make their own arrangements for the disposal of the carcass, as was the case of Synchronised, the 2012 Gold Cup winner who sadly incurred a fracture while running loose in last year's Grand National.
Q: Why are thoroughbred horses sent to abattoirs?
A: There are only five abattoirs licensed to slaughter horses in the UK. Specialist abattoirs have the facilities and expertise to put animals down humanely. This is often the most appropriate way to conclude a horse's life. Indeed, as highlighted by both the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare, of much greater concern from a welfare perspective are the 6,000 non-thoroughbred horses highlighted as being at risk of neglect this winter.
Q: How many thoroughbred horses are sent to abattoirs
A: It is estimated that there are about 1,000,000 horses in Great Britain, of which around 100,000 are thoroughbreds of various ages, some of who have raced, some who are retired and some of who have never raced. Of the 9,000 horses sent to abbatoirs each year, just under 1,000 of those are thoroughbreds.
Looking ahead, unlike a number of other breeds, where continued over production remains a threat to horse welfare, in the last five years the number of thoroughbred foals has fallen by nearly one-third (28.6%), from 5,920 in 2007 to 4,227 in 2012.
Q: Is there a risk of Bute, which is potentially poisonous to humans, entering the food chain from thoroughbreds?
A: Providing the measures in place are correctly followed, no horse treated with Bute will enter the food chain. Since news of the horsemeat scandal became apparent, the British Horseracing Authority has acted to ensure all procedures conducted on racecourses or in licensed yards abide by the regulations.
Bute is an anti-inflammatory and is the most widely used medication across the entire horse population. British Racing is a tightly regulated industry and, as outlined above, the administration of such medication makes horses unsuitable for human consumption and their passports are required to be marked accordingly.
Additional facts and figures
• The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is the Government-recognised body responsible for the regulation of horseracing. It is a leading signatory of the National Equine Welfare Protocol.
• The highest standards of horse welfare are demanded of all jockeys, trainers and racecourses. None of the 1,400 fixtures held annually in Britain can take place unless key BHA equine welfare criteria have been satisfied.
• The sport employs over 6,500 people to provide constant care and attention for the 14,000 registered racehorses in training, providing them with a level of care and a quality of life that is virtually unsurpassed by any other domesticated animal.
• British Racing is committed to optimising equine health and providing the best possible standards of veterinary care for horses in training. Through the mechanism of the Levy Board racing has invested over £20m in veterinary research and education in the last 10 years, with a further £1.6m committed to veterinary projects in 2013.
• Among a population estimated to be over 1 million, racehorses in Britain are among the healthiest and best looked after 2% of horses in the country. The sport's substantial investment in Veterinary Research and Education brings benefits for all breeds of horse in Britain.
• Responsible animal welfare campaigners are focusing attention on the 6,000 privately owned horses identified as at risk of neglect as owners struggle to look after their horses to an acceptable standard.
• There are currently over 7,000 horses registered with Retraining of Racehorses (British Horseracing's official charity for rehoming and retraining racehorses) as active in other equine disciplines outside of racing, including Polo, Showing, Dressage and Eventing, as well as those horses happily engaged in hacking and exercising.