British and Irish authorities respond to allegations in a Panorama film about slaughtered racehorses.
Irish and British horse-racing authorities have condemned footage that revealed evidence of a UK abattoir breaking welfare rules when slaughtering former race horses.
Horse Racing Ireland said the footage – which featured in a BBC Panorama investigation – was abhorrent.
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) met welfare experts earlier to discuss the issue “as a matter of urgency”.
The abattoir told the BBC it did not accept any form of animal abuse.
The covert footage, recorded by the anti-horse racing campaign group Animal Aid, showed horses being killed in front of each other and being shot from a distance at Drury and Sons – one of the UK’s biggest abattoirs and one of the few licensed to slaughter horses.
Veterinary experts said these actions broke guidelines, causing extra pain and trauma for the horses involved.
BHA welfare director James Given said: “We’re all clear that the transporting of horses from Ireland to be euthanised in Britain must stop.
“So too should those practices in the abattoir featured in the programme, which appeared to cause distress to horses.”
The BHA said a new welfare strategy, published in 2020, specifically sought to address the care of horses after their racing days were over.
Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: “The images we saw last night were abhorrent to all within Irish racing and in no way reflect the care and attention given to the overwhelming majority of horses in Ireland.”
Freedom of Information requests have revealed that 4,000 former racehorses have been slaughtered in Britain and Ireland since the beginning of 2019.
The vast majority were trained in Ireland, and some were once owned and trained by some of the biggest names in racing.
The Panorama film also included claims that attempts were being made to get contaminated horse meat into the human food chain by falsifying paperwork and tampering with horse microchips.
Horse meat is not popular in the UK, but there is a sizeable export market for it in Europe. Horse passports and matching microchips are important as they show which animals have been treated with medicines that could be harmful to humans, such as the painkiller Bute.
Horse Racing Ireland said it haD contacted the Irish police about one attempt to tamper with a horse’s microchip, as revealed in the Panorama investigation. At the time, an on-site Foods Standards Agency vet spotted the problem and the horse was not sold for meat.
In response to the Panorama investigation, the UK government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), which regulates abattoirs, said: “Upholding animal welfare and the safety and authenticity of the food we eat is a top priority for the government.”
It said it worked closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs “to ensure that animal welfare is maintained at all stages of food production and that all our food is correctly labelled and safe to eat”.
The BHA and Horse Racing Ireland said they would support an investigation by UK authorities.
The abattoir, Drury and Sons, told Panorama they “take great care to maintain high welfare conditions and do not accept any form of animal abuse”.
They said all horses are “humanely destroyed’,’ and that on occasions where issues do occur, they take ”swift action to review and rectify them”.
Watch the full investigation, Panorama: The Dark Side of Horse Racing, on BBC iPlayer.