It has been revealed that thousands of tonnes of horse meat originating from the United States, which may be tainted with banned veterinary drugs, are being imported into Europe for human consumption.
As there are no operating slaughter plants for horses in the USA, growing numbers of American horses are being live-shipped to Canada and Mexico, where they are slaughtered and then sent to Europe.
Unlike Europe, where a horse must have a passport identifying its origin and listing medications it has received, there is no such US system. Instead, any American selling a horse to Mexico or Canada must simply declare it has received no substances making it unfit for use as food. Campaigners say this system is ripe for abuse.
Commenting on the revelations, Alyn Smith MEP said:
"Despite caution on chicken imports, despite caution on pig imports, despite all of the concern about the risks of adulterated meat, we still find ourselves in a position where horse meat being imported into the EU is not subject to proper checks for these dangerous drugs.
"This is a problem at the best of times, but considering the recent discoveries of horse meat turning up in all sorts of places it shouldn't, this needs investigation now - without delay. Eating horse meat poses no risk to human health in itself, however if the horses have been treated with phenylbutazone then there is a potential, and serious, risk to human health.
"In report after report, the Parliament has called for those countries that import food products into the EU to meet the same standards that our producers have to meet, not equivalent standards but the same. There should be no exemptions, no derogations. It is time that this call was taken seriously by the Commission."
Jo Swabe, European Union director of HSI, said:
“Humane Society International has repeatedly raised serious concerns about the safety of horse meat sourced from North America, particularly with regard to horses of U.S. origin; this is due to the ubiquitous use of veterinary drugs, such as phenylbutazone, which are banned for use in food producing animals and are supposed to be excluded from the EU food chain.
“With consumer confidence at such a low ebb, the European Commission runs the risk of further public outcry should it fail to take action to prevent horse meat from entering the market that clearly does not meet EU food safety standards.”