Sunday, December 6, 2009

Animals' Angels meets with European Commission to discuss horse meat imports from Mexico

AA met with representatives of the European Commission Food and Veterinary Office in Ireland on Nov 9 to discuss plans of action regarding horse meat imported from Mexico and animal welfare concerns documented by AA at the Mexican plants. AA is the first organization invited to Ireland to talk with the EU Commission about these issues. The meeting was also attended by the EU inspectors who had visited the plants in 2008 and 2009.

We were eager to learn from EU officials about a 180 day quarantine for horses intended for slaughter. The 180 day quarantine before slaughter would allow harmful drug residues in horse meat to dissipate. The issue of drug residue is of special concern to the EU and its consumers because American horses, unlike Mexican horses, commonly and regularly receive medications that are known carcinogens, etc.

However, the EU response was quite disappointing. EU officials informed us that pending further evaluation and discussion, they will accept sworn statements provided by kill buyers upon arrival at the slaughter plant declaring the horses have been drug free for 6 months.

The rumored 180 day quarantine is not currently in place, nor does the quarantine approach seem likely.

AA told EU officials this was unacceptable, that while the issue of meat tainted with drug residues certainly needs to be addressed, there is no way to verify the kill buyers' statements. True accountability is not achieved nor are safety and liability issues resolved. However at this point this is the EU plan.

On the other hand, we supplied EU officials with several pieces of information that have raised their level of concern very significantly. They were extremely surprised to learn that over 100,000 horses are exported for slaughter from the United States to Mexico annually. For the EU these numbers make the drug residue issue much more immediate than if the horses were almost all from Mexico as had been their belief.

AA also showed the EU representatives the investigation report and video of the inhumane treatment of horses at the Jerez slaughter plant. They saw horses left in the kill box while workers went to lunch, the slaughter of a horse with a broken leg, horses dragged by a wire around the leg into the plant, mothers with new born foals in the slaughter plant pens, downed horses and dead horses in the slaughter plant pens.

The officials and inspectors were extremely shocked by the evidence AA had obtained. They admitted that their inspectors had never seen anything like this during their visits at the plant. However, they said it is not surprising since due to international trade regulations they have to announce their inspections months in advance.

EU officials indicated that the evidence of inhumane treatment would be the basis for a formal complaint which then would lead to an official investigation at the Jerez plant. They were candidly appreciative and encouraged AA to share any new evidence with them quickly.

We believe that it was crucial to establish an open dialogue with the EU leaders since they have the power and the authority to change things fast - especially regarding the ongoing suffering at the plant.

We plan to meet with the Dutch and the Belgian importers, confront them with our findings and inform them of our meeting with EU officials. Pressure will be high because European consumers are to date almost completely unaware of the cruelties and dangers involved in the slaughter of horses for meat.

AA went ahead and filed formal complaints with the EU and the Mexican Secretary of Agriculture. We will unquestionably continue to work on this issue.