Shocking revelations in early 2013 that horse meat had been mislabelled as beef highlighted just how little information is available to consumers on where their food comes from. Although the crisis involved meat that was deliberately mislabelled, even when horse meat is sold openly we believe that consumers are often misinformed about what they are buying. Perhaps the one silver lining of the whole scandal was that it shone a spotlight on the trade in horses for meat, how the laws protecting them and the food chain need to be improved, and the need for accountability and traceability.
Consumer choice can make a real difference to animal welfare, as the success of free-range eggs has shown (Compassion in World Farming reports that 50% of all eggs in the UK are now produced by free-range systems). However at the moment, horse meat consumers across Europe are being denied the information that they need to make informed decisions, and therefore denied the opportunity to make a difference.
Horse meat may be legally labelled as the product of the country in which the animal was slaughtered; this means that meat from a horse which was transported for thousands of miles and spent only the final few hours of its life in the country where it is slaughtered may appear to a consumer to be a local product. We think this is wrong! Beef products are already labelled in a much more informative way, with the countries of birth, rearing and slaughter all being shown, so we know that this is possible.
Unfortunately, the European Commission has decided against introducing such changes for horse meat for the time being – but we will continue to call for change.
World Horse Welfare has been at the forefront of challenging existing laws and working with others in the horse sector and UK and EU governments on improved systems.
We have raised awareness among politicians and the public that the horse meat labelled as beef could be the product of horse suffering endured on long-distance journeys across Europe to slaughter. We will continue to press the European Commission to stop these needless long distance journeys.
We are pressing the European Commission for mandatory country of origin labelling for horse meat.
We are calling for a much more robust equine identification system, so that horses can be traced through their passports.