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American horsemeat exports pose health risk and should be banned, say activists


Thousands of tonnes of horsemeat originating from the United States, which may be tainted with banned veterinary drugs, is being imported into Europe for human consumption every year and should be banned, say campaigners.

A report by the respected Humane Society International (HSI) outlining what they say is a glaring gap in food safety standards concerning horse meat from North America, is to be submitted to the European Commission this week, along with a demand for a halt to the trade.

About 15,000 tonnes of horsemeat worth £42m is shipped each year to Europe from Mexico and Canada, the vast majority of which comes from horses raised in the US, which bans their slaughter for human consumption. The influx from the US, which last year sent 167,000 horses to its two neighbours for slaughter as human food, has been largely unexamined during the ongoing crisis. But experts argue that wide differences in record keeping between the US and Europe means large quantities of horse meat that may not meet EU standards are entering the food chain from across the Atlantic while attention is focused on countries such as Romania.

Jo Swabe, European Union director of HSI, said: “Americans, rather like the British, do not regard horses as a source of meat and so these animals are treated by their owners with drugs that mean they cannot enter the human food chain. There is no reliable system in the US, or in Canada and Mexico , to verify just what medicines have been administered and yet these carcasses are being shipped to Europe. The only answer is for this trade to be stopped.”

Unlike Europe, where a horse must have a passport identifying its origin and listing medications it has had, there is no such US system. Instead, any American selling a horse to Mexico or Canada must declare it has received no substances making it unfit for use as food such as phenylbutazone or “bute”, a widely-used painkiller and a carcinogen in humans. Campaigners say this system is ripe for abuse.

The Independent understands the European Union’s Food and Veterinary Office has concluded documentation showing US horses presented for slaughter in Mexico and Canada have not had substances making them unfit for use as food is “not reliable”.

The European Commission said robust measures were in place but requirements were under review.