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Horse DNA in 'beef' burgers

News Section Icon Published 17/01/2013

The story of horse DNA being discovered in beefburgers sold in some supermarkets in the UK and Ireland has caused a stir.

It is a good story for the media in terms of shock value and challenging cultural norms about what animals we eat but there is a clear issue of traceability here. When buying animal products, consumers have the right to feel confident that they are getting exactly what it says on the label.

We need traceability in how our food is produced and to be sure that labels are accurate. This includes labels that assure certain animal welfare standards.

Horse welfare

While consumption of horse meat in the UK and in Ireland is not common, traditionally it is more popular in other countries. Welfare issues for horses used in the food chain revolve around their transport and slaughter.

On the continent, the majority of horses transported long distances are being transported from Central and Eastern Europe to Italy.

The main welfare problems in transport are:

  • Stress: Horses are prey animals and have evolved to flee in response to fear. Many aspects of confinement for transport, like unknown surroundings, noise and unpredictable movement, are likely to cause fear responses in horses and contribute to stress.
  • Dehydration:  Horses are prone to dehydration, which becomes more severe the longer they are transported for. EU rules say horses must have access to water at least every eight hours but often horses will drink little, if at all, on a moving vehicle and some will refuse water with an unfamiliar taste.
  • Exhaustion:  Even if they have space, horses rarely choose to lie down in a moving vehicle and so they must constantly use up energy to counteract the movements of the vehicle. Over prolonged periods this can lead to exhaustion and muscle damage.

Another problem specific to the meat trade is that a considerable proportion of horses bred for meat are overweight or obese. Reduced fitness and excess weight result in extra strain on joints.

Take Action:

  • Sign the No.10 e-petition  calling on the government to end live exports to continental Europe and, in the meantime, shift the financial burden of this unwanted trade from the taxpayer to the haulier

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