Mexican horse meat banned by EU

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The European Union has banned the sale of horse meat processed in Mexico out of fear it may not meet food safety standards.

The EU ban follows a Dec. 4, 2014, report issued by the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office that was based on its officials’ observations of Mexican slaughterhouses from this past summer.

The report revealed serious problems with the lack of traceability of horses slaughtered for meat export to EU countries. Horses originating both in Mexico and the U.S. consistently lacked reliable veterinary medical treatment records, according to the report, as there is no requirement in Mexico or the U.S. to keep treatment records on horses.

Currently, 87 percent of the horses slaughtered in the Mexican establishments approved for exporting meat to the EU are imported from the U.S., according to the report.

Bar chart: Origin of live horses sent to Mexican slaughter plants
Source: FVO report

Another problem the FVO had is that, for Mexican horses, no official controls are in place to allow authorities to verify the authenticity and reliability of owners’ declarations stating the horse’s medication history and nonuse of substances prohibited in the EU. For horses from the U.S., the Department of Agriculture “does not take responsibility for the reliability of affidavits issued for horses originating in the U.S., and the FVO audit team found very many affidavits which were invalid or of questionable validity, but were nonetheless accepted,” according to the report.

The EU has ruled since July 2010 that the only horses allowed to be slaughtered for meat export to the EU are those with a lifetime medical treatment history and medicinal treatment records showing that the veterinary medicine withdrawal periods have been satisfied.

The ban appears to be a precautionary one, as the auditors said, “On the positive side, the National Residue Monitoring Plan has been largely implemented, and there have been no relevant residue findings in recent years, no findings at EU border inspection posts, and no rapid alerts.”

In addition to safeguarding EU consumers, the ban was said to benefit the welfare of horses by reducing the number of horses reported to be in distress in the Mexican slaughter pipeline. Postmortem inspection records at two slaughterhouses indicated serious animal welfare problems during transport and at arrival at the slaughterhouses.

At one export facility visited, “Two rejected horses were present, (and) both horses were injured (one with open wounds above both eyes, the other lame),” the audit said. “Both had been left in pens under full sun (there is a requirement for 10 percent shade to be available) and had been present in the pens without veterinary treatment for at least two days.”

Plus, insufficient control measures were in place to ensure that stunning was done in an effective manner.

Bar chart: Meat exported from Mexico to the EU (in tons)
Source: FVO report

The FVO made the following recommendations after it found “The overall situation remains unsatisfactory.”

  • Ensure the validity and authenticity of the affidavits linked to the traceability of horses of Mexican and U.S. origin slaughtered for export to the European Union.
  • Ensure that substances that are banned for use in food-producing animals in the EU are not used in horses from which meat is intended for export to the EU.
  • Ensure that treatment records are kept on horse holdings and that horses are adequately identified for this purpose, either individually or as a lot.
  • Ensure that the registered data in the various databases concerning Mexican horses slaughtered for export to the EU are correct.
  • Ensure that the postmortem inspections are carried out in compliance with EU regulations in all Mexican-approved slaughterhouses.
  • Ensure that official controls are performed at all stages of production of horses and their meat intended for export to the EU and that these controls are effective in guaranteeing that horse meat exported to the EU has been produced in accordance with relevant EU requirements.

The FVO is asking the Mexican government to develop an action plan incorporating responses to the recommendations no later than 25 days after the report’s release. A future FVO audit that has a satisfactory outcome will also be necessary before any proposal is considered to lift the ban.

For more information, the AVMA’s policy on “Transportation and Processing of Horses” is available here.

Related JAVMA content:

Horse slaughter conditions in Mexico explored by AAEP group (March 1, 2009)

U.S. horse slaughter exports to Mexico increase 312% (Jan. 15, 2008)

Mexico, Canada increase horse slaughter production (May 15, 2010)

Horse slaughter on the horizon? (May 15, 2013)

Horse slaughter defunded again (March 15, 2014)