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Mar 1, 2013

Horses for courses: is $400 Phar Lap in the Pal?

Horses bred for the racing industry are ending up as dog food or sold for human consumption, whether they are too old to race or never made the grade, writes Crikey intern Michelle Slater.

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With the horse meat scandal leaving a bad taste in European mouths, Australians might not realise today’s Black Caviar could become tomorrow’s juicy steak — or Fido’s dinner.

The most recent 2004 study funded by the RSPCA found 53% of horses at one Australian export abattoir were bred for racing or had racing origins. These horses included both thoroughbred and standard-bred harness racing horses. Some horses were former champions, while some had never raced.

Lisa Chalk from Animals Australia said: “Most horses that end up at the abattoirs or knackeries are from the racing industry.”

She told Crikey there were about 15,000 horses bred for racing every year and only 300 of every 1000 would make it to the racetrack. “When you think about the thousands and thousands of horses bred for racing, it’s only a logical next step where the rest go,” she said. “What happens to the other 700?”

Ward Young from the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses says the industry doesn’t doesn’t monitor the fate of racehorses when they can no longer run. “With their mass breeding they can’t account for where their horses go because there is no retirement plan,” he said. “The basic problem is these horses are seen as commodities by owners in the racing industry to be thrown away.”

He alleges horses bought by agents at thoroughbred auctions for under $400 are destined for the knackery. But a spokesperson for Inglis Bloodstock — the Sydney-based, family-owned racing empire — told Crikey: “In our records we have no horses that have been sold directly for horse meat.”

Six-year-old gelding Deposer, who won nearly $2 million on the racing circuit, was found in the meat buyers’ pen at the Echuca sales in Victoria in July last year. The Irish-born thoroughbred was sold for $220. He last raced in Hong Kong in March 2012 and was spotted at the sales that July.

Australian Racing Board CEO Peter McGauran says it’s “indesputable that aged or injured horses end up in an abattoir, as is the case with most livestock”. But he rejects the RSPCA figures.

“They don’t have a credible reason for these sensationalist figures. The idea that a healthy horse goes to the abattoir is absurd,” he told Crikey.

McGauran says the racing industry will conduct its own research to find out how many horses are re-trained after racing. The ARB has set up a retired racehorse committee to establish re-homing pathways.

“We want to avoid the Deposer example,” he said. “We understand the industry has a responsibility to re-home horses.”

Bill Saunders re-homes retired thoroughbreds an out-placement program set up by Racing Victoria. He also believes the RSPCA figures are “bullshit”, telling Crikey “these statistics have been twisted by people who want to ban racing”.

“A very large number aren’t put down or we wouldn’t have any breeding stock left,” he said. But he acknowledges retirement plans for horses aren’t well developed.

“The current disposal methods are not very sensible and don’t assure a good outcome for the horse,” he said. “It’s a fair assumption that if a horse is sold in a sale yard for under $500 it may go for meat.”

Sending thoroughbreds to the knackery is “criminal waste”, Saunders says, and “owners would be better off sending them to me for a better future”.

Australia has two abattoirs licensed to slaughter horses for human consumption and 33 knackeries that kill horses for pet meat. Some 2 million kilograms of horse meat are exported each year to countries like France, Belgium and Switzerland, which are traditional horse-eating — or hippophagous — nations. Horse by-products are also exported to make items like baseball mitts from hides and industrial brushes from hair. And some pharmaceutical compounds are extracted from equine hearts and spleens.

Most brumbies trapped in national parks are also slaughtered for meat, according to Jan Carter from the Save The Brumbies group. Contractors who may trap several herds of around 10 brumbies each week, although it varies from state to state. There are estimated to be about 300,000 brumbies in Australia,

“Horses are trapped by contractors who may retain two or three to sell on. The rest go straight to slaughter,” Carter said. “The better types, the three- or four-year-olds, will be re-homed and sold for between $1000 and $2000. The mature stallions and poorer mares with foals will go for meat.” These horses will sell for an average price of $150 to $350, “depending on their weight”.

Western Australian butcher Mondo Di Carne supplies horse meat for the domestic table — a spokesperson said the company was unavailable for comment as “there is a problem with the upcoming state election”. Metro-Velda Abattoirs in Peterborough, South Australia, was unavailable for comment.

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13 comments

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13 thoughts on “Horses for courses: is $400 Phar Lap in the Pal?

  1. Robert White

    Would be great if someone would actually do a little more research into the claims made by these animals rights groups before giving them air time.

    Have a look around any equestrian or pony club or private property or paddock and it is very easy to quickly find where these horses are gone.

    Thing is – it has actually been studied – and these facts are known, but you won’t see this research quoted by the animal rights groups cause they don’t like the results.

    Hayek in 2005 followed up over 1000 horses over a year and found that in reality only 6% went to the knackery from horse racing.

    http://kb.rspca.org.au/download/37/

    The nonsenese of these claims is evident even in this story – whilst Lisa Chalk is saying 15,000 are born every year, Ward Young from the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses is running around with posters claiming 18,000 racehorses are sent to slaughter ever year – 3,000 more than are even born – even before you allow for a natural death rate, net export, breeding, equestrian, pets, pony club, riding school, police horses, retirements, etc,etc

    Come on Crikey – lift your game and do some research before publishing this stuff.

  2. Robert White

    I wonder if the author might want to take the time to verify claims before she publishes them? Not sure if this article is meant as an opinion piece or a news item? The facts presented are definitely questionable.

    It would probably be worthwhile to research the story on Deposer before publishing unsubstantiated claims from animals rights groups.

    Deposer was not branded to race in Australia and it does not appear to be bought to Australia to race. It would have cost considerable money to bring him out to Australia to a new home. The question is why the new owner, who has not purchased him to race has ended up discarding him

    The following comments appear under the Deposer video:

    anniev141
    Let me get the facts completely straight here…..I know exactly what happened and this very unfortunate situation is no fault of the owner, trainers or the Hong Kong Jockey Club in anyway.
    I can confirm arrangements were put in place for Deposer to export to Australia and to be given a good home on behalf of his connections. In good faith and on recommendation he was given to a gentleman and it was his intention to turn him into a show horse and to give him the home he deserved.

    Johnbestracing 3 months ago
    We at Best Racing trained Deposer in the UK until summer 2009 when he was sold to a new owner/trainer to continue his racing career in Hong Kong. We are all absolutely devastated at the news about Deposer as we take seriously the welfare and happiness of the horses in our care. If a horse doesn’t remain in racing we always find a suitable, loving home for them and are sorry that this wasn’t the case for Deposer. Unfortunately when a horse is sold we have no control over what happens to them.

    Maybe the reporter should follow up on on these and get the truth before publishing stories like this?

  3. Kevin Tyerman

    Quote: “The idea that a healthy horse goes to the abattoir is absurd,” he told Crikey.

    I am not sure why. If someone actually wants to do some investigative journalism, they may discover that healthy cattle and sheep also go to abbattoirs…..

    I don’t understand why a country that has licensed abbatoirs for horse meat should not be slaughtering healthy animals when it is viable to do so. If someone doesn’t want to see a particular type of horse (or cow or sheep) slaughtered they just need to pay a little more than what the commercial abbatoirs are paying.

    ==================
    Holden Back said:
    Quote: As for “no horses that have been sold directly”, that’s plausible deniability (or is it deniable plausibility?)if ever Iheard it

    A related Inglis business run weekly cattle sales and monthly horse sales at Camden, west of Sydney, where they would be selling stock directly to abbattoirs at every sale, I would think. If that clientelle doesn’t consider it viable to head into the city (possibly Randwick?) to spend a day at the thoroughbred sales, on the off-chance that they may pick up a handful of thoroughbreds that sell for less than meat value, it wouldn’t surprise me. There may be some punter who is prepared to spend a day at that type of sale and onsell cheap stock to an abbatoir or knackery, but chances are that from Inglis’s persepctive nothing sold in the seasonal thoroughbred sales are identifed as selling to the meat trade.

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