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.

Peter Fray

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