Europe posts horse meat ban

The European Commission took action Dec. 8 that resulted in the ban of horse meat imports and meat products from Mexico.

Effective Jan. 15, the commission has suspended a residue monitoring plan that tests for the presence of horse meat in other imported meat products, according to Aikaterini Apostola, press officer for health for the European Commission.

"Such suspension results in a ban of the import of horse meat, meat preparations, and meat products from Mexico," Apostola stated in an email. "The measure has been taken after repeated negative outcomes of the audits carried out by the Food and Veterinary Office of the Commission's Health and Consumers Directorate General in Mexico, the last of them in June 2014. This last audit also showed that many of the corrective actions that Mexico committed to take following previous audits were not yet taken."

A key issue for the 28-member commission was inhumane treatment of the horses being shipped from the United States to Mexican slaughterhouses.

Michael Scannell, director of the Food and Veterinary Office, addressed the issue Nov. 30 at a European Parliament Intergroup meeting in Brussels.

"In general, the worst contraventions we know are in relation to transport," Scannell said. "By way of example, we will publish a report in the next number of weeks in relation to Mexico where we saw animals which arrived dead from the United States or non-ambulatory, i.e., they weren't even able to stand."

The transportation problem is also expected to affect slaughter operations in Canada, according to Scannell, who added the commission is close to imposing a "six-month" rule for Canada.

"So, in both cases, this will make it a lot more difficult -- impossible in the case of Mexico, difficult in the case of Canada -- to continue importing horses from the United States for subsequent export of horse meat to the European Union," Scannell said.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, called the decision "the biggest blow" to horse slaughter since his organization led an effort in 2007 to shut down three horse slaughter plants in the United States.

"Mexico not only kills thousands of its horses for export to the EU, but accepts tens of thousands of American horses for slaughter and shipment to Europe," Pacelle wrote on his blog. "This announcement could prove to be an earthquake for the North American horse slaughter industry, since Belgium, France, Italy, and other EU nations are major consumers."

Ineffective testing was another issue that led to the European Commission ban, according to Apostola.

"The 2014 audit confirms that the reliability of the guarantees on horse identification, traceability, and medicinal treatment history remain very weak," Apostola wrote. "Due to these problems in the official controls, it cannot be excluded that unauthorized substances might be used in horses slaughtered in Mexico for the export of their meat to the EU."

Scannell also noted in his presentation that the slaughtering process itself was "by and large acceptable."

"It is quite a lucrative trade and the establishments concerned know that they are under an awful lot of pressure, and that they are being very closely watched," he said. "One of things they can control relatively well is slaughtering conditions, and by and large what we see is acceptable."

Apostola noted the suspension could be reversed if Mexican authorities are able to provide sufficient guarantees.

"A future FVO audit which has a satisfactory outcome will also be necessary before any proposal to lift the ban," Apostola wrote.