Racing industry responds to ABC thoroughbred slaughter expose

Hundreds of ex-racing horses 'slaughtered in three weeks'

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These ex-racehorses are part of a rehoming program supported by Racing NSW that saw the horses used as therapy at a correctional centre near Muswellbrook.

These ex-racehorses are part of a rehoming program supported by Racing NSW that saw the horses used as therapy at a correctional centre near Muswellbrook.

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Racing Australia deplores alleged cruelty at abattoir

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The chief of Racing Australia, former NSW Premier, Barry O'Farrell, said he was "appalled" and "shocked" at vision of the cruelty to ex-racehorses in an abattoir sent to slaughter.

The ABC has revealed many registered racehorses have been sent to slaughter in NSW after retirement even though it is against the rules of racing in the state and tens of millions of dollars has been spent on rehoming retired racehorses.

The ABC program also pinpointed one horse meat export abattoir in Queensland where many interstate racehorses had ended up, with claims up to 300 racehorses were slaughtered in 22 days at the Meramist abattoir. Slaughtering horses is not illegal and a large majority of them are quarter horses.

The Queensland Government announced it would take immediate action to investigate the alleged acts of cruelty.

In 2017, Racing NSW brought in a rule that no ex-racehorses were to be sent to slaughter. Racing Australia contends that less than 1 per cent of racehorses in Australia end up at at an abattoir after retirement from racing.

The ABC had access to remote monitoring of brands in the slaughterhouse yards in several abattoirs to prove that the horses were ex-racehorses in NSW abattoir facilities. One was a leading stakes contender, Startreusse, once trained by a Sydney leading trainer and then on-sold to new owners.

Racing Australia said there needed to be better traceability and supported a call for a national horse register to trace horses.

Mr O'Farrell said any animal cruelty should be prosecuted.

"Let's not conflate two issues. That facility we saw last night, and those unacceptable practices, is a state abattoir in Queensland. Those practices that I saw, I know from my background in state politics, are serious offences under state animal welfare legislation," he said.

Racing NSW said it had rehomed almost every one of 10,000 ex-racehorses. It was operating a rehoming facility near Lithgow, at Capertee, managed by an ex-trainer, as part of its rehoming commitment. Racing NSW has over 300 ex-racehorses in its own care. It has several programs including taking veterans through Kosciuszko National Park in the next few weeks on a trek with retired racehorses.

In a statement Racing Australia said: "The provision of appropriate care and attention of Thoroughbred horses is a critical priority in the administration of racing across Australia and for the people involved in the sport.

"Each year State and Territory racing authorities invest tens of millions of dollars in integrity, veterinary services and equine welfare programs to try and achieve the best possible outcomes for horses. Since 2014, the sport's national body, Racing Australia, has introduced reforms to the Australian Rules of Racing (ARR) to strengthen integrity and equine welfare goals by ensuring authorities have access to the ownership and location details of horses, from birth until their retirement from racing.

"Under the ARR, when a Thoroughbred retires from racing, its owners have an obligation to provide Racing Australia with the reasons for the horse's retirement, the name of the new owner and the proposed new location of the horse.

"Each year Racing Australia's annual report provides information on the retirement of racehorses which, for the past three years, reveals almost 90% of Thoroughbreds enter the equestrian, pleasure or breeding sectors. One per cent were listed as being sent to abattoirs.

"Any subsequent changes in ownership or location of retired Thoroughbreds cannot be tracked as neither Racing Australia nor State or Territory racing authorities have the power or legal ability to do so.

"One of the reason's Racing Australia supports the proposal for a National Traceability Register for All Horses is that it would provide federal and state animal welfare authorities access to ownership and location information for these Thoroughbreds. This matter is currently being considered by a Senate committee.

"Thoroughbreds horses represent approximately 10% of the national equine population (estimated at 1 million horses nationally). While racing authorities keep track of the owners and locations of Thoroughbreds during their careers, that is not true for most horses across Australia.

"A National Horse Register would fill this gap, allow federal and state authorities access to ownership and location information and help improve equine welfare outcomes nationally.

"It could also further strengthen Australia's biosecurity regime which is critical in reducing the risk of exotic disease and pest outbreaks."

Dr Siobhan O'Sullivan, a senior lecturer in social policy and research at the University of NSW, and an animal rights expert, said she wondered if the racing industry could ever meet the welfare needs of racehorses, given the large number of horses bred every year.

Dr O'Sullivan said there appeared to be a gap in credibility between what the racing industry was promising and what was being delivered on the ground.

"In the next few weeks we will see a lot of money spent on racing and lots of wealthy people winning more money but how much of this money will go to the care of horses?," she asked.

"There's a credibility gap that needs to be addressed. I mean it is claimed that the racehorses are noted on the administration but clearly this (ABC) program showed ahorse still listed as racing that was actually dead. It is also disturbing to see many prized horses that had been racing only recently and sold for quite a bit of money that were in only a short time at an abattoir."

Meantime, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) strongly condemned the "mass slaughter of horses" as reported on the ABCs 'The 7.30 Report' and called upon the Australian government to implement a nationwide welfare standard and register to protect the welfare of all horses.

Dr Sam Nugent, President of the AVA's Equine Veterinarians Australia (EVA) Group said, "as veterinarians, we found the treatment of the horses in the leaked video footage highly distressing. The AVA would like to see all parties involved in these illegal practices held accountable for abhorrent and illegal actions.

"Abattoirs and knackeries that are breaching animal cruelty laws, as well as horse racing authorities that are not enforcing their own welfare rules for post-career horses, need to be held accountable. Breaches of animal welfare cannot be tolerated."

"The ongoing welfare of horses after their racing career is the responsibility of the horse racing industry. We call upon racing authorities to get stronger on enforcing welfare standards for their retired racehorses. The AVA will be following up with racing authorities shortly to ensure appropriate action is taken for the welfare breaches shown on 'The 7.30 Report'.

"Currently, welfare laws for animals are maintained at a state government level and the scope of protection for horses varies between states. Following reports of animals being moved across state boundaries for slaughter, the AVA believes that a national animal welfare standard is required to maintain welfare standards. In addition, the AVA calls for a 'national horse register' to be established for greater oversight of the country's equine population. The AVA will lobby the Federal Government to implement both as soon as possible.

"The AVA and the organisation's specialist Equine Veterinarians Australia Group advocate for the health and welfare of all horses, not just racehorses, and has policy on Humane Slaughter, which can be viewed on ava.com.au."

Racing NSW later issued this statement on the ABC report:

"Following the program that aired on the ABC's 7.30 Report last night, Racing NSW Chief Executive, Peter V'landys AM, unequivocally condemned the alleged abhorrent actions of the Meramist Queensland Abattoir. The vision was sickening, and horrendous and Racing NSW calls upon the Queensland Government and its Department of Primary Industries to take the strongest possible action against the alleged perpetrators of such cruelty. Such conduct and any mistreatment of horses is not tolerated in the NSW Thoroughbred Racing Industry.

In responding to the 7.30 Report, Mr V'landys AM said "I will let the facts below speak for themselves:

. Racing NSW is the only State in Australia that has a Rule of Racing that prohibits horses from being sent to a knackery or abattoir if they have been predominantly domiciled in the NSW Thoroughbred Racing Industry. Further, in NSW it is illegal for an abattoir to process a horse for human consumption, unlike other States.

. That Rule is targeted at eradicating treatment such as that of the Meramist Queensland Abattoir detailed in the 7.30 Report. The effectiveness of that Rule is highlighted by the fact that the 7.30 Report did not identify any horses from NSW that had been sent to that facility, which is where this appalling mistreatment took place.

. As to the 14 horses identified by the ABC, Racing NSW responded to the ABC in respect to those horses and advised that at least 12 of those horses had either predominately raced or been domiciled in other States (where Racing NSW does not have jurisdiction) or had been officially retired to be re-homed as a pleasure horse. Accordingly, these horses were outside of Racing NSW's jurisdiction and this illustrates why Racing NSW is supportive of a National Horse Traceability Register.

. There have been in excess of 10,000 horses retired in NSW over the past three years and even based on the ABC's unsubstantiated claim that 14 horses were found at a NSW knackery this shows that the Rule has been effective. No Rule is foolproof and in the racing industry, as in any other element of the community, there is unfortunately 1% of participants who will break the rules despite 99% doing the completely right thing.

. To show Racing NSW's determination to enforce the Rule, it has over a period of time purchased 10 NSW domiciled horses from a Victorian sale located at Echuca which were at risk of being purchased by a knackery and also made bids on many other horses to make it unviable for the knackery to purchase them.

. Racing NSW has also seized over 120 retired thoroughbred horses on welfare grounds and, over a long period of time, brought these horses back to health and then proceeded to re-home them. Racing NSW has also seized retired thoroughbred horses that were to be exported to Asia to race due to concerns about their ongoing welfare.

. Racing NSW has purchased property throughout NSW including 2,500 acres at Capertee to have sufficient areas to enable its rehoming program.

. Racing NSW has a specific equine welfare fund which requires 1% of all prizemoney to be assigned to horse welfare, which was over $2.5 million last year. Racing NSW was the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce this initiative, doing so in 2016.

. Unfortunately, there will always be people that break the Rules. Racing NSW immediately commenced investigations into the allegations made by the ABC and will prosecute any person that Racing NSW has jurisdiction over that has breached the Rules of Racing and sent a horse to a knackery.

. Racing NSW has not been provided with specific evidence from the ABC in respect to the identity of horses alleged to have been sent to knackeries and will be seeking those details to continue its investigations.

. Despite repeated requests from Racing NSW, the ABC has not returned Racing NSW calls so that Racing NSW could correct some of the incorrect facts that were subsequently aired and to provide any evidence so that Racing NSW can successfully investigate and prosecute breaches of the Rules of Racing. This information included evidence that one horse the ABC claimed was destroyed in a knackery was alive and well and that the ABC was aware of such.

. Racing NSW calls upon any person who has evidence in respect to the mistreatment of a thoroughbred to immediately make contact with the Racing NSW Integrity department for investigation."

Queensland Racing Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said his government would take action against the alleged cruelty at Meramist abattoir.

"The Minister for Agriculture has directed biosecurity officers to go in today and investigate animal cruelty allegations at the Meramist Abattoir," Mr Hinchliffe said.

"They'll be working I understand with Queensland Police Service to retrieve any extra footage that was not screened by the ABC. Those inspectors going into the abattoir today, they'll seize all the information they can, they'll take action against people who committed cruelty against animals."

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