The European Commission has rejected pleas to suspend horsemeat imports from Argentina for food safety and animal welfare reasons.
Some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) called for the ban in a written question in December. Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, replied on behalf of the EU Commission in March.
The Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals said a documentary by the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) in Germany and Tierschutzbund Zürich (TSB) in Switzerland revealed that the safety of horsemeat imported from Argentina is at risk, as unidentified or untagged and stolen horses with forged documents are entering the food chain through assembly centers and slaughterhouses.
“The sanitary and phytosanitary standards that are being applied are worrying, as sick and injured horses, pregnant mares and horses with an unknown drug history are entering the food chain uncontrolled. Official EU audits have confirmed that there are traceability issues. Recent investigations, included in this documentary, prove that updated Argentinian laws on traceability and animal welfare have not changed this situation,” they said.
Kyriakides said the Commission is aware of the allegations on horsemeat production in Argentina. There was a DG Sante audit on bovine and ovine fresh meat in the country in 2020.
“The Commission takes actions to ensure that the union legislation is respected and the import requirements for horsemeat are fulfilled. Those actions are taken in line with union legislation and, in the case of third countries, also in line with the union’s international obligations within the World Trade Organization,” she wrote.
“The Commission bases its actions on official controls and on the results of its audits, including audits in Argentina and other countries. When audits have identified shortcomings, they have resulted in recommendations for corrective actions, including on traceability.
“The Commission carefully assess the actions taken by the countries to address the recommendations. In the case of Argentina, recommendations concerned the improvement of official controls in horse collection centres, correct enforcement of national legislation on veterinary medicines and a proper implementation of post-mortem inspection.”
Figures from advocacy groups state around 17,000 tons of horsemeat is imported every year to the EU and Switzerland. Argentina is the largest exporter of horsemeat to the EU with 9,830 tons in 2019, according to AWF.
Argentina vs. Mexico
Anja Hazekamp, president of the Intergroup for the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, said the trade and slaughter of horses of unclear origin is causing animal welfare issues as well as health and food safety risks.
“Horsemeat ends up indistinguishable in processed products, often sold in snack bars and cafeterias, so consumers may even be unaware of what they are actually eating. There are no excuses for the European Commission to look the other way any longer. The import of horsemeat from overseas has to be immediately stopped,” she said.
An EU suspension on horsemeat from Mexico came into force in 2015 following findings of an audit.
MEPs also asked why the EU’s actions regarding Argentinian and Mexican horsemeat had been different.
Kyriakides said in Mexico, the audits found that horses treated with unauthorised veterinary medicinal products had been slaughtered for human consumption and further export to the EU.
“This was confirmed by the results of tests carried out at EU borders. As a consequence, the EU took measures to ban imports of horsemeat from Mexico. Actions taken by Mexico to address the identified shortcomings will be carefully assessed before such exports can resume.”
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