Mexican horsemeat imports suspended after audit findings

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

Mexican horsemeat imports have been suspended
Mexican horsemeat imports have been suspended
The import of horsemeat from Mexico has been temporarily suspended by the European Commission, according to Humane Society International (HSI).

HSI said the decision, made this week​, follows audits by the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO), the latest of which was published last week but which took place from 24 June to July 4.

Currently 87% of the horses slaughtered in establishments approved for EU export are imported from the US.

FVO audit

Horses in Mexico are not considered to be food producing animals until designated for this purpose and official controls on distribution and use of veterinary medicinal products remain very weak, said FVO.

Anabolic steroids and other substances which are prohibited for administration to food producing animals in the EU can be legally used in Mexico.

“Given the availability of veterinary medicinal products prohibited in the EU, the lack of controls on live animals, the unreliability of the food chain information and weaknesses in the traceability systems in place, the competent authority is not in a position to provide all the necessary guarantees specified in the export certificates,”​ said the FVO.

A number of recommendations were made, including taking measures to ensure the validity and authenticity of the affidavits (a written statement of fact) for horses of Mexican origin slaughtered for export to the European Union linked to their traceability.

Mexican agency response

SENASICA (National Service for Health, Food Safety and Food Quality) said it is restructuring the verification of collection centers that supply the TIF (Tipo Inspeccion Federal) establishments.

This includes: “Obligation to have an authorized veterinarian for SAGARPA to perform the document verification and visual inspection, so allowing…better traceability of national horses for slaughter [and] make sure that the record of treatments to horses at the collection centers in are filed in specific expedients kept on site.

“Also, SENASICA is agreeing a procedure with the companies involved, through which greater assurances are given of the traceability of animals and their treatments, which include internal audits, its suppliers and the presence of the figure of a doctor authorized by SAGARPA.”

This is being developed and could start in the first half of 2015.

Dr Joanna Swabe, HSI’s European Union executive director, said the decision is long overdue.

“For years Humane Society International has repeatedly sounded the alarm about horsemeat entering the food chain that does not fully meet EU safety standards.

“As well as safeguarding EU consumer safety, closing our borders to horsemeat from these countries is important for animal welfare, too. Horse slaughter, regardless of which country it is in, is fraught with inherent cruelty.”

HSI would like to see a moratorium covering Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay where it said similar traceability problems with horsemeat exports persist.

Call for action

Before the decision was made, Scottish MEP Alyn Smith had called for action by the European Commission after claims the regulatory regime covering horsemeat entering Europe from non-EU countries is poorly enforced and sometimes 'riddled with fraud'.

Presentations by FVO, HSI and the animal welfare foundation Tier Schtz Bundzurich said that horsemeat imports from Mexico and Canada have been bought at auction from the US, where horses are injected with drugs banned in the EU for use in food animals, during a hearing at the European Parliament earlier this month.

Smith said horses sold at auction from the US are routinely injected with phenylbutazone and butorphanol, have no lifetime veterinary record and Equine Information Document can be unreliable.

“These sobering reports demand a serious response from our institutions. There’s no point in having a strong system of import controls if they are not enforced properly, and this is especially important when we’re talking about the safety of our food products​.
“The case for a moratorium on horsemeat imports from countries with flawed implementation of our food safety requirements, particularly Canada and Mexico, is overwhelming.

“We have a right to expect that food products imported into the EU are produced to equivalent standards to ours. The fact that many countries which export to the EU cannot even enforce their own standards, let alone ours, suggests that we should be a lot tougher in this area.”

Related topics Food safety and labeling

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