WARNING: VIDEO (ABOVE) CONTAINS GRAPHIC SCENES WHICH VIEWERS MAY FIND DISTRESSING.
Less than a week after horsemeat was discovered in supermarket 'beef' burgers, a report into another British abattoir has discovered mass malpractice and shocking mistreatment of horses.
Sky News visited the Red Lion Abattoir near Nantwich, Cheshire, after concerns were raised by the nearby Hillside Animal Sanctuary, who had installed secret cameras at the abattoir.
The resulting footage included scenes of horses being hit by an iron rod, while some were crammed in to the slaughter pens in groups, meaning they witnessed others being killed – something that causes horses distress and contravenes the Welfare of Animals Act 1995.
Videos also showed a horse that seemed to be suffering from colic, while another was severely lame – yet they were not tended to nor put down straightaway.
One of the most shocking scenes was a horse who appeared to be regaining consciousness after being stunned, leaving him struggling in mid-air while being hung upside down.
“These practices are disgusting, appalling and totally illegal and they must be stopped immediately,” said Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare. “There must be a full investigation, and operations at this plant must cease until new procedures are put in place and the FSA guarantees full compliance with the law.”
Two slaughter men from the Red Lion Abattoir have had their licences revoked and will not be able to work in the slaughter industry again.
“I cannot see the public trusting this establishment again until we have CCTV monitoring in place," added Owers. "The Food Standards Agency has staff on the premises who should have been enforcing the laws that protect these horses, but their efforts have been found seriously wanting. We are now calling for all operations at these premises to be suspended until new procedures are put in place, and we are also calling for Defra to install and monitor CCTV in all English slaughterhouses to aid enforcement."
Defra is finalising arrangements to introduce new EU regulations to protect the welfare of animals at slaughter, due to come into effect this summer.
“The public and horse owners need to have confidence that slaughter is carried out humanely in Britain," said Roly. "While it may be a sad fact, there is a role for humane slaughter of horses to help prevent them from suffering long and painful deaths due to illness or neglect.”
The charity is keen to point out that there is no evidence to suggest that other slaughterhouses in the UK are acting improperly.
"We believe there is a role for humane slaughter," said Roly. "We have identified 6,000 horses at risk in the country and humane slaughter may eventually be the kindest option for them to save them from a lifetime of neglect and suffering. Homes for horses are in short supply, and we do not want to see horses exported overseas to slaughter where welfare standards may be even lower – that would be an even worse tragedy.”
There has been a huge rise in the number of horses being slaughtered in the UK, from 3,859 in 2007 to 8,426 in 2012.
A statement from the Red Lion Abattoir said the events were of ‘an isolated nature’.
Please sign the World Horse Welfare petition here.