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Probe our horse meat

Friday, February 22 2013

AFTER the European scandal of beef being tainted with horse meat, comes confirmation that horse meat is being openly sold in Trinidad and Tobago, being served up at Carnival fetes and school cookouts, in what appears to us to be an unregulated trade. Reports have even surfaced of a regular horse meat barbeque operating in east Trinidad. Although TT nationals have long had a taste for the exotic — as also evidenced by their love of various types of “wild meat” — we’d suggest this upsurge in the sale and consumption of horse meat needs to be carefully looked at by the authorities to ensure it is not a risk to human health. Where are the Ministries of Health and of Food Production in all of this, we ask?

Our main concern is that because horses are not bred for human consumption, they may not be subject to the usual health checks imposed on livestock such as chickens and cattle. While farmed livestock may be administered antibiotics and growth hormones, at least this is done with the foreknowledge that their meat is to be one day fed to humans, unlike in the cases of horses whose flesh is simply a by-product of the racing industry.

Race horses are given many medications such as Phenylbutazone (an anti-inflammatory) and Lasix (which stops bleeding in the lungs), plus Clenbuterol, Banamine and Ivermectin, according to a December 2012 story in Forbes magazine. Could these harm human health, we ask?

The British Horse Racing Authority has a list of some 2,000 substances banned from horse racing, with more added yearly.

Minister of Food Production, Devant Maharaj, told Monday’s edition of Newsday of a practice whereby when a horse collapses at the race track then literally before it even hits the ground it is “sliced and diced” by track staff and shared out for the cooking pot. In Tuesday’s Newsday a butcher from east Trinidad said that such practice used to occur but now no longer obtains.

The butcher said an injured horse is euthanised and is therefore unsuitable for human consumption, presumably due to the poisonous chemicals administered, and is buried.

The butcher said the horses that end up as horse meat are those who are unable to race at peak performance, either due to injury, arthritis or lack of aptitude.

In defence of his trade, he said such an outcome is actually preferable to the sad fate of a horse ending up as a “bag of skin and bones” due to the inability of persons to pay its costly feed and upkeep, however well-intentioned initially.

Our view is that even if the fate of a horse all boils down to a question of economics — that is, if it can’t win races, it is too costly to keep and so must end up in the cooking pot — nonetheless all this needs to be regulated by the State.

A variety of medications are administered to horses in their normal routine lifestyles, and if these are still present in a horse’s flesh when it is being served up as a dish, it could harm human health. Further, the worldwide horse racing industry is widely reputed to be rife with the “doping” of horses with a variety of drugs to make them run faster. If such a scenario occurs, and the carcass of such an animal was then consumed by unknowing persons, what would be the risk to human health, we ask?

Even before the European burger scandal, the New York Times last December 8, 2012, had addressed the issue in a story, “Racetrack Drugs Put Europe Off US Horse Meat.”

So we call on the Ministries of Health and Food Production to fully investigate the safety of horse meat locally, and for members of the public to meanwhile exercise individual vigilance.

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