THOROUGHBRED foals produced for the horseracing industry are being slaughtered for human consumption when they are less than one year old, new figures have revealed.
They were among more than 3,000 racehorses killed in Irish meat factories since 2020, according to information from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
New data containing the ages of thoroughbreds slaughtered in the past two-and-a-half years shows that 151 were just one year old, while another 288 were under three.
Four foals were slaughtered before reaching 12 months of age.
The average life expectancy of a racehorse is between 25 and 30 years.
However, the figures reveal that only 210 or seven percent of the thoroughbreds slaughtered were aged over 20 years.
More than half (1,534) were under six when they arrived at the meat factory, and nearly one in three (839) was younger than four years old.
The statistics relate to thoroughbreds that had passports issued by horseracing conglomerate Weatherbys, and do not include thousands of other equines slaughtered for human consumption during the same period.
Animal Aid, a rights group campaigning against horseracing, claims the large number of thoroughbreds ending up in meat factories is linked to “huge and unregulated overproduction” of equines in Ireland and the UK.
“The crux of the problem is that the racing industries have failed to limit the numbers of horses produced,” said Fiona Pereira, the group’s campaign manager.
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“Quite simply, this wealthy industry is breeding horses in the hope of finding winners, whilst failing to look after many of those it doesn’t want.
“Tragically, the end of the road for a number of these poor souls is the abattoir and, until the government makes the racing industry accountable, it seems that many unwanted horses will suffer this fate.”
Footage obtained by Animal Aid featured in a BBC Panorama documentary last year, which revealed that Irish racehorses were being transported to abattoirs in the UK for slaughter against animal welfare guidelines.
It also alleged that contaminated horse meat was entering the human food chain as a result of microchips being fraudulently swapped in animals that were earmarked for slaughter.
Consumption of horse meat has been growing globally since the 1990s. It is considered a delicacy in parts of Italy, Holland, Switzerland and Belgium; and is commonly served in China, Russia, Mexico, Argentina and Japan.
Most Irish horse carcasses are exported to continental Europe, where they are typically eaten as burgers, steaks or roasts.
Asked why foals and young thoroughbreds would end up in meat factories, a spokesman for Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) explained that certain defects rendered horses unsuitable for racing.
“A small percentage of the foal crop which are bred to race are lost through the formative years – some with congenital abnormalities, some with conformational defects, some with difficult temperaments unsuitable for alternative careers,” he said.
The spokesman denied that overproduction was responsible for thoroughbreds ending up in meat factories.
“There is always uncertainty in outcome in breeding due to low heritability, but we don’t believe there is overproduction: the foal crop is approximately 9,000 per annum, well down on the peak at the turn of the century,” he said.