Horses, Meat, Forged Paperwork Seized in European Raid
An operation led by international crime investigation organizations December through June has led to the seizure of more than 17 metric tons (about 19 U.S. tons) of horse meat in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. Authorities also seized an unspecified number of slaughter-bound horses in the operation, according to official reports.

About 20% of the horse’s passports showed signs of forgery, stated authorities at Europol, the European equivalent of the FBI, working in collaboration with Interpol. This means the horses might have been the ones described in accompanying identification papers.

Marked “Not for Food”

Passport forgery could also mean the horses should have been excluded from the food chain, said Julie Schneider, director of identification and audit at France’s national horse and equitation institute (IFCE) and national equine registry (SIRE). European horse owners can choose to permanently block their horses from the meat trade by checking a box on their passports for exclusion. They might do so for personal preference or for human health reasons if the horse receives medications that could endanger humans.

However, if the passport doesn’t match the horse, the slaughterhouse doesn’t read the passport, or forgery has occurred, the horse could be slaughtered anyway, she said.

That’s what happened to 18-year-old French Saddle Horse Diogène, who was entrusted to a family friend during his owner’s pregnancy. “This ‘friend’ kept telling me my horse was fine, enjoying the pasture,” recalled Lucie Claisse of Talmont Saint Hilaire, France. “But he was already dead. I’d written ‘not for slaughter’ on several pages of his passport (an older version without the checkmark box). When the SIRE sent his passport back to me a few months later, all those pages had been ripped out.”

Microchip Checks: Too Little, Too Late?

To help prevent such forgery, owners can send a photocopy of the passport page with the checkmark to their national equine registry center, Schneider said. This allows the registry center to include the meat trade exclusion on the horse’s file in the official online database. When slaughter workers check the microchip of a horse before slaughter, the exclusion notice should appear on the screen.

Even if workers determine the horse is excluded from the food chain, however, it’s still too late for the horse, said Fany Molin, associate director of France’s Food Agency, part of its Ministry of Agriculture. “For health security reasons, any animal entering a slaughterhouse cannot leave it alive.” The horse is slaughtered, but his carcass is destroyed rather than entering the food chain.

Although workers usually check passports on horses prior to their entry into slaughterhouses, microchips are usually only read after entry, she explained.

As for the living horses seized in the Interpol/Europol operation, The Horse is still awaiting a response from Europol and Interpol and will update the story accordingly.