By Lucila Sigal
BUENOS AIRES, Sept 29 (Reuters) – Argentina is famed for its horses, whether excelling in polo matches or carrying gauchos through the Pampas farm lands.
What’s less well known is what lies ahead for many horses after their best days are behind them: slaughter and sale as meat to gourmet buyers in Europe.
In the investigative documentary “5 Corazones”, director Martín Parlato says a lucrative business covers up mistreatment and fraud in the industry. Argentina does not allow horses to be consumed domestically, but is the largest global exporter of horse meat, the country’s trade data show.
“The harshness of the images shows that things happen that European consumers would not love to see,” Parlato told Reuters in an interview by Zoom.
Last year some 105,000 horses were slaughtered in Argentina, representing about 24,000 tonnes of meat destined mainly for France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Holland, Russia and Japan, government data show.
The documentary shows horses destined for the slaughterhouse living in poor conditions, eating next to a mountain of dead animals and drinking water that Parlato describes as “rotten.”
Although the horses are meant to be kept for six months after ‘retiring’ to get potential drugs or chemicals out of their system before they are slaughtered, that doesn’t always happen, the documentary alleges.
The slaughtered animals are then sent to meat plants that hide the true conditions from European Union regulators after being tipped off by officials, the documentary says, citing a lawyer and animal rights groups.
Asked about the documentary, an official at Argentina’s national food safety and quality body Senasa told Reuters that the agency is committed to animal welfare, and that it is aware of certain irregularities by producers and has initiated criminal cases.
“The main problems are the mistreatment of horses and the lack of traceability,” Sabrina Gurtner, project manager at the Animal Welfare Foundation in Germany, says in the film. “And another big problem in Argentina is corruption.”
Parlato said that he was working with EU lawmakers on actions to curb the import of equine meat.
“What we want as a final aim is the prohibition of the importation of (horse) meat by Europe,” he said. “Hopefully equine slaughter and this mistreatment of horses that is evidenced in so many visible and concrete ways can be banned.”
(Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Editing by Adam Jourdan, Cassandra Garrison and Sonya Hepinstall)