A NEWCASTLE West livestock factory is one of only five facilities in Ireland licensed to slaughter horses for meat, it has been confirmed.
The Ashgrove Meats facility in Churchtown has been slaughtering horses and exporting their meat for consumption in mainland Europe for the past three years. It is the only facility licensed to do so in Munster.
The market for horse meat has increased rapidly in the past four years, based on a surge in demand for the food in France, Belgium and Italy. In 2008, slightly over 2,000 horses were slaughtered for meat in Ireland, compared to over 12,000 in 2011.
While there is no market for horse meat in Ireland, public curiosity with the slaughter of horses has increased following the discovery of horse meat traces in frozen burgers sold in a number of supermarkets in Ireland and the UK.
In Ireland there are five facilities licensed to slaughter horses for meat – three of which are approved and supervised directly by the Department of Agriculture.
Ashgrove Meats is licensed and supervised by Limerick County Council, one of two such facilities in Ireland which fall under the auspices of a local authority, due to its medium size output.
John McCarthy, veterinary inspector with Limerick County Council, said that while horses are “not traditionally a species slaughtered in Ireland”, the process is subject to the same regulation and oversight as the slaughter of any other type of livestock.
“Obviously there is no market for the meat in Ireland, but there is on the continent, and always has been”, Mr McCarthy said, before adding that in the past 15 years “a small number of plants” such as Ashgrove have begun to concentrate on horse slaughtering as a result of a steady increase in European demand.
Slaughtering for meat is one of three options open to Irish horse owners seeking to dispose of unwanted animals.
However in Ireland horses are subjected to rigorous checks to determine that their meat is not dangerous for human consumption before they are killed.
Mr McCarthy said that Limerick County Council veterinary officers are on site at Ashgrove every day in order to assess each animal’s passport and oversee “the processing and inspection of livestock”. He said that animals that do not have a verifiable passport, or have been treated with potentially harmful chemicals during its lifetime, are prohibited from slaughter.
Horses killed at meat factories can earn anything from €100 to €500 for their owners, depending on their size and weight. The majority of horse meat produced in Ireland is exported to France, Italy and Belgium where it is eaten as cheap steaks, sausages and in other forms.
At present, there are ten mid-size livestock slaughtering facilities operating in county Limerick under the supervision of the local authority. Larger local facilities, such as AIBP in Rathkeale, are supervised directly by the Department of Agriculture.
Ashgrove Meats could not be contacted for comment by the time of going to print.