A two-year examination of thoroughbred horse welfare in Australia has prompted calls for an overhaul of the country’s breeding industry, following revelations that retired racehorses were being slaughtered at an abattoir for pet food and human consumption.
The report, commissioned by Thoroughbred Breeders Australia (TBA), highlights the need for a new racehorse welfare regulator and implores federal and state governments to create a national database so that thoroughbreds can be tracked through their entire lifespan, from birth, through their racing days, and until their deaths. Without such a database, the report warned, the racing industry has no way of knowing what happens to horses following their retirement.
In October 2019, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and a Melbourne-based animal welfare group, the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, revealed that hundreds of registered racehorses were being killed at Australian slaughterhouses – and in some cases exposed to horrific instances of abuse – in breach of racing rules, rehoming policies and animal welfare guarantees. Experts subsequently noted that some of the core problems leading to these atrocities related to the enforcement of existing rules and the difficulty involved in tracing retired horses to ensure they were being treated properly.
The independent review into thoroughbred welfare around the country was launched in January 2020.
“It is the thoroughbred industry’s responsibility to ensure thoroughbreds are cared for appropriately from birth to end of life,” the report concluded. “This is not being done adequately now.”
It further pointed out that “Unless that changes, the economic, emotional and social benefits of horse racing will evaporate.”
Denis Napthine, lead author of the report and a former veterinarian and state racing minister, told The Sydney Morning Herald that under the current framework – which involves no nationally agreed standards for how horses should be cared for, transported and killed – a horse can be born in one state, “race in two or three different states and retire in a fourth.”
“You need a national approach to be able to follow that horse and provide the welfare support that horse may need,” he said. “What the community is demanding now, and quite rightly, is an absolute focus on thoroughbred welfare.”
Among the report’s findings was an insistence that the industry accept responsibility and take all reasonable steps to ensure its horses have a good life and a humane death, and that greater investment be given to help thoroughbreds find new careers after racing.
The report further suggested that Australian horse breeders be charged $300 AUD ($213 USD) for every new foal, owners be charged $300 AUD for every registered racehorse, trainers and jockeys be charged 1 percent of their prize money share and Racing Australia contribute $1 million to $1.5 million AUD, in order to help fund the proposed new national body – named Thoroughbred Welfare Australia – with an initial budget of $10 million AUD. The body would also be given a mandate to provide national leadership on horse welfare.
TBA chief executive Tom Reilly welcomed the recommendations.
“Everybody involved in racing and breeding knows there’s been a huge amount of work done in welfare, but this report shows the areas where we need to improve,” he told Racenet. “If we implemented the recommendations we would have a proper framework where our horses are protected from birth right through to death, something which I think everyone could support.”
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