GALLOPING DEMAND: Meramist Pty Ltd at Old Gympie Rd, Caboolture is the only Australian abattoir still selling horse meat for human consumption. Source: The Sunday Mail (Qld)
SEVEN hundred horses a month - many young fillies and colts bred for racing - are slaughtered at two Australian abattoirs and shipped overseas for human consumption, including to Europe, the centre of the horsemeat scandal.
The majority are slaughtered in Queensland at Caboolture's Meramist Abattoir, where 500 horses are processed each month.
A further 200 a month are killed at a South Australian abattoir, Samex Peterborough (formerly Metro Velda).
Thousands more are processed at 33 knackeries across Australia for petmeat and hides each year, with industry reports indicating the annual cull totals around 40,000.
While there is no clear connection between Australian horsemeat and the contaminated beef products at the heart of the European scandal, after it arrives overseas its labelling becomes the responsibility of the importing country.
It is this lack of regulation that has allowed horsemeat to contaminate beef products in Europe.
The scandal began in Ireland after routine testing by a food safety authority turned up high levels of horsemeat and pork in a range of "beef" products.
Horsemeat since has been found in some UK kebabs and burgers and other beef products, including frozen lasagne in Britain and across the EU including France, Germany and Italy.The scandal began in Ireland after routine testing by a food safety authority turned up high levels of horsemeat and pork in a range of "beef" products.
Source: The Sunday Mail (Qld)
Horsemeat is considered a delicacy in some countries, particularly France and Belgium, home to some of the EU's biggest horsemeat importers.
As the scandal grows, both Australian slaughterhouses face an uncertain future, with demand for horsemeat expected to plummet.
Caboolture's Meramist is Australia's largest abattoir producing horsemeat for human consumption, and is owned by Belgian firm Benimplex NV.
New Zealand horses also are butchered for human consumption by a Meramist subsidiary, Clover Export.
South Australia's Samex Peterborough processes its meat for Belgian company Velda NV.
At the Caboolture abattoir, horses are moved into a kill box at the plants, stunned and bled out after being attached to a conveyer system and inverted.
"All horses at Meramist are excess to owner requirements," said Meramist general manager Mike Eathorne, who refused to be interviewed by The Sunday Mail.
In a written statement, Mr Eathorne said: "They are processed in a humane manner".
Horse and animal groups say the mass killing is cruel and wouldn't be necessary if government did more to control breeding and aided adoptions of unwanted horses.
Mr Eathorne said all of Meramist's horsemeat is sold for human consumption
to Japan, Russia and Europe, but he denied Meramist was linked to any tainted beef products.
Mr Eathorne said he doubted the abattoir would be impacted by the scandal, but others saw a future backlash against horsemeat in Europe.
"It hasn't hit yet, but it is certainly a likelihood," one abattoir horse buyer said.
Samex general manager Gary Marriott agreed the horsemeat scandal would have a negative impact on future exports.
"Anytime you get adverse publicity, you're going to have repercussions," he said.
Animal and horse welfare groups are pleased the scandal has brought the slaughter of thousands of young and generally healthy Australian horses into the public eye.
Animals Australia spokeswoman Lisa Chalk said the unnecessary killing of young and healthy horses must be stopped.
She said there was a "glaring double standard" that Australians don't eat horsemeat but are part of a global food chain that supplies horsemeat for human consumption.
"It's a public interest story that we're part of this food chain," Ms Chalk said.
As investigations continue in Europe, Australian regulators are ready to act should any link be established between the contaminated beef products and Australian horsemeat exports.
A spokesman for The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said it was keeping a close eye on developments in Europe.