As we are all too aware the news is dominated at the moment with revelations about horse meat being found in ready meals and economy burgers – the “Horse Meat Scandal” as it has been labelled. In all honesty, it is getting a bit tiresome. However, I believe there is a far greater “scandal” than what is occurring currently. One that has been going on for at least thirty years.
I am a horse lover, have been all my life. As a little girl, I lived for horses. So, am I repulsed at the thought of eating a horse. No, I am not and perhaps surprisingly to some people, I have knowingly eaten horse meat. The difference for me though, was that the horse meat I ate, was clearly labelled as horse and was from an animal purposefully bred for the meat industry, NOT someones old pet, or broken down gelding racehorse, that has nothing left to offer the racing industry and due to the lack of testicles, can’t be put out to stud.
As a young girl, I spent my life surrounded by horses, horses of all shapes sizes, breeds and cross breeds. I rode horses for a dealer, what I mean by that is that he bought and sold horses. Not thoroughbred racehorses, but cross-bred horses, used for general purpose riding and driving, your every day family pet type horse. I would accompany him to horse fairs up and down the country. I sat on and got thrown off more horses than I can remember.
At these horse fairs there would be lines and lines of horses standing waiting to be run up and down the road “shown” to the crowd of buyers. At the end of the lines though, tucked away from the main buying centre would be a few big, fat, old horses. These horses who were, being honest of little to no use to anyone. Some of them would be lame, most of them would be too old and fat, to be suitable as a riding horse. Surprisingly these horses would generate an enormous amount of interest amongst the dealers. I learned very quickly that these horses were referred to as “knackers”. I would hear the dealers say “there’s a great old knacker at the end of the row.”
They would almost come to blows over who was buying it. The dealer that I knew, would often buy them too. He would buy them for the knacker man and say that’s a great “beef” horse. The term “beef” horse was commonly used amongst horse dealers. I’m not suggesting they were meaning them to be substituted as beef, it was just a term for a horse that would produce a good quantity of useable meat. There was a whole information network out there for these dealers, telling them where they might find a big “knacker” for sale. I was often taken along on the pretence that he wanted to buy me a big old quiet horse to ride, because the horse he wanted to buy was someones family pet. A horse, that they never would have sold if they thought it was going to the knacker, or being bought by a dealer. Take a little girl along with you though, get her to sit on it and ride around the field and they’ll sell their horse. I was only about eight, so I would go along innocently and stupidly thinking he wanted to buy this horse and keep it for a while, only for it to disappear a few days later and be sold to the knacker man!
The dealer told me that there was a lorry that left the North every so often, once they had a full load and they would take these horses into the South of Ireland, or across the water into England for slaughter. He told me stories of when he was younger and would go in the lorry. They would get to the border checkpoint and they always used a particular crossing point, because they got to know the Garda (Southern Irish police) Sergeant in charge. They would take him a carton of cigarettes and a bottle of whiskey, that way they would get over the border without them even checking the load in the lorry. So these “knacker” horses would cross the border undetected.
At the moment there are according to this article 70,000 horses missing and unaccounted for on the island of Ireland, this figure is apparently an estimate from the USPCA and is taken over a five-year period. Even the horse passport system, that of course didn’t exist when I was a child and was subsequently created to try to abolish things like this, is being exploited with false papers being created for these horses. I feel certain that there are probably similar figures throughout England, Scotland and Wales, this “problem” is not confined to the island of Ireland. I remember a great many horse dealers from the other regions of the UK attending these horse fairs too.
So how are the government, DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency, so shocked and appalled by this and yet me, a little no one in particular is not? I have known for most of my life that horses were being illegally traded and slaughtered. Even though I have not been in the “horsey” know for a good many years, I didn’t think that it had all suddenly stopped. It was then and still is now a lucrative business.
So why now is it all such a scandal? Is it because the press have got their hands on the story and therefore it has become public knowledge. Can the Food Standards Agencey honestly put their hands on their hearts and tell us that we haven’t been eating Dobbin for thirty years or more. My opinion is that they cannot.
**No horses were harmed during the writing of this post and “Bobby” featured above is alive and well and not residing in the freezer section!
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