“The Final Race brutally educated the public that, on a large scale, retired racing horses are being treated as disposable commodities.” Terry Martin SC
The shocking revelations of the routine slaughter of racehorses exposed by the ABC’s 7:30 program ‘The Final Race’ on October 17 2019 led to an Inquiry into animal cruelty in the management of retired thoroughbred and standardbred horses in Queensland by the Queensland Governments Racing Integrity Commission
The inquiry, conducted by retired district court judge Terry Martin with the support of equine veterinary surgeon and Australian Veterinary Association representative Dr Peter Reid, was made into the regulatory and oversight arrangements for:
1. the operations of abattoirs and other facilities accepting horses for slaughter
2. the management of retired racehorses (thoroughbred and standardbred) in Queensland, including of horses moved from interstate.
The resulting 94-page document unsurprisingly reveals damning evidence of an industry and government at both the state and national level that is failing both horses used by the racing industry and animal welfare in general miserably.
The inquiry made 55 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the QLD state government in full, in part, or in principal.
Perhaps the most damning comment from the inquiry….
The grim reality is that, even with the introduction of a Queensland racing industry rehoming program to complement the current and hugely commendable rehoming work of individuals and organisations from within the racing community and the broader community, a significant number of healthy retired racing horses will have an early death. The only options then are euthanasia or the slaughter establishments. Whilst on-farm euthanasia is an ideal end of life outcome, the number of horses, currently, are too high, the size of Queensland too vast, the number of veterinarians too few and the cost of euthanasia and burial too great, to expect that it would be the total answer.
When on-farm euthanasia (note: killing a healthy horse is not euthanasia) is considered an “ideal outcome” and a trip to the slaughterhouse considered realistically inevitable for many, one really must ask how this industry can be allowed to continue at all?
In reading these findings and recommendations, it is important to be aware of two things:
1. The greyhound live baiting Macsporran Inquiry Report recommendations have taken 5 years and still have not been fully implemented. Many of the recommendations from this Martin Inquiry Report rely on the federal government or Racing Australia and other agencies, which likely make it even more complex and time consuming to implement. Even if the recommendations are eventually implemented, enforcement will be difficult.
2. Just days before the QLD government publicly announced they will adopt all 55 recommendations from the Martin Inquiry in full, in part or in principal, they also passed new laws to harshly penalise those who are most often responsible for such horrific animal abuses coming to light in the first place. The Queensland Parliament passed the Agriculture and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, increasing fines and jail time for activists seeking to expose animal cruelty. The Minister ignored advice from the Queensland Law Society, the Queensland Human Rights Commission, as well as Animal Liberation Qld, Farm Animal Rescue, Animal Justice Party Queensland, and Animal Defenders Office. The new laws now in effect include an increase of maximum penalty from $2,669 to $66,725 and 1 year in jail for breaching biosecurity, expanding unlawful assembly offences, and new offences for unlawful entry to just about any land where animals are kept. These increases in penalties specific to animal abuse enterprises (otherwise known as ag-gag) have one goal only – to silence whistle blowers who expose the abuse that is inherent to slaughterhouses and animal rearing facilities.
Findings & Comments
Below are just some of the comments and key findings coming from the inquiry that we feel must be highlighted, along with some responses where we feel necessary. The full inquiry can be read here and QLD governments response here.
*The breeding of horses for racing is indiscriminate.
* The breeding of horses for racing in Australia is largely unregulated and undertaken with little regard for the size of the problem being created at the end of their careers.
*The racing industry in Australia, in general, has fundamentally failed to intervene at industry level to effectively protect retired racing horses.
CPR: For many decades, the racing industry has been operating with zero concern or requirement for concern as to the wellbeing and outcomes for horses once they leave the industry. When you consider a horse lives for twenty-five to thirty years, and the average time they are used for racing is three years, and that they are brought into to this world solely to make a profit, it should come as no surprise to learn that neglect and/or slaughter are the most common outcome for these horses.
* The current Code lacks standards for the design of horse-specific slaughter establishments to make the slaughter of horses humane
CPR: Whilst CPR acknowledges slaughter can be done in ways that reduces suffering, slaughter can never be made “humane”.
* Poor compliance with requirements to notify control bodies of the retirement or death of racing horses undermines all attempts to calculate the number of racing horses retiring each year that require aftercare and the true destination of those horses.
* The management of racing horses as a disposable commodity is plainly unethical and not aligned with the expectations of the community upon whose acceptance, the social licence of racing depends,
*The racing industry cannot reasonably or practically be held accountable for the lifelong welfare of retired racing horse once they are no longer owned by a licensed or registered industry participant.
CPR: This conflict highlights the very crux of the issue for an industry that uses living beings who are brought into the world for the sole purpose of making money.
* The use of slaughter establishments as an end of life option for retired racing horses must be a last resort. Amendments to the rules of racing to require the owner of a horse to rehome that horse upon retirement should be pursued to ensure this is the case. Even when a horse is found to be unsuitable for rehoming, preference should be given to on-farm euthanasia, conducted by, or under the supervision of, a qualified veterinary professional.
CPR: We believe all horses are suitable for rehoming if given the proper attention, rehabilitation and care through a patient process. The industry participant should be required to fund such a process and if they cannot afford to, the racing authorities should, and the participant should not be accepted as a participant in future. Killing them should never be an option. Even so, if this scenario must persist, backyard ‘euthanasia’ should be essential, not a ‘preference’.
* The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments is voluntary and outdated, but most importantly, it fails to provide for appropriate establishment design to achieve humane slaughter of horses.
* Poor design of slaughter establishments, inappropriate handling of horses such as using loud noises to move horses, allowing horses to see and hear other horses being stunned or shot and smell blood immediately before slaughter, are all factors that lead to poor welfare outcomes for horses and are not prevented under current legislation.
* Electric prodders are not appropriate for use on horses. Queensland animal welfare legislation should be consistent with the standards set in the Terrestrial Animal Health Code which rejects the use of electric goads and prods on horses and the EU Council Regulation that prohibits the use of prods or other implements with pointed ends on all animals.
* The Australian Meat Standard is outdated and has limited specific welfare provisions for horses.
* Given this is an environment which poses significant risks to the welfare of horses, and the animal welfare problem at Meramist is cultural, a Biosecurity Queensland Inspector should be present during unloading and slaughter of horses.
CPR: Studies show a slaughterhouse worker must detach from their natural inclinations of empathy to do such work. From what CPR has witnessed, this “culture” is inherent to the framework of the majority of slaughterhouses.
*The importance of animal welfare within Biosecurity Queensland needs to be elevated to demonstrate the Queensland Government’s commitment to not only the welfare of horses at establishments but also the welfare of all animals in Queensland.
* Biosecurity Inspectors who work within the animal biosecurity and welfare program have a dual role, which can create a conflict or a perceived conflict of interest between the welfare of animals and the interests of persons whose livelihoods are dependent on animals.
CPR: The conflict of interest of Biosecurity and their inability to effectively carry out their duties in animal welfare have been long highlighted by Animal Liberation QLD. View here. Their failings are substantial and have led to prolonged pain and suffering of countless animals. So long as such industries exist, an Independent Animal Protection Agency and a federal Animal Rights Commission as advocated by the Animal Justice Party, whose primary purpose is to ensure the well-being of all animals is what is required.
* Awaiting the completion of the national review of the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments, rather than moving forward with recommendation 10.2.1, will mean that many thousands more horses will be unnecessarily slaughtered inhumanely.
CPR: We find this absolutely unacceptable. Meramist should have been immediately shutdown and should remain so.
* While some jurisdictions are currently developing plans for the welfare and rehoming of retired racing horses, only New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, pursuant to Local Rule 114, has specific regulation for the welfare of retired racing horses.
CPR: As ABC’s 7:30 exposed, these regulations are not being policed and therefore not enforced. Furthermore, not a single prosecution has taken place since the implementation of the new regulations.
Below are just some of the recommendations coming from the inquiry that we feel must be highlighted, along with some comments where we feel necessary:
* …introduce a welfare levy to be added to the current foal birth notification and stallion return fees. The size of this levy be sufficient to act as a deterrent to indiscriminate and poor quality breeding
CPR: We have long proposed a foal levy. This will help to discourage indiscriminate breeding which results in high numbers of horses existing who are unable to be cared for. Ultimately such a levy will result in less horses being born to suffer both the life of being used as a racehorse and the impacts of being discarded or neglected.
* Industry participants have a continuing obligation to notify the national bodies of the retired horse’s ultimate retirement destination from the care of the racing industry participant. Participants also be required to provide notification of the fact and cause of death of the retired racing horse while in their care.
CPR: There is still no requirement for an industry participant to remain responsible for keeping track of a horse beyond the initial rehoming location. There is also no requirement for a registered veterinarian to confirm the cause of death of a retired horse while in their care or after, meaning a horse could easily be taken down the back of a paddock and shot without any traceability or accountability. Anecdotal evidence from industry employees suggests this is not uncommon.
* The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries takes steps to amend the Racing Integrity Act 2016 to extend the QRIC’s animal welfare jurisdiction to a horse retired from racing, but still in the care of a registered or licensed person under the Australian Rules of Racing or Australian Harness Rules of Racing.
* Amendments to clarify that Biosecurity Queensland and the RSPCA remain responsible for the welfare of retired racing horses not in the care of a licensed or registered industry participant.
CPR: This would be welcome news if we felt Biosecurity QLD were capable and motivated enough to make animal welfare a priority. Their track record proves otherwise due to conflict of interest and poor animal welfare and investigative knowledge (as noted above by the inquiry). We acknowledge the inquiry makes recommendations to address this issue but ultimately, what is required here is what is proposed by the Animal Justice Party, a well-resourced state-based Independent Animal Protection Agency and a federal Animal Rights Commission whose primary purpose is to ensure the well-being of all animals.
* The QRIC commits more resources to the active enforcement of retirement notifications including the auditing of ‘high-risk’ categories such as racing horses that have been ‘spelling’ for more than 12 months and horses that are still registered but have not had a race start in the last 12 months.
CPR: This is welcome news.Records show countless horses who have been spelling for years. The industry currently has no idea where any of these horses are. If enforced this could help towards more horses being accounted for.
*The QRIC develops a penalty standard for the failure to provide timely retirement and death notifications that reflects the critical role they play in monitoring the welfare of retired racing horses.
CPR: Welcome news. To date the completion of this form has been labelled as compulsory however no penalties have applied for non compliance , therefore making it completely ineffective.
Queensland establishes and governs a retraining/rehoming program for
Thoroughbred and Standardbred horses, bred for the racing industry, and
domiciled in Queensland at the time of their retirement.
*(The Off The Track program)…. contain provision for horses that are bred for racing but never make it to the track. Although these horses are not ‘retired racing horses’ and do not therefore fall within the official scope of the Inquiry, they have been identified as the first point of potential ‘wastage’ for the industry and it would be careless of the Inquiry not to take the opportunity to promote their interests. Further, it would be indefensible for the industry not to do something to ensure they are given the opportunity of a long and healthy life.
CPR: We welcome that the inquiry has recognised the many horses who vanish every year before ever making it to the track.
* Racing Queensland advocates for Racing Australia and Harness Racing Australia to adopt national rules of racing requiring the owner of a horse to rehome it upon retirement.
* The owner must make two genuine attempts to rehome a horse before the owner is permitted to submit it to Queensland’s official Off the Track program.
CPR: An owner has never been required to rehome a racehorse before so this is very welcome news. However, there is no requirement for the new owner to care for the horse by racing industry regulations and therefore the horse can still be sent to slaughter.
* An owner is exempt from rehoming obligations if the horse is unsuitable for rehoming whether because of age, injury, sickness or temperament.
CPR: Temperament concerns and lameness are a common occurrence for horses coming out of the racing industry. So long as they are not suffering in a way that cannot be addressed, rehabilitation and rehoming should be a compulsory requirement.
* in the event the horse is not accepted into Queensland’s official Off the Track program, the owner may euthanase the horse or send it to a slaughter establishment, with slaughter being the option of last resort.
CPR: It is unclear what would make a horse not qualify for the OTT program. Again, slaughter should never be an option.
* The QRIC publishes annual injury, death, euthanasia, slaughter and retirement data for racing and retired Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds on its website.
* Biosecurity Queensland publishes annual data on its website detailing the number of animal welfare complaints and investigations (by type) it manages and the investigation outcomes achieved.
* Racing Queensland publishes data on its website of the number of horses accepted, retrained, rehomed, euthanased or sent to slaughter through the Off the Track program.
CPR: We very much welcomes this transparency for all three above recommendations however would like to see the relevant bodies regularly audited to ensure the data being published is accurate.
* The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Queensland) takes steps to amend the ACPA to provide that establishment management store for at least 30 days the CCTV footage recorded at all critical animal welfare points and make available the recorded footage to Biosecurity Queensland upon request on 48 hours’ notice.
CPR: We believe slaughterhouse CCTV should also be publicly available so that the public can make a decision as to whether they still want to support the industry or not.
The inquiry also acknowledged the discarding of foals who never make it to the track and the many other issues associated with breeding. Some of particular note:
Foals born but never declared, foals that never make it into training and unnamed horses sold through yearling sales and online auctions were all highlighted as at high-risk of poor welfare outcomes because they are unwanted. They also represent another gap in the racing industry’s knowledge of where the horses they breed end up. It is apparent that better traceability and welfare controls for horses not yet registered to race is another issue the racing industry should be giving particular attention to.
It is submitted that the breeding of horses for racing in Australia is a ‘numbers game’ driven by a preoccupation with quantity rather than quality. The result, it is said, is more horses being bred than will ever make it to racing and many more than could ever be appropriately rehomed.
There do not appear to be fees associated with registration as a breeder, any checks on the suitability or competency of the applicant as a breeder, or limits placed on the number of foals produced in a year… And later… Importantly, no actual assessment is made of a breeder’s competency or ability either.
It was also noted that none of the authorities have a position on the number of foals that should be born each year to maintain the industry but not create wastage and issues with rehoming. It is abundantly clear that the current state of play across the country is to breed as many foals as possible, to increase the chances of producing the next big winner. This is without any concern for the many others who are born into the industry but don’t have the desirable attributes and serve no purpose.
Racing Queensland suggests that this data supports a view that any restrictions on breeding would not enhance animal welfare outcomes. The Inquiry does not agree.
…it remains that the number of horses entering the industry will ultimately determine the number requiring a decent retirement outcome in the future. The Inquiry has found very little evidence that this has been taken into account in establishing breeding frameworks and incentive programs.
The Inquiry notes that the numbers of horses bred each year approximately matches the number of horses retired and needing to be rehomed. The Queensland racing industry contributes approximately 2000 horses of the national number of 13000 who require rehoming every year. Yet the racing industry continues to claim they do not have an over-breeding problem. We are thankful the inquiry has noted that they most certainly do.
Breeders have no licensing requirements whilst so many others in the industry do. The Inquiry noted: In interview, representatives from Thoroughbred Breeders Australia argued that breeders should be subject to an industry quality assurance scheme rather than regulation. However, it is the Inquiry’s view that the rigour of licensing is necessary.
Also of note…
Under the existing retirement and death notification requirements, a racing horse could be officially retired into a socially desirable retirement category, remain in the care of a licensed or registered person, and then be euthanased or sent, promptly or eventually, to an abattoir without this fact ever appearing in the official figures of the racing industry.
The written submission provided by Meramist Pty Ltd advises that the abattoir processes approximately 10 000 horses a year. Together, these figures indicate that the 4000-5000 figure suggested by 7.30 may be reasonable.
We are thankful to the Queensland Government for holding this inquiry and for raising the many issues that hopefully will lead to better outcomes not only for racehorses but for all horses. We look forward to seeing the many recommendations being implemented and enforced and the racing industry being made accountable for the horses they profit from before, during and after racing.