HomeHorse RacingHRI 'shocked' at RTÉ revelations on equine industry

HRI ‘shocked’ at RTÉ revelations on equine industry


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Horse Racing Ireland has said it will actively support any Department of Agriculture or garda investigation following revelations by RTÉ Investigates into the Irish and European equine industries.

Illegal activities to launder the identities of horses and compromise the integrity of the human food chain were uncovered at a site connected to Ireland’s only active abattoir for horses.

In recent weeks the Department of Agriculture and Gardaí conducted searches at Shannonside Foods Ltd in Straffan, County Kildare – and other properties which are associated with the family of John Joe Fitzpatrick, who operates the business.

The Department has said its investigations are ongoing and that these may impact on the operations of the plant.

In statement, HRI said it was “deeply shocked and appalled by the content of the RTÉ Investigates documentary”.

Director of Equine Welfare and Bloodstock with Horse Racing Ireland, John Osborne, said last night’s Prime Time programme was “abhorrent and disgusting”.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Osborne described the programme as “shocking to watch”.

He said it was “disappointing at a visceral level”, adding that “bad actions and bad actors can undo so much good”.

He said tracibility was a “complex problem”.

“We’ve made huge advances and we’re innovators in that space. We were the first country to use microchips… we were the first country in Europe to adopt the e-passport three years ago. These are innovations that are going to make this kind of behaviour more difficult,” he said.

“There are complexities around this. One of them is the recent exit of Britain from the EU, and the border plays a part in this. Intergovernmental communications need a little bit of work as well.

“We’re lucky in the thoroughbred sector because there’s one passport-issuing organisation which is common to both Britain and Ireland. It is the only source of passports in the thoroughbred sector and we’re very happy with the performance.”

When asked what should happen now at Shannonside Foods, Mr Osborne said he “really couldn’t comment” on such things because they were “outside my remit”.

He said he abhors the treatment that was seen in the programme, adding that the most vulnerable are the ones who need the greatest attention, not the least.

When asked about the figure of 30,000 horses vanishing, Mr Osbourne said he would challenge that.

“Those figures do not stack up, they make no sense whatsoever… we welcome critical friends, we welcome challenge, we welcome people who ask us to do better.”

The focus of RTÉ Investigates’ covert filming was a building used by Shannonside Foods Ltd in Straffan.

During this, undercover cameras captured one of the business’s Animal Welfare Officers, Arann Fitzpatrick, inserting false identification microchips into horses and using spray paint to change the colour markings on horses.

RTÉ Investigates also analysed data which allowed, for the first time, the profiling of horses that were sent for slaughter in Ireland.

Journalists examined 2,400 horses slaughtered at Shannonside Foods Ltd between January 1, 2023 and March 1, 2024.

The data revealed 71% were thoroughbreds and had been bred for the racing industry, with the rest bred as sport or leisure horses.

Of those bred for racing it was possible to establish that more that 400 had racing careers.

The horses slaughtered in the Straffan slaughterhouse during the period had together raced more than 3,000 times and earned their owners more than €1.5m on tracks across Ireland, the UK and France.

Some had arrived in the slaughterhouse having recently left the yards of some prestigious owners and trainers.

The slaughtered horses ranged in age from six months to 31 years old.

The average age of the thoroughbreds slaughtered during the period was 8 years and six months. Some were killed just days after their last race.

In a statement the Department of Agriculture said it takes its “regulatory responsibilities very seriously and has robust systems in place to safeguard the integrity of the food chain.”

However, it said its approval for Shannonside Foods does not include the lairage used to pre-screen the animals and where the undercover filming took place.

It said “all available evidence of illegal activity… will be appropriately investigated.”

Shannonside Foods Ltd said it rejects the claims made in the RTÉ Investigates report, it said it takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operated in compliance with its licence.

RTÉ investigates also uncovered discrepancies relating to the traceability of thousands of Irish horses, as part of a major piece of research examining the equine industry in Ireland and across Europe.

An in-depth analysis of figures gathered from various sources reveals that the problem impacts up to 20,000 Irish horses each year.

The investigation examined the ways some horses disappear, including the activities of criminal networks which launder the identities of horses that were declared unfit for human consumption, with the intent of getting them into the human food chain.

Notably, in a significant cross-border court case that concluded in Marseille last year, Irish horses were identified as the main source of supply for those slaughtering horses which had been issued with false identities in France.

During its research, RTÉ established that one of the men convicted of being a ringleader in the network which was prosecuted in France is still playing a prominent role in the fate of Irish horses, despite currently serving a five-year-ban issued by a French court from all activity in the equine industry.

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