NSW stud owned by Gerry Harvey among those accused in parliament of sending racehorses to slaughter
Allegations in Victorian parliament suggest slaughter of racehorses continues in NSW despite rules introduced in 2017
Billionaire Gerry Harvey has apologised after one of his studs sent ex-racehorses to a pet food factory for slaughter, a practice banned in New South Wales, vowing “it will never happen again”.
Allegations aired in Victorian parliament just days before the Melbourne Cup suggest the slaughter of unwanted thoroughbreds is continuing in New South Wales, despite public revelations last year and the NSW racing industry introducing rules in 2017 to stop retired horses being sent to knackeries or abattoirs.
Parliament heard allegations that thoroughbreds from a range of studs had been sent to two pet food factories for slaughter: Kankool Pet Foods and Highland Petfood, both in New South Wales.
Victorian Animal Justice party MP Andy Meddick said that included “a number of racehorses” from the Broombee Stud, owned by Harvey, which had been sent to Highland.
Meddick said the allegations had been brought to his attention by activists with the Farm Transparency Project.
“If you support horse racing this spring carnival, you are also supporting the wholesale slaughter of these majestic animals, who deserve so much better,” Meddick said.
Harvey told the Guardian he had been in contact with his stud and confirmed that horses were sent to pet food factories.
He said the horses were to be euthanised and had vet certificates stating they needed euthanasia. Harvey said he has now seen those certificates.
But he said the stud was not aware that NSW rules – unlike in other states – forbid sending horses to knackeries even if they were about to be euthanised. Harvey said there was no malice or intent behind the stud’s actions and it was a mistake.
“You end up unwittingly in a situation like this, not of your own making,” he said.
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“You could argue that I’m the boss so everything has to come back to me. I can’t argue with that, but I’ve got 20,000 people working for me across the world. All I can say is sorry it happened, it won’t happen again. I’ve talked to the bloke and that’s all I can say. I don’t think it’s a hanging offence for him under the circumstances.”
Meddick also named Ambergate Stud at Scone as having breached the rule. Owner Kevin Drew told Guardian Australia he did send a broodmare to Kankool this year but said he sent her to be put down and burned in the incinerator, not used for pet food.
“It was an aged animal, it was a mare which was in her late teens,” Drew said. “She had an illness… it wasn’t something that you would be able to retrain or ask someone else to look after and carry those vet expenses.”
Drew said he was not able to have the mare euthanised and buried on his property because he lived in a water catchment. He also said the cost of burying a horse – which requires hiring a backhoe – was prohibitive.
“It was the best thing for that mare that she was put down and incinerated in that way.”
Binnia Performance Horses, also named in parliament, would not comment on the allegations. Ezy Care Foster Mares said they did not have any thoroughbreds on their property.
Mark Taylor, the owner of Tamac Stud which was also named, told Guardian Australia he had “never” sent a racehorse to Kankool. He said his truck was used to transport some non-racehorses to the facility but those horses had to be put down for their own welfare.
“It is not true,” Taylor said. “I have never sent a racehorse to an abattoir. It’s illegal … I don’t do that. I have a passion for recuperating horses and getting them rehomed, we do that because we love our horses.”
Guardian Australia has attempted to contact two other studs named in parliament.
Slaughtering racehorses is not illegal in Australia.
But it is against the rules of Racing NSW, which stipulate that retired racehorses must be rehomed, not sent for slaughter.
Breaching the rules can lead to fines, suspensions and disqualifications.
Racing Victoria does not have an outright ban on sending horses to slaughter, arguing that would “drive the problem underground”. Instead, it is compulsory for owners and trainers to provide data on why a horse was retired and whether it died or was retrained.
Meddick named 12 thoroughbreds that had been allegedly slaughtered at Kankool, including Bahrain, a mare that won its owners $32,250 in five races, Sunday Poet, a five-year-old gelding that won $37,420 and retired two years ago, and Tycoon Mar, which won $119,785 in its three-year career.
Pending Decision, a 12-year-old chestnut mare that won its owners $7,215, was also allegedly killed at Kankool, as were thoroughbreds Lechery, Denman Dame, Domally Force, Anguilla, and Madame Frost, Meddick claimed.
Three further unnamed thoroughbreds, one born in 2018, were allegedly killed at the same knackery, parliament heard.
Meddick said the situation was no different in Victoria.
“The industry across the country is equally responsible for their welfare and protection,” he said.
“They have been given too many chances. They say they love their horses, yet they give them a bullet.”
Racing NSW general manager of integrity, Marc van Gestel, said an investigation was underway into the allegations.
“Racing NSW is also lobbying the NSW Government to make it a criminal offence in NSW for any thoroughbred horse to be sent to a knackery, even if they have been rehomed to persons outside of racing,” he said.
“If Racing NSW’s investigations establish that any of those horses remained in the ownership of persons under [its] jurisdiction, Racing NSW will prosecute those persons for any breaches of its rules.”
Racing NSW said one of the horses said to have been killed, Diambra, was found this week to be alive. Other horses had been rehomed to other persons and were outside Racing NSW’s jurisdiction, he said.
Van Gestel said only three horses that were allegedly sent to a knackery between March and August were potentially in breach of the rules.
“Considering that 2,035 horses are retired annually from the NSW racing industry, the figure of 3 is less than 1% of the retired NSW horse population for that period,” he said. “This figure demonstrates that Racing NSW’s Rules and programs are working to ensure ensuring that thoroughbreds are rehomed after racing.”
In 2019, the ABC alleged widespread slaughter of NSW-bred racehorses for pet food and human consumption.
The ABC investigation alleged an abattoir north of Brisbane had slaughtered 300 racehorses, which shared in $5m prize money, in just 22 days. The investigation also alleged racehorses were being sold to two pet food factories on the outskirts of Sydney.
The broadcast was attacked as unfair and inaccurate by Racing NSW, which said it failed to take into account initiatives it had employed to improve welfare and track and rehome racehorses, including a program introduced in 2016 to track thoroughbreds from birth to retirement.
“I note that Peter V’landys promised to stamp this out last year following the ABC 7.30 report. Yet here we still are,” Meddick told state parliament.
V’landys, the chief executive of Racing NSW, is suing the ABC for defamation for its report, alleging the broadcast wrongly implied he and Racing NSW were responsible for the slaughter of retired racehorses in the Queensland abattoir. The ABC is defending the case.
Racing Australia told a Senate inquiry that it did not know how many ex-racehorses were killed in knackeries and export abattoirs each year. The industry has expressed support for a horse tracking scheme, which is being considered by a national working group.
There are also no public records on the number of horses killed in Australia for meat each year. The two abattoirs that kill for export are subject to animal welfare oversight from both Australian and EU officials, and exported a combined 2,600 tonnes of horsemeat a year. The average carcass weighs 300-350kg.
Knackeries are not subject to the same level of oversight because the meat is not sold for human consumption.
The RSPCA has said that, in some cases, slaughter at a knackery or abattoir may be a more humane option for a horse than being neglected. The harness racing industry and Racing Victoria also told the Senate inquiry that animals which are injured or have behavioural issues, as well as economic and practical considerations around the difficulty of burying a horse, may result in a horse going to slaughter.
Meddick told state parliament that the Kankool factory was also slaughtering standardbred horses using in harness racing.
He alleged stock horses used in rodeos, miniature horses and ponies, and “any horse in between, along with sheep and lambs, cattle and calves, pigs and goats” were also slaughtered at the factory, which is not in itself a breach of any rules or laws.
Meddick made no allegation of cruelty involving thoroughbreds.
Racing NSW, and the various studs named in Victorian parliament have been contacted for comment.