Cross-posted from BBC Sports
Thoroughbred horses from Northern Ireland are ending up on dinner tables in Europe, a BBC Season Ticket investigation has concluded.
Equine veterinary surgeon Bruce Steele acknowledged that the shipment to Europe of thoroughbreds to be eaten “is a strong possibility”.
“It has to be,” Mr Steele told the BBC Northern Ireland programme.
The veterinary surgeon added that some horses will have been treated by drugs before ending up in the food chain.
Animal welfare official Barbara Bent said the decline in value of horses during the current economic downturn was leading to “welfare problems”.
“If an animal is very valuable, then he’ll be looked after. That’s where the industry has found itself now,” added the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals spokeswoman.
Mr Steele added that the system of horse passports was unlikely to prevent some horses that had been treated with drugs from ending up on dinner plates.
“If a veterinary surgeon treats a horse with any substance, that has to be entered in the passport, with the reason for the administration, the (name of the) drug and how much was administered,” continued Mr Steele.
“That horse wouldn’t be allowed into the food chain but there’s no guarantee those details will be in the passport.
“Quite often when a horse is treated, the passport isn’t available.”
The BBC Season Ticket investigation comes against the backdrop of another hugely successful Cheltenham Festival for Ireland.
This year’s festival had nine Irish-trained winners while Irish jockeys won 22 out of 26 races.
2008 saw a dramatic decline in sales at Irish bloodstock auctions with a drop of 44% from the previous 12 months.
Northern Ireland agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew acknowledged that the BBC investigation had indicated that there may be a need to introduce new legislation.
Season Ticket uncovered strong evidence that thoroughbreds and recreational horses are being taken to holding yards in Northern Ireland before being transported to Great Britain and Europe.
“I’m not aware, if there are holding yards,” the NI minister told the BBC.
“We don’t have legislative competence (at the moment) for facilities, such as you describe.
“If there is a necessity to legislate for that, we would want to do that to make sure that there are the proper welfare standards.”