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British horsemeat ban to be lifted

TENS of thousands of British horses could be sent for slaughter in continental abattoirs under government plans to lift a 70-year ban on the trade, writes Jonathan Leake.

Horses are regarded as livestock in countries such as Italy and France, where horse steaks and salami made from the animals are widely eaten.

In Britain horses cannot be exported live unless they are valued at more than £5,000, a rule that allows exports of racehorses but blocks trade in food animals.

The European commission is shortly expected to amend its rules governing the transport of animals and end Britain’s ban.

Rather than seek an exemption for horses, ministers in Britain want the rules governing the welfare of all animals in transit to be strengthened.

The proposal is likely to be controversial in the equestrian community. Britain has about 2m horses. Once their riding days are over, many are “retired” to pasture.

Only about 7,000 horses are slaughtered for food in Britain each year, with their meat mostly sent abroad. The rest are either shot and buried or sent to knacker’s yards and hunt kennels.

The lifting of the ban could lead to tens of thousands of British horses being exported each year.

James Gray, Conservative spokesman on rural affairs, said: “The main market will be the horse abattoirs in southern Italy, which will mean these animals being on the road for days. It will be a cruel trade and I want this ban to remain in place.”

A spokesman at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “It is hard to make a case for the special treatment of horses.”