Two slaughtermen have had their licences revoked after they were caught on camera inflicting acts of despicable cruelty to horses in a Cheshire abattoir.
Shocking video footage shows horses being beaten with metal poles and a rope and also being illegally stunned in groups of three at the same time.
In one disturbing scene, a horse appears to regain consciousness while hanging upside down about to have its throat cut. The footage also shows sick and injured horses being left overnight instead of being put down.
The film, revealed by Sky News online on Friday (18 January), was secretly recorded at the Red Lion Abbatoir near Nantwich in Cheshire, by members of animal welfare group Hillside Animal Sanctuary.
It was released following a dramatic week in which horsemeat was found in beefburgers bought in UK supermarkets, including Tesco.
After viewing the film, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) revoked the licences of two slaughtermen featured abusing animals at the abattoir, and threatened to prosecute those responsible.
Craig Kirby, FSA head of approvals and veterinary advice, said: “I was shocked by the footage and that is why we took immediate action to make sure the individuals involved could not continue to slaughter animals.
“The FSA takes animal welfare at slaughter very seriously, and we will always investigate and take action when we see breaches of the legislation.”
Under the Welfare of Animals Act 1995, it is illegal to slaughter a horse in sight of another horse, as such actions are extremely distressful to the animal.
Animal welfare organisations, including the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare, have roundly condemned the footage.
In a statement, the RSPCA said: “The footage is shocking and upsetting to watch. With the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 in mind, we have concerns that horses appear to be in the stunning pen at the same time rather than individually as the law requires.”
“We also have concerns about some of the animals that appear to be injured. We have requested a copy of the unedited footage with a view to investigating.”
Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, described the footage as “disgusting, appalling and totally illegal”.
“What we have seen is a complete, systemic failure of the slaughterhouse to comply with UK welfare laws, and of the Food Standards Agency which should have been enforcing the law – but clearly has not.
“We are now calling for all operations at these premises to be suspended until new procedures are put in place and the FSA guarantees the plant will comply with the law.”
The horse charity also called for DEFRA to install and monitor CCTV in all English slaughterhouses to aid enforcement.
“The public and horse owners need to have confidence that slaughter is carried out humanely in Britain. While it may be a sad fact, there is a role for humane slaughter of horses to help prevent them from suffering long and painful deaths due to illness or neglect,” Mr Owers added.
The revelations come as DEFRA is finalising the arrangements to introduce new EU regulations to protect the welfare of animals at slaughter, which will come into effect this summer.
Responding to the report, the Red Lion Abattoir said it “viewed animal welfare and public health with paramount importance” and they have taken action against those featured.
Red Lion Abattoir has also insisted that none of meat it produces is part of the horsemeat supermarket scandal.
Horses slaughtered at the abattoir are destined for meat to be served in European markets.
FSA figures show 8,426 horses were slaughtered in 2012 in the UK, compared to 3,859 in 2007. Horses are sent to slaughter when they grow old, sick or are no longer considered useful.