Horse Slaughter in Australia ~ Horse Meat, Abattoirs, Knackeries, Wastage and Related Issues

Australian Government figures state that 30,000 – 40,000 horses are slaughtered each year in Australia. On this page you will find an overview of horse slaughter in Australia, including links to sources of more information. Please be aware that the nature of the information on this page is such that it may be distressing for some.

It is estimated that between 2.5% and 3.33% of the Australian horse population is slaughtered annually

It is estimated that between 2.5% and 3.33% of the Australian horse population is slaughtered annually

In Brief:

Australian horse slaughter is a multi-million dollar industry, composed of the following:

  • Two abattoirs that slaughter an estimated 700 horses a month between them (which equals 8,400 in a calendar year). The meat is exported for human consumption in a number of countries, including Russia, France, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Singapore and Japan.
  • Thirty three knackeries that slaughter somewhere in the range of 22,000 – 32,000 horses a year for pet food, meat meal, tallow, hair, hides and other products. Some of these are sold domestically and some are exported.
  • One butcher in WA was granted a special license in July 2010 to sell horse meat for human consumption within Australia by the Western Australian state Minister for Agriculture and Food, Terry Redman of the National Party. The butcher has stated in the media that he slaughters 20 horses a year, and is currently selling the meat to other states and territories of Australia.

It is estimated that there are around 1.2 million horses in Australia. 30,000 – 40,000 horses thereby makes up an estimated 2.5 – 3.33% of the Australian horse population slaughtered annually.

Latest News and Current Issues


What sort of horses end up being slaughtered?

A study from 2008 into horses at an Australian abattoir included some limited information on breeds. (Doughty, 2008 – see link in “Sources” below)

The study found:

  • 40% of the horses in the study had thoroughbred racing brands
  • 12.9% of the horses in the study had standardbred racing brands
  • An estimated 10% of horses slaughtered in abattoirs were brumbies (although other sources, including RIRDC, have published estimates of 20%)
  • This leaves a remainder of between 27.1 – 37.1% of horses slaughtered estimated to be from other domestic sources, including pleasure, performance, station bred, working horses and potentially some thoroughbreds and standardbreds that were not branded.

How old are the horses?

The export abattoirs require a certain standard of meat quality, and so prefer young healthy horses in good body condition. Knackeries, by contrast, can “process” horses, ponies, donkeys and other equines that are aged, sick, neglected, etc, as well as healthy ones. Grey horses, for example, are not slaughtered in abattoirs due to the health risks of malignant melanomas, so if a grey horse is slaughtered it will be in a knackery.

The same study as above (Doughty, 2008) found that in an export abattoir:

  • 59.8% of the horses were aged 7 or under
  • 40.2% were over the age of 7 (of which only around 4.5% were over the age of 15)
  • (Of the horses they found with brands, 60.9% of the thoroughbreds and 55.8% of the standardbreds were aged 7 or under.)

Is the number of horses slaughtered for export going up or down?

The number of equines slaughtered for the export market has been decreasing consistently over the past 25-30 years. Figures quoted below for 1987 – 2007 are from Doughty, 2008 (See “Sources” below for link).

1987 – 59,921 horses (exact figure from AQIS)

1997 – 29,277 equines (estimated as exact figure not legally available)

2007 – 11,415 equines (estimated as exact figure not legally available)

Current figures from Courier Mail article published Feb 2013:

2013 – 8,400 horses (700 per month)

Sources and Further Reading:

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