The Meramist Abattoir in Caboolture, south-east Queensland, has been killing horses and shipping their meat off to places like Russia, Japan, and parts of Europe for human consumption for years. They’ve also been killing other things: “mixed livestock”, including cattle and camels. But it’s their treatment of ex-racehorses in particular that has seen Meramist become the subject of a national controversy over the past week, following an investigation by the ABC’s 7:30 which shone a light on what’s really been going on behind the slaughterhouse doors.
The report—which aired last Thursday night—looked at the widespread slaughter of horses throughout New South Wales and Queensland, and included footage captured by undercover investigators inside Meramist. While the slaughter of racehorses is not actually illegal in Australia, Racing Queensland's Animal Welfare Strategy aims to "minimise the 'wastage' of racing animals". Meramist, however, kills an estimated 500 horses a month.
"The [racing] industry tells us that 0.4 per cent of horses leaving the racing industry are ending up in a knackery or an abattoir, which I think equates to 34 horses per year," Paul McGreevy, a vet and professor of animal behaviour and welfare science at the University of Sydney, told the ABC. "That's what the industry is assuring us of… [But] the figures don't add up."
"If my concerns are substantiated, then we're talking about a large number of horses that are meeting a very grisly end," he added, suggesting that the number of horses disappearing in Australia each year could be "in the order of at least 4,000 horses."
On top of this alleged mass slaughtering of racehorses—which Professor McGreevy said is happening around the country “on an industrial scale”—vision from inside Meramist shows workers abusing and tormenting the animals. Horses are beaten and abused, bolted to the brain repeatedly, and killed ineffectively, while others are subjected to electric shocks, kicked, and beaten with gates and hoses.
Naomi Rizniak, who lives behind the abattoir, told the ABC that she’s been complaining about the sound of distressed horses for two years. She described trucks full of horses arriving in the middle of the night; loud, frantic crashing and clanking of hooves inside; and the sound of staff swearing loudly at the animals.
"We've been listening to that every other night, but I had no idea what was really going on there," she said. "It just makes you sick."
These damning revelations came just days before the Everest Cup horse race, which was held in Sydney over the weekend, and less than three weeks out from the Melbourne Cup, which takes place at Flemington Racecourse on November 5. Neil Wilson, chief executive of the Victoria Racing Club, which hosts the Melbourne Cup, declared that the “unacceptable treatment of horses needs to be eradicated,” according to The Guardian.
“The welfare of horses is the responsibility of everyone associated with the industry and none of us can walk away from what was shown [in the ABC report],” he said. “Everyone who comes to Flemington racecourse must be assured that the welfare of the horses they see compete on the track doesn’t end when the horse goes home after the races.”