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TasRacing – Horse Deaths

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Tags: TasRacing, Horse Racing

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Eriksson.

The Tasracing annual report has a table of thoroughbred retirement data. I don't know, minister, if you saw Caro Meldrum-Hanna's report on the 7.30 Report from two years ago now, which talks about the fate of many of the horses, the thoroughbreds in the industry. A very significant proportion of them go to the abattoir and die a terrifying death. The table here talks about the number of horses that were euthanased and the number of horses that were deceased and how many were rehomed. Is this self-reporting data? What happened to the rest of the horses that weren't either registered as a death or rehomed?

Of a total of 358 horses, apparently 237 were rehomed. How do you confirm that, given what we know about horses post retirement being beyond the reach of the industry to understand what happened to them? What happened to the rest of the horses in this table?

Ms HOWLETT - As you're aware we're currently looking at tracking and traceability into the future of -

Ms O'CONNOR - You've been looking at it for three or four years.

Ms HOWLETT - Of both the harness and thoroughbred industry. As for the horses you mentioned, ORI would have that information. I can certainly try to -

Mr ERIKSSON - We have the table. We have access to the rehoming information for each animal but I would caution that that is only the first rehoming. As we've spoken of previously, that is the issue. We acknowledge that we're being held to account for an animal, but once it's retired we have no control and no ability to deal with that.

Ms O'CONNOR - As we know, the evidence is that many of those horses, because they're expensive to feed, end up at the abattoir.

Mr ERIKSSON - I'm not so sure of that. I've seen the stories -

Ms O'CONNOR - How can you be not sure?

Mr ERIKSSON - I've seen the stories. There is a wide range of information. There is a wide range of animals, not just thoroughbreds and standard breeds but also pleasure horses, for want of a better phrase for them, that all end up in an abattoir at a different point in time. We have a program in relation to Off The Track, where we encourage and attempt to rehome as many as we can. We support the industry in doing that. We fully support the traceability guidelines.

The recent TAWWG report was released in full on Sunday 28 November at about 11 p.m. We haven't had time to read and digest that report but it has three -

Ms O'CONNOR - What's the report, sorry, Mr Eriksson?

Mr ERIKSSON - The TAWWG report. This is the Tasmanian breeders' national report, chaired by Denis Napthine, that was released late on Sunday night. We were a contributor to that. We had what Denis referred to as a gold standard response to their investigations and queries. There are three identifiers. Apparently there are 46 recommendations from the report. As I said, I've not had time to digest and understand that. They've identified three key components. The first is develop a legally enforceable, national equine welfare standard to ensure a minimum level of protection. We fully support that. We're currently in the process of developing equine welfare standards for use in Tasmania.

Ms O'CONNOR - Don't we have some already?

Mr ERIKSSON - We have some very basic ones but we want to expand them. The greyhound ones are quite substantial and quite detailed. We want to apply the same principle and process to equine.

The next point is specific thoroughbred welfare standards. The last point is to establish a quality assurance scheme and process to drive continuous improvement.

I welcome the announcement from the federal minister for Agriculture earlier in November of $1.1 million funding towards establishing national traceability. This is not just a Tasmanian issue. This is a national issue that we need to have national support and guidance on. There is work that we can continue to do in Tasmania to improve our welfare position but we need to continue to work with the national bodies, with Racing Australia, Harness Racing Australia, RSPCA, Animal Health Australia, the Australian Horse Industry Council and the Commonwealth and state governments. That's a big challenge. It's not just for racing, it is for pleasure horses, polo horses. This is a challenge for every equine.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I want to take you back to the death rates for horses. As an example, in the harness racing industry, in total, in 2020-21 just under 45 per cent of all horses, most beautiful horses, in the harness racing industry, were either deceased or euthanased. How do you explain the very high rate of euthanasia? I use that term loosely because it is the industry's term. Euthanasia is a mercy killing and as we know in this industry, it's not always about mercy. How do you explain that very high rate of euthanasia of horses in the harness sector?

Ms HOWLETT - In the harness sector, in the financial year 2018, deceased was 11.69 per cent. In the financial year 2019 it was 12.43 per cent. In financial year 2020 it was 8.29 per cent -

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I've got the table in front of me. That is not the question.

Ms HOWLETT - and in the financial year 2021 it was 6.95 per cent.

Ms O'CONNOR - The euthanasia rate was 37.5 per cent.

Ms HOWLETT - That's correct.

Ms O'CONNOR - So, more than a third of the horses that participate in harness racing are euthanased. We'd like to understand why?

Ms HOWLETT - Once again, that is a matter for the Office of Racing Integrity -

Ms O'CONNOR - It is a very high number. It's in the Tasracing annual report, so you can't fob it off to ORI.

Ms HOWLETT - No, and that's why we're transparent and we put these numbers in the report.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well then, be prepared to answer questions about them.

Ms HOWLETT - That's right, absolutely.

Mr ERIKSSON - As the commentary below the table would flag, the standard reason they are euthanased is due to an injury, or an illness, they are either unsafe to be rehomed, or unable to be placed in a home. It includes euthanasia via a veterinary surgeon and/or knackery abattoir. Now, on the surface I can't give you a specific breakdown. However, I will say that in this area our numbers have been trending down. We are doing work in this area -

Ms O'CONNOR - Not substantially.

Mr ERIKSSON - I'm not disputing that point, but they are trending down. We are dropping from - in financial year 2018, if you have deceased and euthanased from 53 per cent or 54 per cent down to the forties. Now that is a positive trend which we need to continue to work on, just as we have worked very successfully at trending down the greyhound numbers and our rehoming numbers up. This is something that we've more focused on and we continue to work on. We do that by bringing the welfare rules out, by improving our rehoming abilities, but the reality is that not every animal is able to be rehomed.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, as you know, the former head of the Greyhound Adoption Program, Susan Gittus was stood down from her role and suspended from racing dogs, after pleading guilty to an animal doping related charge. The stewards inquiry heard evidence the positive urine test was a result of contaminated meat and the prohibited substance found was dihydronoketamine in this dog's system. I have here a paper from the RSPCA, which states:

This incident also raises major questions about the industry's apparent acceptance of unregulated meat supplies. How can a leading industry figure seemingly turn a blind eye to the risk on multiple levels of issuing unregulated, that is illegally processed, meat? What was the meat in question? Is it a legally slaughtered horse meat? Where is this meat sourced? How was the meat contaminated by doping chemicals? What is the prevalence of the use of such product in the industry? Who is being held accountable?

Your colleague in Cabinet, the minister for Primary Industries, Mr Barnett, has assured the RSPCA an inquiry into these matters is under way. Are you aware of that inquiry? Are you able to update the House on it? I raise this issue in the context of the Tasracing annual report, which in its note on euthanasia says:

It refers to standard breeds that have been euthanised due to an injury or illness, unsafely handled, or unable to be placed in a home. It includes euthanasia via veterinary surgeon and knackery or abattoir person.

Ms HOWLETT - Thank you, Ms O'Connor, for your question. Providers of pet meat must hold appropriate licences and accreditation under the Primary Produce Safety Act 2011. Accreditation is primarily aimed at food safety and the prevention of disease. It is not an offense to humanely euthanise animals for pet meat. However, it is an offence to sell meat without the appropriate accreditation. Biosecurity Tasmania undertook an investigation under the Primary Produce Safety Act 2011. Legislation is the responsibility, as stated, of the Minister for Primary Industries and Water. Biosecurity Tasmania has concluded their investigation and informed at the time, there is insufficient evidence to proceed to take further legal actions. This matter was appropriately and independently investigated. Paul would you like to add anything to that?

Ms O'CONNOR - Oh, what surprise. That is very surprising. I have some pictures here, minister, of that. Of horse meat and horse guts and a horse being cut up on Anthony Bullock's property. Are you telling us this is provided by a regulated meat provider? Where does Mr Bullock get all his horses that he feeds to his dogs, which is part of the vicious nasty cycle of this industry where miserable animals are fed to other miserable animals?

CHAIR - The time for scrutiny has expired.