The chief executive of Racing Australia, Barry O’Farrell, has said prosecutions are likely and the Queensland government has announced an investigation following an ABC report revealing widespread acts of animal cruelty against racehorses.
Speaking on Friday morning, O’Farrell said he was “appalled” and “shocked” by reports aired on the 7.30 program on Thursday night which revealed that hundreds of healthy Australian racehorses are being sent to the slaughterhouse each year.
Footage showed horses being beaten, kicked and shocked with electric prods while they lay dying in abattoirs, and raised questions about the racing industry’s claims about its re-homing program for racehorses.
O’Farrell, the former New South Wales premier, told the ABC that prosecutions “should, and I suspect will, occur” following the program but defended state racing bosses and questioned why activists had not made the footage available to authorities earlier.
“[State racing chief executives] are doing everything they can just to ensure the sport of racing thrives and flourishes, but also that responsibility for equine welfare is as high as possible within their jurisdictions,” O’Farrell said.
“Of course we condemn it [but] let’s not conflate two issues. That facility we saw last night, and those unacceptable practices, is a state abattoir in Queensland. Those practices that I saw, I know from my background in state politics, are serious offences under state animal welfare legislation.”
Also on Friday the Queensland government announced it would hold an investigation into the Meramist Abattoir in Caboolture.
“The minister for agriculture has directed biosecurity officers to go in today and investigate animal cruelty allegations at the Meramist Abattoir,” Queensland racing minister Stirling Hinchliffe said.
In NSW, racing minister Kevin Anderson said the ABC report would make racing industry members “sick to their stomach”, and said the state racing body would also launch an investigation into animal welfare around race horses.
“If animal cruelty legislation has been breached, there are options available,” he said.
“Anybody who has either breached the rules of racing or committed animal cruelty should be brought before the courts and feel the full force of the law [and] I don’t believe they have a place in the racing industry so in terms of that report and integrity, that is a matter for whoever [will] put that report together.”
The report also raised questions about Racing Australia’s claims about the rehoming of retired racehorses. The racing body’s official data shows around 34 horses every year end up at slaughterhouses – less than 1% of retiring horses.
But the program suggested the number is much higher, despite rules requiring the registration and tracking of horses from their birth to their retirement.
“The racing industry has hidden behind bogus studies they commissioned and data collected from a compulsory retirement form claiming that less than 0.5 per cent of racehorses are sent to slaughter,” Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses spokesman Elio Celotto said.
“They have now been proven wrong and must own up to the fact that they have a serious welfare problem.”
The CPR said up to 220 horses are being killed weekly at a Queensland abattoir and on average, 56% are racehorses.
“With another abattoir that also kills horses and another 33 knackeries, we estimate the real number to be more than 10,000 (a year),” Celotto said in a statement.
Speaking on radio station 2gb on Friday Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys said his organisation was being unfairly tarnished by the reports, and that the organisation spent $2.5m a year rehoming horses.
“This is not happening in NSW … to be portrayed so unfairly, it was really disturbing,” he said.
Home affairs minister Peter Dutton said state governments need to step up and do something.
“It is upsetting,” he said, “and if there is a law … it needs to be enforced if it is not. But it is a very difficult situation.”
The CPR is planning a number of protests at racecourses in Melbourne and Sydney over the weekend.