The number of abandoned and stray horses slaughtered by local authorities increased by over one third last year to more than 2,100 animals.
Figures published by the Department of Agriculture show that un-wanted horses are being put down at a higher rate as the problem of stray animals is growing across the country.
A total of 2,969 stray animals were seized last year of which 72% were euthanised. In contrast, 2,936 horses were seized in 2011 but only 54% were slaughtered.
Dublin accounts for more than one quarter of all abandoned and stray horses seized by local authorities last year, with the problem particularly acute in a small number of suburbs. A total of 785 animals were seized in the capital last year, though the figure was down by 60 animals compared to 2011.
Limerick, Laois, Cork, and Mayo also recorded high levels of stray horses last year. In contrast fewer than 10 animals were seized in Cavan, Roscommon, Monaghan, and Longford.
No abandoned horses were seized in Offaly in 2012; 59 animals were seized in the county in the previous year.
The vast majority of animals found in most counties are slaughtered, although almost two thirds of the 212 horses found in Cork last year were not killed.
All stray horses seized in Leitrim and Monaghan last year were put down. Cavan and Offaly were the only counties where no animals were slaughtered in 2012.
The Irish Farmers’ Association has been calling on the Government to introduce a scheme to provide financial assistance to horse owners to tackle the growing problem of unwanted horses.
IFA president John Bryan said the problem had been exacerbated by an increasing number of people who found they had horses they could not get slaughtered and which they could no longer afford to keep.
He said many families who bought horses in the boom no longer had the financial means to feed and groom them.
He claimed the problem particularly arose in relation to lower grade horses, many of whom cannot be placed in the food chain.
The IFA has called for a “scrappage scheme” as many horse owners are struggling to fund the average €200 cost of disposing of an animal properly.
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has also acknowledged there has been an increase in the number of abandoned and stray horses around the country as fewer horse owners are paying to have their animals slaughtered.
It estimated there has been a significant decrease in the number of horses slaughtered this year compared to around 24,000 animals slaughtered both privately and by local authorities in 2012.
Animal welfare groups believe the introduction of more stringent regulations on slaughtering combined with the controversy involving the use of horse meat in beef products has contributed to the growing number of surplus horses.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said his department provided funding to local authorities under the Control of Horses Act 1996 to enable them to use their powers for the control and welfare of stray or abandoned horses.
“While efforts are made to re-home horses to responsible new owners, the reality is this is not possible in all cases,” he said,
The minister said the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisor Council, which is composed of farming, equine, and animal welfare bodies, is to “humanely dispose of horses, where no possibility of re-homing or returning to their owner exists”.
Mr Coveney said there are rare occasions where his department’s veterinary inspectors would require a herd owner to dispose of his own animals on animal welfare grounds.
In reply to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary, who expressed concern about the practice of killing mares in foal, Mr Coveney said statistics were not available on animals in foal at the time of slaughter.
*Farmers who face difficulties in paying for the humane disposal of horses should contact the department’s helpline on emergency funding on 1850 211990.
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