The horse racing industry has been requested to adopt new regulations to bring the sport in line with animal welfare standards, amid allegations the body responsible for overseeing the practice is not fit to regulate the industry.
Following last week’s Melbourne Cup, which saw the horse Verema put down after suffering a fractured leg, concerns were raised over the number of horses suffering health problems owing to the sport.
“Having thoroughbred racing regulated and promoted by Racing NSW has created conflicts of interest that are making horses suffer,” said Greens NSW MLC John Kaye. “We need new regulations of the industry.
“The statistics of haemorrhages, stomach ulcers and the number of animals that are killed talk of an industry where animal welfare runs a very poor second to profits.”
The use of whips is particularly controversial, highlighting how horses are running beyond their physical means, causing injuries including haemorrhages to the lungs and windpipes.
“There is absolutely no reason why whips need to be used,” said Campaign Director of the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, Elio Celotto. “They’ve been banned in Norway since 1982 and they still have a racing industry.
“A by-product of using the whip is that these horses are running out of fear, running beyond their physical capability and this is where they sustain injuries. Banning the whip would see a reduction in the number of injuries that occur in horse racing.”
Peter McGauran, CEO of Australian Racing Board – the body responsible for thoroughbred racing in Australia – said the animals were treated to the highest veterinary standards.
“Vets and trainers are ethical and care for the horse to the highest veterinary and health standards,” he said. “There are rules of racing administered by official vets, which ban horses exhibiting bleeding problems.”
Mr Kaye highlighted figures that suggest only 30 per cent of foals bred for thoroughbred racing each year make it onto the racetrack.
“Of the 18,000 foals that are born in Australia each year, 70 per cent never make it to the racetrack but end up in the knackery to be slaughtered for pet food,” he said.
“Seventy-five per cent of horses end up with bleeding in the lungs and in the windpipe, because they’ve been overexerted and 89 per cent of horses end up with stomach ulcers because of inappropriate diets.”
Mr McGuaran disagreed with the claims and declared they were employed by animal welfare activists.
“These figures are completely wrong and are employed by extremists to attack racing,” he said. “Some 12,500 horses are registered to race each year out of a foal crop of 17,500, with the majority of others being used in the pleasure or recreational horse sectors.”
However, Mr Celotto rubbished Mr McGuaran’s claims and said horses were being sent by the truckload to slaughterhouses each week.
“Peter McGauran is bordering on lying to the general public on this issue,” he said. “As the CEO of the Australian Racing Board he should have a very good understanding of where these horses go and if he doesn’t he should certainly find out.
“The majority of these horses are killed for dog food or human consumption; the horses go to Peterborough in South Australia and Kombucha in Queensland by the truckload every week – these are huge trucks that take 20 or 30 [horses].”
Mr Celotto called for the introduction of a foal registration levy to reduce the amount of animals bred into the industry and manage the horses’ retirement.
“One way to reduce the number of horses that are bred is by introducing a substantial foal registration levy of around $2,000 to be used to rehabilitate, retrain and rehome horses,” said Mr Celotto.
“We are also suggesting that a one per cent levy be placed on all betting turnover, which will raise $143 million and go to a superannuation fund that will fund the rehabilitation and rehoming of these horses once they leave the industry.”