Racehorses in Western Australia will get a “passport” to track their condition and whereabouts when they retire under proposed animal welfare reforms sparked by revelations of cruelty at a Queensland abattoir.
After ABC vision showed workers at the Meramist Abattoir in Caboolture tormenting horses before they were killed, WA Racing and Gaming Minister Paul Papalia vowed to take action to ensure oversight of the animals from birth until death.
On Thursday, the state government announced a new rule of racing under which the industry must aim to rehome all healthy and behaviourally sound thoroughbreds and standardbreds when their career ends.
Owners would be “compelled to make an effort”, Mr Papalia said, and those who breached the rule risked their livelihood.
“I’ve seen people lose their ability to make a living because they break a rule. These guys don’t mess around,” he told reporters.
The proposal also includes financial incentives for new owners taking on retired racehorses, registering all knackeries and abattoirs, and subjecting them to random inspections.
Mr Papalia revealed in parliament last month there were several unregistered private businesses in WA that processed horses for pet meat.
In an Australian first, breeders will be licensed in a bid to prevent oversupply, although the industry believes there currently aren’t enough racehorses in the state.
While the “passport” aims to keep track of racehorses when they’re retired in WA, those that leave the state cannot be accounted for.
So Mr Papalia promises to pressure the federal government to implement and oversee a National Traceability Register, saying it was essential to restore confidence in the industry.
“All the principal racing authorities around the country regularly ask for a traceability register or talk about it. I’m now saying it’s time for a bit of leadership at the national level,” Mr Papalia said.
“It is essential that we know where racehorses are.
“We can, in our state, impose the highest animal welfare standards anywhere in the country but we can’t guarantee what happens to them when they leave the state.”
The welfare plan also includes Racing and Wagering WA establishing a dedicated facility for retraining and providing emergency care for retired racehorses.
A census will take stock of the whereabouts and condition of all current and post-racing thoroughbreds, and standardbreds, in the state.
Almost 4800 competed last financial year, with turnover figures suggesting WA’s racing industry is about one-quarter the size of Victoria’s, which is the nation’s biggest.
RSPCA WA said the welfare of all horses, not just racehorses, should be improved, with oversight undertaken by independent animal inspectors in addition to those by the racing industry.