THERE has been a six-fold increase in the number of horses slaughtered in Ireland since the recession took hold.
The most recent figures available show that in 2008 just over 2,000 horses were slaughtered at Department of Agriculture-approved abbatoirs, but by 2011 some 12,386 horses were slaughtered within the equine industry.
Official figures for 2012 are not yet available but some sources suggest that over 20,000 horses were slaughtered last year.
Horse slaughter for human consumption is one of three options available to horse owners in Ireland to dispose of their unwanted animals.
The Agriculture Minister has approved three establishments for equine slaughter. These are B&F Meats Ltd, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, Ballon Meats, Ballon, Co Carlow and Shannonside Foods Ltd, Straffan, Co Kildare.
In addition, Limerick County Council has approved Ashgrove Wholesale Ltd, Newcastlewest, Co Limerick and Offaly County Council approved Ossory Meats, Banagher, Co Offaly for equine slaughter.
In order to be accepted for slaughter at Department of Agriculture-approved plants, the horses must have an identification document, more commonly known as a passport, which has not been stamped as 'excluded from the human food chain'.
'Factory horses' typically make from as little as €100 for young and thin animals to €500 for older, heavier animals. The majority of horse meat produced in Ireland is exported to France, Italy and Belgium where it is eaten as steaks, sausages and salami.
However, horses that are not eligible for the human food chain or whose owners do not want to see them slaughtered on a factory line can be disposed of in two other ways.
There are up to 40 Department of Agriculture Category 2 plants dotted all over Ireland that are licensed to put down horses and dispose of their bodies.
These plants are more commonly known as 'knackeries', where the horse is typically shot with a live bullet and the carcass disposed of for a fee of €100-€150.
Alternatively, a vet can be called out to put the horse down at home, using either a bullet or an injection at a cost of €100.
While it is possible to apply for a licence from the Department of Agriculture to bury a horse on the owner's land, granting of this licence is very rare.