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Ascot and auctioneers Brightwells have instituted a new protocol at their sales to prevent ex-racehorses being sold for human consumption.

Horses can raise up to £650 when they are sold for meat and as Brightwells’ minimum sale price is £300, there had been fears that “meat men” may be attracted to sales at the royal racecourse.

Minimum sale prices at Doncaster and Newmarket Sales are £500.

Ascot spokesman Nick Smith said that from now on buyers of horses priced £300-£800 face a life ban from Ascot sales if they cannot provide evidence of the horse’s whereabouts to Brightwells six months after purchase.

Mr Smith said: “Mostly it will be a formality, as Brightwells will know the purchaser and where the horse is.

“But all buyers will be expected to write to Brightwells and let them know where the horse is. If they do not do so Brightwells will follow-up with a phone call or letter to find out.”

Mr Smith explained why Ascot had rejected raising its minimum sale price.

“Brightwells argued that if a horse doesn’t sell for £500, the buyers would agree an unofficial sale behind closed doors later on,” he said.

The move has been welcomed by the British Horseracing Authority. Media relations manager Paul Struthers told H&H: “We have no official figures on how many racehorses are slaughtered each year but we support any measure that would ensure healthy former racehorses enjoy a second career.”

Jo White, World Horse Welfare director of campaigns, said: “It is definitely a positive step because it will provide tracking and traceability of horses coming out of racing, which undoubtedly could go on to do other things.”

And Chris House, president elect of the British Equine Veterinary Association, praised Brightwells’ move, but added: “Many of those racehorses going for human consumption in the UK are really those for whom it is the only outlet, due to injury.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (4 December, ’08)