IN THE NEWS: On OCT 21, 2019
Peter Loffel is the face of horse racing’s unpalatable truth.
He is known as a kill buyer, although he prefers the term horse trader. He buys horses no one wants and trucks them to a place no horse wants to end up - the Meramist abattoir featured in last week’s 7.30 expose on ABC.
The horses he buys are nearly all retired racehorses or trotters, he tells The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. He says he buys most of his gallopers direct from trainers, licensed participants in an industry which has spent the past four days claiming it has no idea so many thoroughbreds are sent to abattoirs.
"Most of them are some sort of racehorse. We don't buy people's riding horses or saddle horses."
If what Loffel says is true, the industry’s claim that horses are being slaughtered beyond their sight is bunk; any trainer who sells a horse to Loffel knows exactly where it is going.
The ABC report, which aired on Thursday night, broadcast shocking footage of animal cruelty and torture on a mass scale, with allegations that thousands of Australian racehorses were being sent to slaughterhouses.
Loffel, 62, lives in Mooroopna, a canning town near Shepparton, where he has quietly gone about his grim business for more than 30 years.
He doesn’t just deal in horses; he regularly transports cattle and a few years back, he trucked camels from the Northern Territory to an abattoir in South Australia. But he has dealt with horses nearly all his working life and scoffs at those now decrying the practice.
"I’m not being rude but most of these silly sheilas who are saving them and carrying on, they are not horse people," he says.
"Since Friday people have been ringing me all hours of the night and their language - well, I’m being polite. And why? Because I slaughter horses, for Christ’s sake. If I went tomorrow, someone would step in my place.”
The kill buying business is not complicated. Loffel buys some horses from auctions, but most of them he picks up cheaply from trainers and breeders.
Once he has enough to fill his B-double trailer - up to three dozen horses - he starts the two-day drive north to the Queensland town of Caboolture. He says he treats the horses well, stopping once or twice for up to 12 hours to let the horses get off the truck to rest and eat.
Some of the horses he buys gallop too slow, some have tendon issues, some have breathing difficulties but they all share the same problem, as Loffel explains.
"Every horse can’t be a winner, unfortunately. It’s like people; we don’t get slaughtered but you know what I mean. What do they do with these horses?’’
This is the question that racing has been publicly grappling with since last Thursday, when the ABC broadcast footage taken inside the Meramist abattoir by animal rights activists showing ex-racehorses and harness racers being cruelly treated and inexpertly killed.
Racing’s peak bodies - Racing Australia, Racing Victoria and Racing NSW - all have policies to rehome retired racehorses as pony club horses, saddle horses and equestrian jumpers, and have all vowed to prosecute anyone found to have mistreated their animals.
Racing Victoria Chief Executive Giles Thompson said owners and trainers were required to advise racing authorities about the circumstances of any horse's retirement.
"We will be disturbed if we find any owners or trainers that have deliberately misled Racing Australia by supplying inaccurate information," he said.
Loffel insists he is not a cruel man. He says he was shocked by the worst images broadcast by ABC 7.30 but describes most of it as "not that dramatic”.
"When I drop a horse off at a horse works, I expect them to be treated humanely until it is in the chiller,’’ he says. "I found they (Meramist) were very stringent on animal welfare issues. They won’t accept horses if they are too skinny or poor or knocked about. This is something that has got out of hand somehow.”
By Loffel’s reckoning, the number of horses being slaughtered in Australia for human consumption export has fallen dramatically in recent years.
There are two slaughterhouses licensed to export horse meat to Europe but one of them, the Samex abattoir in Peterborough, South Australia, has stopped butchering horses. Loffel says he is one of four kill buyers who between them used to transport about 700 horses a week. "Now we’re lucky to do 400 a fortnight," he says.
Racing authorities will hope the reduction in numbers reflects a similar, downward trend in the thoroughbreds being foaled each year. According to Racing Australia records, 14,197 foals were produced in the year ending 1 May 2018, compared to 17,792 a decade earlier.
Despite the reduction in numbers and more recently, the abuse and death threats he is receiving from animal activists, Loffel is unapologetic. He has no plans to stop anytime soon.
He dismisses the idea that every horse can be rehomed.
"One in a thousand is a good horse," he says. "They are not all going to be suitable. Most people, if they can rehome them or give them away, they’ll do it. We’re the last resort.
"No one breeds for us but at the moment, when the season is tough, they can’t give them away. People don’t want them."