The news that horsemeat has entered the British food chain has sparked mixed views, ranging from the provocative to the ill-informed. But if you’re a horse lover in the non-culinary sense, one of the most important issues is that of the suffering and disease which lie behind the European horse meat trade.

That wonderful charity World Horse Welfare has hit the nail on the head. Its chief executive, Roly Owers, says: “Where there is horsemeat, you can bet there is horse suffering and not just at the time of slaughter. The whole European trade is mired in inadequate laws, needless suffering and the elephant in the room is the spread of infectious equine disease.”

This is no hysterical scaremongering. It points out that it does not oppose humane slaughter and believes that the eating of humanely produced horsemeat is a matter of personal choice. What it is campaigning to stop is the needless long distance transportation of 65,000 horses per year across Europe, to slaughter.

Mr Owers says that in the light of the recent burger scandal, the charity knows from experience that meat originating in Poland could have come from horses bred for slaughter and fattened to obesity. Equally, it could have come from horses outside the country who had been transported thousands of miles in appalling conditions, suffering injury, dehydration and disease.

“Whilst there isn’t yet a proven link between the continental horse slaughter trade and Britain’s first case of Equine Infectious Anaemia for 30 years, in 2010, the spread of disease in Europe is a real issue for horse welfare and an issue for Britain,” he says.

EIA is a notifiable disease already found in Europe. If your horse contracts it, he will have to be put down. No option. And don’t forget diseases such as African Horse Sickness, which as WHW points out, spread in the same way; if these become established in Europe, imagine the horrific repercussions in terms of health, welfare and finance.

If you own a horse, or simply admire these lovely animals, support WHW’s campaign for better conditions for slaughter horses, including a maximum journey limit of 9-12 hours. This recommendation is not only based on scientific evidence which shows that horses suffer on longer journeys, it’s recommended by the European Commission’s own scientific advisors, the European Food Safety Authority!

In the latest scare, The Food Standards Agency has ordered all British food businesses to test products labelled as being made from beef for possible contamination by Phenylbutazone (bute). This was once given to people, but banned because of a link with aplastic anaemia.

Animals treated with bute are not allowed to enter the food chain because of this risk. The risk to human health seems low, even though the FSA hasn’t identified what constitutes a safe level of bute residue. It says that in previous FSA testing of contaminated meat, the maximum level found would have to be multiplied a thousand fold to be at the same level which used to be given to humans.

Can we afford to take risks? No. Can we allow the horrible conditions endured by slaughter horses to continue? No.

Would I eat horsemeat if I knew it came from a humanely transported, humanely slaughtered animal? No, simply because it’s something I wouldn’t be comfortable about, though I wouldn’t criticise those who did.

If you’re not already a supporter of WHW’s work, please become one. Or at least, donate the price of a burger or a lasagne to help fund the campaign for justice for slaughter horses.