Belgian animal welfare organisation GAIA has been ordered by a judge to stop its campaign regarding horse meat from South America or risk fines of €1,000 a day, according to Belga News Agency.
The decision comes from a court in Brussels and GAIA has already announced its intent to appeal the ruling.
The organisation launched a poster campaign and online campaign alleging that horse meat imported for consumption from South America by some Belgian grocery stores comes from mistreated animals.
“Belgium is the second largest importer of horsemeat from Argentina and Uruguay,” GAIA Director Ann De Greef said in that campaign. “It is high time that all Belgian supermarkets stopped selling torture meat from Uruguay, Argentina, and Canada.”
The campaign claims that sick horses with open wounds, abscesses, and broken legs do not receive any care on the farms in Latin America.
“They get no water, no food, and are beaten with sticks and abused with electric prods during their hours-long transport. Horses are hunted by dogs. Animals get caught in the barbed wire at the holding pens,” Gaia said, adding that there's a lack of transparency about where the horses come from and whether or not they were intended for consumption, or if they contain traces of prescription drugs in their system.
They name some grocery chains directly - Carrefour, Match and Renmans - as selling horsemeat from countries with these issues.
Multiple companies dealing in horse meat went to GAIA almost immediately asking them to cease and desist the campaign, saying it was contrary to fair trade and market practices and contained “untrue, misleading and unsubstantiated information that constitutes a damaging attack on their reputation.”
GAIA failed to appear before the Enterprise Court and was therefore convicted in absentia.
The €1,000-a-day fines it faces if it does not stop the campaign are capped at €250,000 and the cease and desist order only applies until 31 December.
“GAIA has taken note of the ruling [sic] and has today ordered to do everything necessary to have this decision of the company court removed from the legal system,” a lawyer for the organisation said in a statement.
“In a democratic society, meat importers must also accept that there are animal rights organisations that use their right to free speech to protest against abuses. I will submit to the court a thick dossier proving the mistreatment of South American horses,” the organisation said, adding that while “the importers would like to keep the lid to this stinking jar closed,” they won’t allow that to happen.
This isn’t the first time that the animal rights organisation has been condemned for campaigning on South American horse meat.
In a previous campaign, it claimed that chain-butcher Renmans sold horse meat that came from mistreated horses. GAIA was convicted by the Brussels Court of Appeal in 2018 in regards to that case.