In preparation for CHDC’s visit to Otttawa, our Executive Director, Sinikka Crosland, wrote the following article for The Hill Times:
Horsemeat trade raises human health and animal welfare concerns (Subscription required, reproduced here for our readers)
In recent weeks, the European Commission announced it will adopt stricter regulations on the import of horsemeat from non-EU countries, including Canada. These rules are unfortunately well justified. In fact, the measures taken may still not be stringent enough.
As MPs this week debate the animal welfare bill, C-246, they should also direct their attention to Canada’s role in the dangerous and inhumane horsemeat industry.
Canada is a major supplier of horsemeat to the EU, in part because the horsemeat trade has been effectively banned in the United States, so U.S. suppliers now route their horses through Canada. Since the U.S. ended its horsemeat trade, 70% of Canadian horsemeat now originates south of the border. In 2015, 67,946 horses were slaughtered on Canadian soil, their meat subsequently shipped to international destinations, and 5,782 horses were exported by air cargo for slaughter in Japan.
As of March 31, 2017, the EU will no longer accept horsemeat from non-EU nations unless the animals have satisfied a six-month residency requirement in that country, allowing for the progressive withdrawal of drugs that may have been ingested prior to slaughter. In 2014, the EU completely suspended importation of horsemeat from Mexico because of traceability and food safety issues.
Most horses in North America have been treated with drugs such as phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory medication that can be found in the first aid kits of most committed horse owners. Although Canada occasionally tests horsemeat for such drugs, testing can only detect recent treatments with the drug. Yet there is no safe determined withdrawal period for these drugs and no certain method to monitor which slaughter-bound horses have received it over their lifetimes. Canada and many other countries prohibits phenylbutazone from the food chain; it is never to be administered to an animal destined for human consumption. Yet it has no way to effectively test if the drug was administered more than a few months before slaughter.
Exacerbating the issue is the fact that horses are generally raised as pets or companion animals. Because most horse owners are not raising them as food, they routinely administer drugs that are prohibited in the food chain. It is usually only later in the horse’s life – often after the horse has been sold to another owner – that it is directed for slaughter.
Small wonder that the EU has taken measures to confront the problem of drug residues contaminating meat imported into their countries. But is a six-month residency requirement enough to guarantee safe horsemeat? Documents covering feedlot horses are easy to falsify. In addition, because of serious toxicity implications, phenylbutazone carries with it a lifetime prohibition – not 180 days. A greater measure of safety would be achieved by requiring mandatory lifetime veterinary records on all slaughter-bound horses.
Animal welfare is another serious issue. Much has been documented about the inhumane treatment of horses as they move down the slaughter pipeline. Another layer of concern will be added to this picture when horses are routinely warehoused in feedlots for six months. Sick and injured horses will not receive the medications that they require. They will be denied basic treatments and comforts that are considered mandatory according to humane standards in Canada and other civilized countries.
Examining the many problems inherent in the horse slaughter industry, one has to wonder why it exists at all. Canada’s economy receives an infusion of billions of dollars every year as a result of the live horse industry – from large animal veterinary clinics and farrier services to prestigious Spruce Meadows, from country-wide tack store chains to massive hay farms, horses continue to enrich our country coast to coast. Yet the horse slaughter industry plays an insignificant role in this economy, and according to polling, it is a role most Canadians oppose.
The EU ruling should serve as a warning to Canadian officials. We should follow the U.S. lead in ending a horsemeat trade that provides meager benefits while adding significant health and reputational risks to Canada’s food exports.
– Sinikka Crosland is Executive Director of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition.