COMMENT: Horsemeat -- Unsafe for Human Consumption

Alex Atamanenko
By Alex Atamanenko
March 11th, 2014

Horses are not raised according to the food safety protocols required of food animals. The wide array of highly toxic medications they are commonly administered convinces me that horsemeat poses an unacceptable risk to the health of those who consume it.  In the hopes of legislating severe restrictions on Canada’s horse slaughter industry, I introduced and selected Bill C-571 for my debate in the House of Commons, which will begin in early April.

“Warning: Do Not Use in Horses Intended for Human Consumption” reads the label that is found on an extensive list of drugs that are commonly administered to horses but are prohibited for use at any time in animals destined for the human food chain. The list includes painkillers, tranquilizers, bronchodilators, anabolic steroids, wormers, ulcer medications, diuretics, antibiotics, fertility drugs, and many more. Despite being banned in food animals by Canadian, US and EU authorities, a weak regulatory system makes it an easy matter to slip non-compliant horses through the system. 

With little government oversight, the horse slaughter industry has a long and sullied history of gross environmental and horse welfare abuses while knowingly selling drug tainted horse meat to unwitting Canadian and EU consumers.  “The system as it stood when we were killing horses was in no way, shape or form, safe, in my opinion. We did not know where those horses were coming from, what might be in them or what they were treated with,” stated Henry Skjerven, former director of Natural Valley Farms, a Saskatchewan slaughter facility that closed in 2009.

In 2007 horse slaughter was banned in the US following protracted battles with local municipalities, who were fed up with the egregious health, environmental and animal welfare violations of abattoirs. Since that time Canada has become a top destination for slaughter-bound American horses.  Several attempts have been made by pro-slaughter factions to reverse the US ban but none has been successful. Canada exports 85% of the horse meat derived from Canadian and US horses to the EU and the rest is sold domestically.

Under increased public pressure the EU has made demands on Canada to deal with the problem of banned drugs in the horsemeat we have knowingly been exporting for many years. As a result, effective July 31, 2010 the Equine Identity Document (EID) system was implemented by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Operating on the “honour system”, the EID system is fraught with loopholes and, as predicted, has proven problematic. EU audits of the scheme have bluntly labelled the “identification and movement of horses”, “controls of veterinary drugs”, and “residue controls and certification” as “Not Satisfactory”.  It is expected that the EU will soon be requiring a lifetime medical record for all horses from which horsemeat is derived for their market.  In the meantime, the irresponsible slaughter of horses for human consumption continues unabated.

Bill C-571 would prohibit the sending or conveying from one province to another—or the importing or exporting—of horses for slaughter for human consumption or the production of meat products for human consumption.  My bill would, however, provide an exemption for those horses that are actually raised primarily for human consumption and are accompanied by a complete lifetime medical treatment record. If this law were in place today there would be few, if any, horses that could be considered eligible as a food animal, especially those arriving from the US.

The argument that we need horse slaughter as a way to deal with unwanted, old, abused or abandoned horses has been widely exposed as false.  Animal abuse and neglect of any kind is a criminal activity.  Attempting to justify the production of meat for the human food chain from such inappropriate animals as a means to curb criminal behaviour is hardly defensible.  The vast majority of horse owners have end-of-life plans for animals under their care that do not involve slaughter. Driven strictly by profit, the slaughter industry is an operation whereby predatory kill-buyers scour auctions and collection points seeking out a product to satisfy a market demand for horse meat – end of story.  It is in no way the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

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