The truth about horse slaughter in Canada

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The truth about horse slaughter in Canada
Photo courtesy of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition.

The large majority of Canadians are opposed to horse slaughter, and yet it’s still a thriving industry in Canada. Here’s why it’s more important than ever to take a stand against this deplorable practice.

In Canada, we celebrate our horses as companions, performance athletes and therapy animals. But Canada also slaughters horses, despite a recent NANOS poll that revealed that approximately 70% of Canadians are against horse slaughter and the export of horses for slaughter.1 This begs the question: why is horse slaughter such a prevalent issue in a country whose residents are so widely opposed to it?

Three steps forward, two steps back

Fortunately, thanks to the initiatives of individuals and organizations such as the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition to raise awareness for the Canadian horse slaughter industry, small strides are being made. Since 2016, the amount of horse meat exported by Canada has decreased from 10.3 million kg in 2016 to 5.3 million kg in 2018.  Revenue from horse meat exports decreased from $76 million in 2016 to $31 million in 2018.2 The number of horses slaughtered in Canada also dropped from 113, 334 in 2008 (when the US defunded meat inspectors at horse slaughter plants) to 54,100 in 2016.3 However, as of 2017, the Canadian government refuses to release horse slaughter statistics citing privacy concerns as one family, Bouvry, owns the remaining two slaughter plants in Canada.

Poor traceability makes horse meat dangerous for human consumption

Horse slaughter isn’t just antiquated and cruel – the meat that’s produced is also dangerous for human consumption. Canadian horse meat is exported mainly to Japan, Belgium and other overseas countries, but it’s also consumed in Canada. Unfortunately, horses are the only large animals slaughtered at Canadian plants with extremely low traceability. Several inquiries to the Canadian Meat Council regarding how much horse meat is consumed in Canada reveals that they do not keep track, whereas statistics on how much beef is consumed are readily available.4

Not only is traceability low in terms of where the meat is sold in Canada, but so is the tracking of medications administered to horses. While traceability policies and practices for beef, dairy, and sheep are improving, traceability in the Canadian horse meat industry remains problematic as horse owners routinely administer drugs such as phenylbutazone (Bute), and dewormers marked with the strict warning ‘not to be administer to animals for slaughter.’

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) insists it tests horsemeat for chemical residues but admits to testing only .5% of horsemeat since 2010.5 While every horse sold at slaughter must have a completed Equine Identification Document (EID) in which the owner attests that the horse has been drug-free for a minimum of six months, Global News reports that kill buyers admit that the document can easily be tampered with.6 Furthermore, a recent ATI reveals that the CFIA and auditors have documented horses at Bouvry’s with incomplete EID’s. A CFIA inspection report reads:

The information in EID documents is based purely on the horse owner’s declarations.  The CFIA verification of authenticity of declarations on the EID documents, as provided in the CFIA’s National Equine Identification and Traceability Program and related CBS tasks, does not constitute a strong government control.  

Treatment of slaughter horses is deplorable

In 2019 investigators from the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF), Animals’ Angels, and Tierschutzbund Zurich (TSB) documented conditions at three Bouvry-owned feedlots, one in Montana, and two in Alberta.  The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines requires that horses in feedlots receive adequate shelter, veterinary and hoof care – but these are clearly lacking in the Bouvry feedlots, where horses are lame and unable to rise from recumbent positions. A recent Access to Information request by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition revealed that the CFIA has routinely documented filthy and empty water troughs at Bouvry’s slaughter plant in holding areas.

Canada’s horse meat industry is in a deplorable state in which human health may be at risk due to poor traceability and horses suffer from CFIA documented inadequacies at feedlots and slaughter establishments.  For more information, please visit: defendhorsescanada.org.

1https://canadianhorsedefencecoalition.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/2019-1466-horse-survey-populated-report-official.pdf

2See:  Statistics Canada, Canadian International Merchandise Trade Data Base

3http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/industry-markets-and-trade/canadian-agri-food-sector-intelligence/red-meat-and-livestock/red-meat-and-livestock-market-information/supply-sheets-by-species/horse-slaughter-and-average-warm-carcass-weights/?id=1415860000118

4https://cmc-cvc.com/sites/default/files/files/MeatIntake%20Fact%20Sheet%20ENG.pdf

5See:  Global News: 16×9 investigation: Canada’s horse slaughter industry under fire

6Ibid.