“Meat buyers provide a floor for horse prices… and, if something has no value, it’s not looked after.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has announced new regulations for horses destined for slaughter that will be the first step in changes for all horse owners.
Starting July 31 this year, the owner of any horse sent to slaughter will have to sign a declaration of all the vaccines and medications that were used, and illnesses diagnosed in that animal in the previous six months. This is the first step in the development of a traceability system for equines for domestic and international markets processed at any federally inspected plants. If any prohibited drug residue is found in the meat, the former owner will be held to account.
The CFIA is advising horse owners to maintain an equine information document, known as an EID, to track medications and health issues. Horse buyers, including those buying for meat, may require this document when they purchase an animal. The EID will alert any potential slaughter buyer to delays needed before an animal can be slaughtered for meat. The document will be mandatory only for animals that may be slaughtered for meat.
Because much of the market for horse meat is in Europe, some medications will be prohibited within six months of slaughter. So far, the list of prohibited medications includes various forms of phenylbutazone or “bute.” The common pain killer is not used in Europe, so they do not have an accepted withdrawal period.
Threatens slaughter operations
Claude Bovary, owner of Bovary Exports at Fort Macleod, fears the change may force him out of his slaughter operation as unwanted horses may not have an EID or an owner who can sign a declaration of medications and health. The required paperwork will increase his costs. “There are a million horses in Canada and 10 million in the U. S.,” says Bovary. “And around the world, people eat more meals of horse meat than McDonalds serves burgers; a billion servings. We can
provide lean meat from a well-cared-for animal.” Bovary considers the new regulations are a political response to lobbying, and a back door trade issue.
Many people are opposed to horse slaughter, but many horses are bred and raised for meat, much like other meat animals. Bovary’s plant follows an animal-welfare program developed and given a positive review by welfare expert Temple Grandin.
Bill des Barres, Chair of the Horse Welfare Alliance Canada, is not concerned about the requirement for medical records – he calls keeping such records a part of responsible animal ownership. He is concerned that the new regulations are a response to animal-rights activists who have an agenda to
abolish all meat eating around the world and that their attack on horse slaughter is just a first step.
“All food should be appropriately scrutinized by legitimate health inspectors and it must meet regulatory standards,” he says. But he sees no reason not to use horses for meat and compares slaughtering horses for meat to putting a 4-H animal in the freezer. But, horse meat has 25 per cent more protein, less fat and more iron than other red meats.
Des Barres expects the horse industry will adapt to the new regulations and that the price of the meat will increase, at least in Canada. (Horse meat is widely eaten in Quebec.)
“We have to accept that there will be change and get on with life. I think meat buyers will still be at auctions and we’ll see more horse herds and more feedlots.”
The downside to change is the risk to unwanted horses. One speaker at the Society of Range Management wild horse and burro conference reported that since the U. S. banned slaughter of horses for meat owners who can’t afford to dispose of unwanted horses humanely are turning them loose on public or aboriginal lands. In eastern areas where open land is rare, unwanted horses are being turned onto roads where they are a serious hazard to motorists. “Meat buyers provide a floor for horse prices,” says Bovary. “And, if something has no value, it’s not looked after.”