Professional horse breeders have been the most neglected group of agricultural producers by government. We have no representation and have for years been losing massive amounts for every foal produced.
The horse industry in this country is entering crisis status. The policies and practices set in place have started breeders down the path to annihilation. There are segments of the horse industry, no doubt, blissfully unaware and even enjoying current profitability. But it is on a crumbling foundation.
If the current uproar over the horse slaughter plant at Fort MacLeod proves that proper procedures were violated, it would give animal rights activists their final boost to shut down the plant. If so, government regulators responsible for this failure must take responsibility for destroying the industry. The government should be liable for subsequent losses.
The humane slaughter of horses has to exist for the horse industry to exist. Slaughter plants in the U.S. must be reopened, the border closed to or a tariff imposed on U.S. horses to compensate for the huge losses to Canadian producers.
The first domino to fall is the professional breeders, many with lifetime programs to improve bloodstock, who are now exiting in record numbers. When these breeders have vanished (unofficial estimates are that 70 per cent are already gone), their programs will be gone too. What good were past breeder-incentive initiatives when all is being washed away now?
Professional horse breeders have been the most neglected group of agricultural producers by government. We have no representation and have for years been losing massive amounts for every foal produced. Cattle producers now have the option under Agriculture Financial Services Corporation to insure some of their costs. Horse breeders with mind-boggling losses were offered no such option. ALMA, which stands for Alberta “Livestock” Marketing Agency, chose to give $2 million to grow the market for Alberta beef, yet horse breeders with virtually no market are not even noted.
Our current agriculture minister publicly declares his intention to revive the cattle industry but the plight of the horse industry is not even on his radar. Those horse people still surviving have done so out of endless work, sacrifice and personal debt loads.
Now, while at their weakest point, two more daggers have been thrown at horse breeders.
They have been pitted against the unfair trade created by U.S. animal rights activists, who, due to their successful lobbying, have shut down all U.S. horse slaughter plants. That made it illegal in the U.S. to slaughter horses and also illegal to ship any horse direct to a slaughter plant. As a consequence, U.S. horses are flooding into our market. Last year over 96,000 head (CF IA figures) were imported. Because they cannot be direct shipped to slaughter they are sold through our local auction marts where anyone can purchase horses at giveaway prices caused by this glut. Unverified reports are that horses are coming in for six cents a pound and as low as a dollar per head. How can breeders compete? The situation is hopeless.
The second dagger is the recent unveiling of new traceability rules. Most breeders just learned of this as a fait accompli with a July 31, 2010 compliance date. There was no consultation with the stakeholders (breeders) and a denial of a democratic right to be heard. This horse “passport,” a 180-day drug affidavit, will add substantial costs to the beleaguered breeders already beaten down. In many cases it is a duplication of horse and breeder identity already on file for registered horses (most DNA parentage verified). This should only apply to unregistered stock.
By following the money on this issue, it leads to veterinary pockets. Breeders cannot support this financially and they demand their democratic right to consultation. The 180-day affidavit will (even by CFIA’s own admission), “likely” increase horses in feedlots in Canada. Of course it will – Americans will not comply with these Canadian regulations detailing a six-month past history per horse, plus lifetime prohibitions on some drugs such as the commonly used “bute.”
But with their slaughter plants closed they still need an outlet for their unwanted horses. The result will be American horses hauled here, unable to go to slaughter for a six-month period, waiting out the time in feedlots.
Slaughter buyers will then pay even less (if that is possible), because now they have to feed them for six months. The fact is and always has been that slaughter prices dictate the general market price. Not that much different than the cattle industry, where bull sale prices reflect the slaughter market. The horse market will be done.
The animal rights activists in their determination to stop all horse slaughter, chorus, “Get the breeder to stop breeding.” This issue needs the entire horse industry’s broader understanding. As the animal rights activists succeed in shutting down the breeders, the rest of the industry will follow. Make no mistake about it, this situation will soon limit everyone’s involvement with a horse. The dominos will continue to fall.