The horses are old or ill or just no longer useful to their owners. Often thin, heads hanging low, ribs protruding, they stand quietly, dejected. You can see the fear in their eyes as they enter the stun box. If they are lucky, they lose consciousness after one jolt with the bolt gun. Sometimes they stumble and are stunned repeatedly. Sometimes they cry out.
They arrive weary, after being trucked from all over the States to destinations in Mexico and Canada. The U.S. banned horse slaughterhouses in 2007, but the demand for disposal of unwanted equines continues unabated. Out of sight of the owners who have sold them, they would have no advocates except for the determination of animal welfare groups such as the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC), which tracks their treatment in Canada.
On July 13 and 14, 2011, CHDC carried out an undercover investigation of a Quebec slaughterhouse. This is the fourth plant the coalition has studied. Although the industry and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency keep promising to improve standards, footage from Les Viandes de la Petite-Nation in St. Andre-Avelin shows they have a long way to go.
The video below is from the two-day tracking of the fate of these unwanted horses. If the horror of their experience is too painful to watch, try the sad but less graphic videos at the bottom of “Pasture to Plate” on the CHDC Web site.
Drugs in Horse Meat
As if the mistreatment of horses were not enough to shake up the industry, CHDC cites a shoddy tracking system that is supposedly in place to protect human health. Horses that end up in these slaughterhouses are not raised for food. Although owners are required to provide complete medical histories, their reports are not verified. Gary Corbett, president of the federal union that represents slaughterhouse veterinarians, is quoted as telling the Toronto Star on July 30, 2011:
(Veterinarians) do rely a lot on the records of the horses kept by the owners coming into the country and there are questions about how accurate or up to date they are. It’s at the discretion of the owner. There’s no regulatory framework to monitor it. It’s kind of like an honour system.
As a result, meat from these slaughtered horses may enter the human food chain tainted with drugs. Calling on the government to immediately shut down the industry, British Columbia MP Alex Atamenenko cites one potentially dangerous example of “horse aspirin” or “phenylbutazone.” The common pain medicine could easily end up in horse meat, and even small amounts of the substance can cause anaplastic anemia in children.
Photo from iStockphoto via Thinkstock
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