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.
What CHDC Found
Pasture to Plate gives a tiny glimmer of hope, stating “that some of the workers, and the shooter in particular, seem to have been provided with training on horse behaviour…” That is small comfort in an overall horrifying report. Page after page cites examples such as these:
- “As each day progressed and the stun box became more covered in blood, the horse became more resistant to enter it, so had to be forced from behind with the use of what appeared to be a whip (footage shows a whip as the primary driving tool with plastic paddles also used in the stun box).”
- “Some of the horses in the slaughter footage were slick with sweat or had dried sweat marks, indicating a high level of stress or that the holding area was not temperature controlled.”
- “Most disturbing is that many of the horses were able to push their heads out the front of the stun box and peer into the butchering area where the horses before them were being hung, bled out and butchered. Many horses appeared increasingly agitated and frightened after doing so.”
An ironic counterpoint to CHDC’s revelations about conditions in Canadian horse slaughterhouses is an editorial that appeared on December 4th in the Texas Star-Telegram. Apparently nine states have passed resolutions calling for the return of horse slaughtering facilities. The opinion piece reports:
Since the ban, the GAO also reported, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of horse neglect, a trend expected to get even worse in this down economy. The American Quarter Horse Association had argued in 2006 that processing of unwanted horses was “a necessary aspect of the equine industry, because it provides a humane euthanasia alternative for horses that might otherwise continue a life of discomfort and pain, or inadequate care or abandonment.”
No Longer Needed, Then What?
The horses are ridden, raced or worked until they are no longer useful or wanted. Then they are sent off to the slaughterhouse, with owners hoping to recoup a bit of the cost by selling them as meat. Once desirable assets, the horses are simply live carcasses, a burden to be fed and cared for.
Animals discarded as thoughtlessly as last year’s cell phones are an indictment of our ethical and moral standards. Animal welfare organizations and animal advocates do their best to draw attention to their plight, but until we embrace the need to treat our fellow creatures with respect, stories like the ones filmed by CHDC will continue.
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