We can act on horse slaughter

Canada and Mexico are the only North American countries which still actively practice horse slaughtering.

Editor: On Feb. 23,  Anne Patterson wrote an inspirational story in The Times about a horse whose life was saved twice by a caring person. I was moved to read how Julie MacMillan, founder of J&M Acres Horse Rescue in Maple Ridge, rescued “Adelle” along with two other horses, who were to be auctioned off to a slaughterhouse. Although Adelle developed colic shortly after her rescue, which cost Julie even more money, the aging horse survived.

It’s true this story has a happy ending. But it was disappointing to read how some people were highly critical of the rescue, claiming such an old and sickly horse wasn’t worth the time and expense. In my view, those people are completely missing the point: the horses were going to be inhumanely slaughtered.

Canada and Mexico are the only North American countries which still actively practice horse slaughtering. Although President Barack Obama recently signed a bill that will revive the U.S. horse slaughter industry, the U.S. has been exporting horses both north and south of their border. The meat is then sold to Europe and Asia for human consumption.

There are two major problems with this industry: the grotesquely inhumane way the horses are slaughtered, and the toxicity of the meat for human consumption.

We delude ourselves to think of the horse slaughter industry as a valid and humane form of euthanasia when there is well documented proof it is not. In fact, Veterinarians for Equine Welfare (VEW), and animal protection groups such as the Humane Society International, the CSPCA and the The Canadian Horse Defense Coalition (CHDC) have discovered in the course of thorough investigations just how inhumane horse slaughtering is.

The CHDC says, “Due to the specific physiology of horses, and the high failure to stun rate, it is impossible, even in well-designed assembly line conditions, to humanely slaughter horses.”  The VEW supports this fact by explaining how the stun gun is improperly used by “low-skilled” slaughterhouse employees who are without the means to provide proper head restraint.”

Horses may be improperly stunned as they proceed through slaughter.

The CHDC has provided the Humane Society with ample proof that as horses panic, and they instinctively try to escape, the frantic thrashing of their heads in the kill chute makes it difficult to effectively stun them prior to slaughter. At best, they will die in pain and terror as they endure repeated blows to the head with the bullets of a stun gun.

Furthermore, the horses often arrive at the slaughterhouse suffering from dehydration, starvation and injuries such as broken limbs or eye loss. In fact, the Humane Society of Canada points out that the Canadian animal transport laws are among the worst in the industrialized world, allowing horses to be transported for up to 36 hours without food, water or rest. In addition, horses are often hauled in cramped trailers made for smaller livestock.

Horses vye for space in a moving vehicle, they crush each other, leading to extremely high “dead on arrival” rates. Such weak regulations leave room for blatant disregard of the law. A friend told me about a trucker she knew who kept horses in a cramped trailer for days without food or water, until he had enough accumulated to transport to the slaughterhouse.

Many of those who are pro-horse slaughter see the fight against over-population and unwanted horses is a “necessary evil.” The CSPCA claims there is no evidence to support this claim. Horse slaughter is a symptom, not a solution. Industries that support the overpopulation of horses (such as race tracks) shouldn’t be encouraged to breed horses and then profit from selling them for meat.

Canadian policy regarding horse slaughter will not be changed by knowledge of the cruel way we destroy our often beloved and trusting companions. However, enough concern over the public health issue may mobilize us to act.

Federal NDP agriculture critic, Alex Atamanenko, is asking the government to pass Private Member’s Bill C-322, and shutting down the slaughtering of horses for human consumption. Atamanenko argues that since horses are not typically bred for the consumption of their meat, drugs are used on the horses that are carcinogenic to humans.

One widely-used drug is known as “horse aspirin” or Phenylbutazone, which is illegal in any animal that enters the food supply. I agree with Bill C-322. Not only is horse slaughter inhumane, but the meat from these animals is not safe for human consumption.

Admittedly, there have been measures taken to prevent horse meat containing certain drugs from going to Europe, one of the largest consumers of horsemeat. Europe pressured Canada into introducing the “Equine Passport” or Equine Identification Document (EID) system which is a method of getting the slaughter houses to obtain the health history and medical treatments of horses upon arrival.

However, this system is horribly flawed, as the U.S. doesn’t regulate this drug and feels it’s up to Canada to verify the information in the passports, since we’re selling the meat.

Atamanenko says “It really is a stretch to think that information on hundreds of thousands of horses gathered from every nook and cranny across Canada and America will be complete or accurate.”

Humane Society International claims that Canada’s horse slaughter industry is among the largest in the world, with more than 93, 000 horses slaughtered in 2009 alone. These were not all sick and dying horses as pro-horse slaughterers would lead us to believe.

USDA statistics show that 92 percent of horses slaughtered for meat are “in good condition and able to lead productive lives.”

If Canada’s stance on horse slaughtering shames you, contact Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture, and tell him it’s time to push through Bill C-322 to end the senseless and inhumane slaughter of horses.

Why not support people like Julie MacMillan who dedicate their lives and resources to rescuing the horses our society so carelessly throws away? Let’s stop and think about how one minute we see horses as our pets and the next they’re nothing more to us than meat on hooves.

Rona Clancy-Brewin,


P.S. If you want to see the end to horse slaughtering in Canada, I encourage you to express your concerns in your own words in a letter to Hon. Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture. No postage is required to send letters to the federal government.

His postal address is:  Hon. Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

House of Commons

Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

His fax number is 613-995-7080, and email address is Ritz.G@parl.gc.ca.

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