A European Commission audit released this week warns that horsemeat imported from Canada does not fully meet European food safety standards. A similar audit from the Commission last year found similar problems with horsemeat from Mexico – most of it from American horses, cruelly hauled across the border by predatory kill buyers. After the audit, the European Union suspended further imports of horsemeat from Mexico.
The suspension dealt a huge blow to the North American horse slaughter industry. And this audit of the other big horse-slaughtering nation in North America could turn into a devastating second blow.
Every year, kill buyers haul more than 100,000 American horses—working, racing and companion horses and even children’s ponies—across the border to Canada and Mexico in cramped trailers, typically without food, water, or rest. The majority of these horses are young, healthy animals, sold at auctions by owners who either didn’t know, or didn’t care, about their fate. In Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses, these horses—who are naturally very anxious and respond to threats by fleeing—are often inhumanely handled and slaughtered, before being shipped overseas for human consumption.
During the six months prior to slaughter, Canada allows the use of various substances that would automatically exclude horses from the food chain in the EU. Several audits conducted by the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office have echoed our concerns about the inherent weaknesses in the Canadian and Mexican control systems, and concluded that the veracity and reliability of vendor statements on the medical history of the U.S. horses cannot be guaranteed.
The European Commission’s audit also pointed to similar problems with U.S. horses that are sent to Canada for slaughter. The European Commission noted that official export certificates that accompany live horses from the United States do not include any statements relating to public health. This casts further doubt on the controls that Canada has in place.
For years, The HSUS and Humane Society International have repeatedly said that the horse-slaughter industry is predatory and reckless, unwilling, and perhaps unable to establish sufficient controls to meet the basic food safety standards called for in processing chicken, pork, or beef. The fundamental problem is that horses in North America are not raised for food, but for companionship and for recreation or work. That means that most owners administer a wide variety of veterinary drugs forbidden for use in animals destined for the table – practices you’d never see in other industries where animals are specifically raised for consumption.
Recognizing that veterinary drug residues can be an issue, the European Union has since July 2010 required that only properly identified horses with a known lifetime medical treatment history, and whose medicinal treatment records show they satisfy the federal Food and Drug Administration-mandated withdrawal periods, are allowed to be slaughtered for export to the EU. The countries exporting horsemeat say they’ve taken steps to implement measures to preclude contaminated horsemeat from ending up on the EU market, but we have repeatedly pointed out to the European Commission that these measures are fundamentally flawed and virtually impossible to enforce.
Shutting down this cruel trade will also force the U.S. horse industry and owners to take greater responsibility for their animals, and think more carefully about how they will care for them throughout and at the end of their lives. It is a barbaric, opportunistic, and unsafe trade, and it should end not only in the United States, but throughout North America. If the European Commission suspends the Canadian horsemeat trade as it should, we’ll have taken one more big step toward achieving that long-overdue goal.