Horse meat: A Deadly Mouthful
On ne mange pas son ami! shouted the citizenry of Montréal at a raucous demonstration held around Christmas time in 1759 after the Catholic Church had enjoined parishioners to eat their horses during a time when beef was scarce. “One doesn’t eat one’s friends” arose from a set of rural values which held that your horse was essential to your livelihood as a farmer—as necessary to your survival as agrarian-friendly weather. Still, traditional recipes passed down from one generation to the next show that at least some Québécois ate their horses, for whatever reason, at some point in Québec history. In the early 1950s, my own mother’s obstetrician ordered her to eat horsemeat to “enrich her blood”, the very lean meat considered a natural remedy for anaemia. Today, proponents of horse slaughter for human consumption argue that horse meat is healthier for you than beef, and at the end of his life, a horse can serve yet another human purpose: to feed the hungry. Often, they have in mind people in other countries. And, after all, horse slaughter in this country is a multi-million-dollar export business*. The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating. Horses in our culture are not raised as food animals; if they were, the same drugs banned in animals destined for human consumption (cows, pigs, sheep, etc) would be banned in horses. That’s not the case. Throughout their lives, horses—especially high performance sport horses—are administered drugs like phenylbutazone (PBZ), known simply as “bute.” Bute was banned shortly after 1955 by the USDA once it was discovered, that, although an efficacious treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and gout, it could actually cause aplastic anemia, among other fatal diseases in humans. Over 95 per cent of patients who developed bone marrow suppression as well as those who developed a liver hypersensitivity associated with bute administration died. As a result, bute was taken off the human pharmaceutical market. Yet it found a use, particularly in the racing industry where Thoroughbreds were prone to musculoskeletal injuries. As a relatively inexpensive NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), bute has been administered so regularly to horses that its nickname is “horse’s aspirin.” And why not? Horses, like dogs, are not raised for our dinner table. It gets worse. According to a Food and Toxicity Report** published in 2010, bute is permanently retained in the carcasses of horses, in the muscles and in the bloodstream. Methods of exsanguinating a rendered horse fail to prove that all blood is removed, so if any remains, so do traces of bute.
There is no such thing as a “safe” amount of bute which can be part of the meat you eat**. Put another way, any ingestion of bute by human consumers is disease-causing, life-threatening and sometimes can be fatal. And the only animals allowed to be given bute are horses and dogs. Because of this, as well as the other banned drugs given to North American horses which have never been, and cannot be, accurately tracked over the horse’s lifetime, the European Commission last year refused to accept any shipments of horsemeat from Canada (nearly 60 per cent of horses slaughtered in Canada in 2009 were US imports). The CFIA responded by requiring Equine Information Documents (EIDs) for all horses, but this has created new problems, not the least of which is horses left in quarantine holding areas for far too long, unable to receive treatment if they fall ill.
Whether you care about horses or not, you need to care about the obvious dangers of serving horsemeat to your family or ordering it at a five-star restaurant, and more globally, to wonder whether Canada has been exporting poisoned meat abroad. Horse owners and breeders need to think about not over-breeding in the first place (those who are looking for another Secretariat). As May is also the beginning of the Triple Crown, note that three years ago, 35,000 Thoroughbred foals were born to be old enough to race in 2011. Only twenty raced on May 7th at the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Crown: what happened to all the others? Please visit www.defendhorsescanada.org and support May Equine Awareness Week.
* see Press Release by Equine Welfare Alliance (EWA) on the CHDC site. More specific information is also available on site.
** Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: A public health risk. Nicholas Dodman, Nicolas Blondeau, Ann M. Marini. Food and Chemical Toxicology 48 (2010) 1270-1274.
Note: I still need to edit this piece but, with any luck, the editor of Your Local Journal who expressed an interest in the issue (particularly since her readers live in St. Lazare, supposedly the highest concentration of horse owners in Quebec), will print this next week (mid-May 2011). UPDATE: The above was published. See blog entitled, “A Deadly Mouthful article Published”.
Addendum: I just read about a chef who claims that his supplier raises horses only for meat purposes. The chef believes that the horsemeat he serves at his five-star restaurant is bute-free and safe for human consumption. Here’s the rub: that would mean that those horses, raised in domestic environments in which anything from Cushing’s Disease to colic to strangles are prevalent, can never receive treatment. So does the supplier just let them suffer, or, if he does give them medication and vet care (until they go to slaughter), does he tell his clients (like the wide-eyed chef) that these horses have ingested drugs inimical to human consumption? The link is on the CHDC site blog. I’ll get it for you later. Just think about the mis-information out there and what we take for granted every time we choose to eat in a restaurant.