A Primer on Horse Slaughter (B+)
Doesn’t the Canadian Government oversee slaughterhouses and check for dangerous substances in our food, as well as oversee humane handling of food animals? If so, the transport of horses and horsemeat must be checked out as well, aren’t they?
It is indeed the mandate (job) of the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) to oversee the production of food from the transport of live animals destined for human consumption to their rendering into cellophane-and-styrofoamed packages for our supermarket shelves (see Part A, Definitions). However, several instances of inadequate and/or insufficient manpower and violations have been brought to public attention in the past ten years. To begin with, the low-wage positions of abattoir work tend to attract workers with minimal or no education who have had no formal training of any kind in the handling of animals before, during and after slaughter. This creates a problem for CFIA Inspectors whose job is to observe, and, when called for, intervene with a complaint (which must be written out and formally addressed), when workers are seen to be executing unsanitary, inhumane or any insalubrious behaviour which threatens the food safety of the human consumers of the animals being slaughtered.
In an interview conducted by the CBC two years ago, the president of the union of CFIA staff stated that their executive had issued a memo to all union members warning them to remain outside the areas, such as the stun-kill box area, in which abattoir workers were armed with 22 rifles instead of stun-bolts (supposed to “stun” horses into insensibility prior to skinning, dismemberment and rendering into meat) because those workers were neither trained in, nor adept at, the use of such firearms, and whereby CFIA staff would be in harm’s way if they were present in such areas where unskilled workers were shooting off 22′s. The union president claimed not to recollect when such a memo was issued, but the CBC investigation had strong evidence that it was distributed in April 2002.
Furthermore, unlike the meat rendered from cows and other food animals which are not tested for phenylbutazone (no need to since only horses get bute, see Parts A and B), the testing protocols for bute in horsemeat are conducted in such little amounts (during 5 years, samples totalling only 0.18 per cent of 385,339 horses slaughtered in that five-year period; go here CHDC,) that no assurances can be given as to the safe eating of horsemeat, particularly, as stated elsewhere in this blog, since the over 60 per cent of horses we slaughter come from the US which has no protocol whatsoever in how, when, or how often US horses are administered bute. And we know that even one dose of bute given to a horse makes his meat ineligible for safe consumption by humans (see Food and Toxicity Report by Blondeau, Dodman and Marini, and note that, medically, all drugs leave residues which remain in the carcass after death). For improvements that the CFIA has been implementing due to pressure from the European Commission (EC), see next post.
What’s so bad about horse slaughter anyway? Didn’t Dr. Temple Grandin and others state that slaughter is carried out humanely? And what about transport of live animals to slaughter: aren’t there regulations ensuring that animals are fed and watered on their way to slaughterhouse facilities?
Regulations differ in different parts of the US (whence most of the horses we slaughter come), and in Canada, there is no way for even the CFIA to ensure that horses are fed and watered on their way to our feedlots and slaughterhouses: the CFIA just doesn’t have the manpower to verify any of that. Just a few months ago, two investigative reporters from The Toronto Star followed a horse transport from the States into Canada, and confirmed that the horses were neither fed nor watered on a trip of over 1,300 miles. Horses, including stallions, are stuffed in to cattle trucks which cannot accommodate horses’ height or size, and the crushing together of herds with other strange herd animals leads to terrible injuries and wounding. (One of the remarks that vet, Gilbert Hallé, made in his interview [see Part B, Villers' article] is that horse sanctuaries have a hard time integrating a new horse into an established herd: how much more awful it must be on a horse transport where there is no regard for herd hierarchies whatsoever. I have, btw, personally witnessed the integration of incoming rescues into an established rescued herd, and it is done with good timing and good judgement, and a little patience, and not much patience at that. Go to Refuge RR for more info.). Moreover, according to the affidavit of one killbuyer, horses are routinely injured by transporters if the horse resists boarding the transport or gives any trouble whatsoever: the killbuyer stated that blinding one eye of a feisty horse would do the trick, as the pain was so intense the horse gave no more trouble, and did not technically contravene the law that no blind horses were to be transported; a one-eyed horse is still considered sighted for purposes of transport. See this video (there are three parts; this is only the first one, instrumental in the long journey the US took to ban horse slaughter as of 2007. Thanks to Cathleen Doyle who in 1998 led the fight to ban horse slaughter in California via Proposition 6 for releasing these on youtube).
Changes recently put forward by European groups regarding transport times for slaughter animals are ground-breaking. More on that later. As for Dr. Grandin: I am respectful and admiring of someone who made so many revolutionary and animal-friendly changes to slaughterhouse practices, but I must also say that Dr. Grandin’s views of horses as prey animals undergoing current slaughter practices are insufficient prima facie. More on Dr. Grandin’s well-intentioned but egregious views in a later post. Stay close…more on the way.