The price for slaughter horses in Alberta has been cut in half by recent discoveries in Europe that beef has been combined with horsemeat in some European plants and products.
Bruce Flewelling, an auctioneer who buys and sells horses for slaughter, said prices are now at 25 to 30 cents per pound, down from 40 to 45 cents before the European food scandal began about three weeks ago.
The two Alberta plants that handle horses have reduced the number of animals processed in recent weeks because of reduced European demand, he added.
Flewelling said the Lacombe plant stopped processing horses for about three weeks, while the Fort Macleod plant began slaughtering more bison and cattle after export demand for horsemeat dropped. Recovery to former processing levels may take time.
“I think it will take awhile because I think people are kind of hanging on, waiting for the price to go back up and there will be kind of a backlog. Its just supply and demand.”
Bill desBarres, chair of the Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada, said the reduction in exports was disappointing but short-lived.
“Shortly after the problem was revealed, then of course shipments were shut down. But that was for a short period of time until they determined where the source of the problem was.”
The situation arose when horsemeat was detected in beef products in Ireland. It later widened to other countries when horsemeat was found in various processed meat products labeled as beef.
Canadian horsemeat has not been connected with the European situation. The horsemeat industry here generates an estimated $70 million per year to the national economy.
desBarres said Canadian product is highly regarded by importers because of its audited and inspected slaughter plants and its attention to animal welfare.
He cited development of a new equine code of practice and augmented transport regulations as examples.
“Our welfare, in spite of what some other people would like to think, our welfare is assessed by the purchasers as part of their process of buying from us, and we pass with flying colours,” he said.
Robyn Moore, manager of the Horse Industry Association of Alberta, said in an email that the European issue is about safety and not an aversion to horsemeat, which has been eaten there for centuries.
“The situation in Europe is an issue of food safety,” she said, ” Consumers want to know what they are eating. They want to trust that the label on the outside of the package correctly identifies the contents.
“Many people in Europe consume horse meat as a regular part of their diet so it is not seen as ‘taboo,’ as the media in North America may depict it.”
Moore said horse processing establishes a base price on horses, which offers protection for welfare.
“Without a base monetary price, horses can be perceived as not having any value and are therefore be more susceptible to neglect or other abuses.”
Flewelling and desBarres said there is one benefit to the European horsemeat controversy. It has encouraged people to try horsemeat.
“There is more interest in people trying horsemeat now than we’ve seen for a long time,” said desBarres.
He describes the meat as similar to moose, although that may not be much of a guide to those who haven’t tasted either meat.
“I compare it to my experience with moose meat. It’s a little coarser but very tasty. It would be a preference on my regular meat schedule.
“I don’t have an issue with any meat including horsemeat. I’ve found it to be quite tasty.”