Critics say Canada’s tracking system fails to record drugs given during the animal’s life, some of which should prevent them entering the food supply
An animal welfare group has lodged a complaint against a horse slaughter plant with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Competition Bureau of Canada.
Ewa Demianowicz, campaign manager for Humane Society International/Canada, said the Viande Richealieu plant near Massueville, Que., is not being honest with how it manages horses before they are processed.
“They are claiming that they implement a rigorous tracking program from farm to shelf and that they’re confirming European food safety standards in regards to the horse meat they’re exporting, but we believe that this is not true and that these claims are misleading,” Demianowicz said.
Canadian slaughter plants imported 12,000 horses from the U.S. in 2014, and the federal government requests that an equine information document be filed with each horse sold. This is the foundation for the Canadian tracking system on which registered horse slaughter plants rely.
Demianowicz is concerned the form is inadequate.
“The owner at the moment of signing the document … has no veterinary records or official records with him and (claims) this horse has not received any illegal substance to their knowledge in the last six months,” she said.
The form requires details about illness and medication use for 180 days before the sale or during the time of ownership.
However, kill buyers, who buy horses from owners and sell them to slaughter plants, may own a horse for only a few days and answer truthfully that there were no concerns during the time of ownership.
The European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office re-leased an audit report in 2014 that raised concerns about these regulations.
“In Europe, there is a very serious tracking process where veterinarians that have drugged horses follow the horse,” Demianowicz said.
“It’s an official microchip system. In the database, you can see what the horse has received throughout its lifetime.”
She criticized the government for not improving its system.
“The audit came out in 2014, and in 2011 with the same issues raised, and since then we haven’t seen any improvement or changes that would guarantee the safety around horse meat,” she said.
CFIA inspectors work at all federally registered slaughter and processing plants to confirm that meat products are produced to national standards.
The agency also randomly tests for contaminants in the meat once it is processed. Meat must also comply with standards as outlined by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization before it is exported.
Bill desBarres, chair of the Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada, rejected Humane Society International/Canada’s accusation against the Quebec plant.
“Richelieu is a very competent plant and they are compliant with the testing,” he said. “We have not received any record that either the testing compliant services at the plant or the CFIA have had any positive tests related to drug content in the processing and produce of meat from that plant.”
In addition to randomly testing horse meat for residues, the CFIA also conducts testing based on observations of horses before stunning and slaughter.
Veterinarians and inspectors also identify horses in plants that look like they have been medically treated. The meat in these cases will be held for further testing to determine no residues.
“Our Canadian system is well known internationally to be very competent, and there has been no evidence in propriety that has allowed an animal to be admitted to processing and or determined afterwards that the animal should not have been submitted for processing,” said desBarres.
Sinikka Crosland, executive director of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, said Humane Society International/Canada’s complaint is justified.
“The majority of horses entering the slaughter pipeline have not been raised as food animals; therefore, many of these animals have been administered drugs during their lifetimes that are prohibited from entering the human food supply,” Crosland said in an email.
“Thus, horse meat consumption can be considered risky at best.”
Canadian plants slaughtered 61,000 horses in 2014, which is down from a spike in 2007 when slaughter was banned in the United States for three years.