A new European restriction may create operational headaches for Canadian horse slaughter plants.
Starting in March 2017, horses imported into Canada from the United States must remain in the country for six months before they are slaughtered.
The European Commission says the six-month residency requirement is needed to ensure the safety of horse meat because North American horses may receive veterinary drugs that are unsafe for human consumption.
“To add a layer of restriction to ensure that drugs given to horses, throughout their lifetime … do not end up in the horse (meat),” said Ewa Demianowicz, campaign manager for Humane Society International in Canada.
The organization said in a news release that the new rules take effect March 31.
Related story: CFIA confirms new EU horse meat rules
The Western Producer contacted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to confirm the new regulation, but the CFIA didn’t respond by press time.
The humane society said the residency rule would affect the horse slaughter industry in Canada. Under the requirement, horses from the U.S. would likely be kept on a Canadian feedlot for at least six months before slaughter.
“It’s often between 65 and 70 percent of horses slaughtered in Canada that come from the United States,” Demianowicz said.
The primary horse meat processors in Canada are Bouvry Exports in Fort Macleod, Alta., and the Viande Richelieu plant in Quebec. Canadian Premium Meats in Lacombe, Alta., also slaughters horses for the European market.
The humane society said the Europeans conducted an audit of the Canadian horse slaughter industry in 2014 and found weaknesses in the traceability system, in which animals are monitored from farm to slaughter.
That audit contributed to the new regulation, but the humane society isn’t satisfied with the change.
“We advocated for lifetime veterinary records of the horses, so veterinary records would follow the horse from birth till slaughter,” Demianowicz said.
“Proving that they have not received substances that are forbidden in the food chain. This is what happens in Europe. This is their standard.”
The main drug of concern is is phenylbutazone, known as bute. A CFIA website said it’s a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory used to treat lameness in horses.
“Since 2002, the CFIA has been regularly testing horse meat for (bute),” the agency said on its website.
“Results show a very high compliance rate for phenylbutazone residues.”
Chemical residues and traceability are concerns, but Demianowicz said the humane society has broader concerns about horse meat.
“We oppose horse slaughter for animal welfare reasons,” she said.
“We definitely want a ban on horse slaughter in Canada.”
The EU rule applies beyond Canada. All countries outside the EU will have to keep imported horses as “residents” for six months before slaughter, according to the humane society.