Horse meat imports from Canada About to Fold
The latest audit report of the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) has given the Canadian horsemeat industry poor grades. The focus of criticism are severe offences against consumer protection and animal welfare. Serious concerns are expressed regarding the traceability of the meat of horses from the USA and Canada. “The FVO audit report confirms our findings. For the approximately 70.000 horses that are slaughtered in Canada every year, there is no verification of the animals’ origin and medical treatment nor any control of the conditions experienced during purchase, transport and slaughter ensuring animal welfare”, says Sabrina Gurtner, project-manager of Tierschutzbund Zürich. “Methods of the Wild West are being used. It is systematically cheated, forged and mistreated. Only an import ban can end this torturous production“, claims Reineke Hameleers, director of Eurogroup for Animals.
In December 2014, the EU Commission imposed a horsemeat import ban against Mexico. The basis was a FVO audit report that showed grave deficiencies. The present audit report about Canada could lead to a similar proceeding by the EU Commission. It criticises i. a. missing and insufficient border controls of horse transports from the USA to Canada. For years, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has refused to unload the horses at the border and compare them to the identification documents (EIDs). The animal welfare organisations repeatedly documented that the veterinarians at the border merely cast a quick glance at the horses inside the trailers through the tiny air slots of the trailer sides. “The pressure of the Canadian horsemeat lobby is high. Already in May 2014, the Canadian Parliament rejected a legislative proposal for traceability and food safety of horsemeat”, explains Sabrina Gurtner. “The controls of the Canadian veterinary authority are completely inadequate; this must not be tolerated by the EU Commission”.
In Canada and the USA there are no equine passports like in the EU, in which the medical history is recorded. The last owner of the horse simply has to confirm with his signature that the horse has not been administered any prohibited medicines during the last six months. The FVO repeatedly criticises in the report that, although the identification documents of the horses are incomplete, unreliable or false, the horses are still slaughtered, in some cases sent back or euthanized. “No horse dealer has to fear legal consequences”, criticises Reineke Hameleers.
Furthermore, the FVO detected grave animal welfare problems at the border. US horses that had been rejected for animal welfare reasons were brought to Canada a few hours later through another border crossing point. “In Canada there is no monitoring system that informs the different points of entry or even cancels export certificates”, criticises Sabrina Gurtner. The FVO reports that during their audit a rejected horse was slaughtered in a Canadian slaughterhouse.
25 percent of the US horses are not slaughtered directly. They are first brought to feedlots of the Canadian slaughterhouse Bouvry in Alberta for six months. For these horses as well, the FVO states that no reliable statement can be made regarding origin and medical residues. Both in Canada and in the USA, horses may have received drugs prior to their arrival at the feedlot which would in the EU automatically lead to their exclusion from the food chain. These include, for example, Phenylbutazone, a pain killer and anti-inflammatory drug which is widely used in the equestrian world.
In Europe, no horse may be slaughtered for human consumption that is declared to be a companion animal. “In Canada horses are by default not considered to be food producing animals until they have been designated for this purpose“, the FVO writes in its report. “This means that horses from all origins, including sport horses with a respective medical history, are slaughtered for human consumption”, says Reineke Hameleers.
Tierschutzbund Zürich and its partner organisations since 2012 have been documenting all stations that US horses pass through until they end in EU approved slaughter plants. “The findings of the FVO report are consistent with ours“, explains Sabrina Gurtner. „However, the audit of the FVO in Canada does not include the conditions for the horses in the USA. 60 percent of the horses slaughtered in Canada originate from the United States. The conditions at collecting stations, at auctions, during transport as well as at the feedlots of the Canadian company Bouvry in Montana (USA) and in Alberta are incompatible with European animal welfare legislation. The horses are routinely mistreated, pregnant and birthing mares are left to their own devices, injured and sick animals are left without treatment.”
A cross-border trade with horses is not controllable, when the legal situation in the countries involved is different. Therefore, the international animal welfare coalition, formed by Tierschutzbund Zürich (Switzerland), Animal Welfare Foundation (Germany), Animals’ Angels (USA), GAIA (Belgium), Eyes on Animals (Netherlands), L214 (France), and supported by Eurogroup for Animals (Brussels), calls upon the EU Commission to take decisive action against Canada, like in the case of Mexico, and to impose an import ban.
For the approximately 70.000 horses that are slaughtered in Canada every year, there is no verification of the animals’ origin and medical treatment nor any control of the conditions experienced during purchase, transport and slaughter ensuring animal welfare.Sabrina Gurtner, Project manager at Tierschutzbund Zürich