Imported horse meat from Canada puts EU consumers at risk


Imported horse meat from Canada puts EU consumers at risk

10 December 2019
Eurogroup for Animals
An audit published by the EU Commission has found that Canadian slaughterhouses do not comply with EU rules on traceability, implying a risk for public health. 

The EU’s DG Health and Food Safety’s audit on Canadian horse meat production systems concludes that traceability of the horses cannot be ensured. “[This audit] identified certain issues in relation to the reliability of the controls over both imported and domestic horses destined for export to the EU, with the exception of horses kept in feedlots for a minimum of six months. The system does not provide full guarantees that horses have not been treated with illegal substances within the last 180 days before slaughter, or that the withdrawal periods of veterinary medicinal products had been respected.” 

Apart from the traceability issue,  poor welfare conditions are also a concern. Investigations carried out by the Animal Welfare Foundation (Germany) and Animals’ Angels Inc. (USA) at Canadian slaughterhouses and feedlots revealed outdoor pens without any protection from adverse weather conditions. The horses are kept out in the open, with documented temperatures as low as -30°C. Even foals are not given shelter, and some freeze to death at birth. 

Access to weather protection is part of the applicable EU requirements, but it seems that the audit team did not visit the outdoor pens. Furthermore, sick and injured horses receive no veterinary care, and suffering horses are left to die without assistance. A recent follow-up investigation at the assembly centre in Montana, USA, which belongs to the Canadian Bouvry slaughterhouse, showed that the conditions have not improved and weak horses are still dying.

The audit was also supposed to address animal welfare, insofar as the EU Regulation (EC) N° 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing applies to meat imported into the EU but it doesn’t mention it as a legal basis or legal reference, and there is only a short paragraph that  addresses animal welfare at all. 

Its findings imply that traceability, and therefore public health, can only be ensured if the EU imposes a six month quarantine in feedlots, as it currently is the case for horses imported from the US into Canada for slaughter. However, the report does not take into account or mention the poor conditions at the feedlots in which the horses are kept during that period. EU legislation does not apply to Canadian feedlots but in this case, the EU measure harms animals by increasing the time they have to endure poor living conditions. 


Stephanie Ghislain – Trade and Animal Welfare Project Leader, Eurogroup for Animals | +32 479 436 083

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The lack of traceability alone should be reason enough to suspend horse meat imports from Canada, not to mention the poor welfare conditions. The shortcomings in terms of traceability in the Canadian horse meat production system were already underlined in the previous audit report published by the EU in 2014. Nothing has changed in four years, and the situation is even worse for animals. It is time for the EU to apply its rules and suspend horse meat imports from Canada.
Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals