Beginning in March 31, all horses imported from the United States into horse processing plants in Canada must be held in Canadian feedlots for a minimum of six months. The regulation is intended to address food safety concerns expressed by European Union (EU) buyers.
While some equine welfare advocates hope the regulation will increase paperwork and decrease profits for exporters of horses into Canadian processing firms, others believe the rule won’t reduce the number of horses exported for processing every year.
Under the new regulation, exporters must certify in writing that the U.S. horses exported into Canada for processing haven’t received any drugs within the prior 60 days. But said horse welfare advocate Jerry Finch, founder of Habitat for Horses, the horse-processing industry has long had a reputation for falsifying paperwork connected to exported horses.
“False documentation (has) been a proven fact for years, yet nothing is ever done about it, so any such regulation is nothing more than a PR effort to make the consumer believe they are receiving the very best horsemeat available; like so much of the food supply, the image of wholesome, healthy, and safe food is a far cry from the reality,” said Finch. “The killer-buyers simply sign the form, the buyers for the slaughterhouse sign it, and done deal. A horse bought at the racetrack in Kentucky on Monday will still be in the food chain by Wednesday.”
The Canadian regulation mirrors one long in place at processing plants in Mexico, which did not eliminate the EU’s food safety concerns. After a 2014 audit, the EU’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) banned the sale of horsemeat processed in Mexico on grounds that exporters falsified processed animals’ medical and drug treatment records.
An uptick in sales to Russian and Chinese markets resulted, said horse processing proponent Dave Duquette. He expects the same after the Canadian rule become effective.
“All the ban did was up sales to Russia and China–and they don’t have the same welfare (regulations) as the EU or that we do,” Duquette said. “The regulation is a (horse) welfare issue, and it lessens the welfare of horses.”
Tom Lenz, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACT, said that an estimated 5 million horses are processed for human consumption worldwide each year.
“The last time I checked, China was processing roughly 2.5 million horses a year for food,” he said.
Meanwhile, the number of U.S. horses exported to both Mexico and Canada has stabilized between 130,000-150,000 per year, he said.
“I don’t see that changing much,” Lenz said.
In any case, Lenz said import/export rules won’t make tracking the number of U.S. horses exported for slaughter any easier in the future.
“It’s my understanding that starting this year the U.S. Department of Agriculture is no longer keeping track of the number of horses exported for slaughter,” Lenz said. “So, we really won’t know in the future if the numbers are increasing or decreasing no matter what regulations are established on either the Canadian or Mexican side.”