Dirty little secret: Canada’s slaughter industry under fire
Star reporters tail a transport truck filled with horses bought at a U.S. ‘kill’ auction, bound for slaughter – and dinner – in Quebec.
From: The Toronto Star
By: Robert Cribb and David Graham
From the surrounding fields where these horses spent their lives, they will be shipped 1,300 kilometres north across the border to one of four Canadian slaughterhouses specializing in horse meat production.
After long journeys in a cramped transport trucks, they will be killed – shot with a .22 calibre rifle placed between their eyes – and slaughtered, their meat eventually landing on dinner tables in Canada, Europe and Asia.
It’s a $70 million Canadian industry that’s flourishing despite growing concerns over treatment of the animals and a debate over the potential health risk to humans posed by the drugs they are fed.
At one “kill” auction attended by Star reporters last Friday, more than 60 horses were crammed into pens without hay or water in temperatures topping 35 degrees Celsius.
Some kicked and nipped at each other in the unusually cramped quarters where they remained for hours. Others were apparently too weak to fight. The spines and ribs of several jutted out from beneath their hides. A deep red gash on the hip of one gleamed in the dim lights of the barn.
The idea of horses — often viewed as majestic “companion” animals — being slaughtered for food triggers discomfort, even outrage, in Canadians who consider the practice inhumane.
Those in the horse slaughter industry call such assertions naïve, insisting they provide a necessary service, feeding European demand for the exotic meat with a glut of horses whose owners can no longer care for them.
After the U.S. banned horse slaughter for human consumption in 2007 under mounting pressure from animal welfare groups, Canada and Mexico picked up the reins.
Since then, Canada has quietly become a major international horse meat supplier, exporting close to 20,000 tonnes each year to Europe and Asia. Canadians consume another 300 tonnes of horse each year, mostly in Quebec.
A year before the last U.S. horse plant shut down in 2007, Canada slaughtered about 50,000 horses. Since then, the number of horses killed annually has nearly doubled to between 90,000 and 113,000 over the past three years.
Along with that economic windfall have come concerns about the lengthy transportation of horses across the U.S. to Canada and insufficient monitoring of drug residues in meat that could threaten public health.
European Union officials have told Canada to tighten its drug residue surveillance on export meat — including horse — by 2013. And it’s sending inspectors here on an audit mission to examine the issue in September.