The horse “passport” Canada relies on to keep toxic meat off dinner tables around the world is open to fraud and error, a Star investigation reveals.
Using undercover reporters, the Star found problems with passports — which are supposed to detail a horse’s complete medical history — for several horses headed to the slaughterhouse.
The Star also obtained 10 passports, nine of which were incomplete or mistake-filled.
In some cases, signatures did not match the names of people claiming to be the horse’s owner. In other interactions witnessed at a busy Waterloo-area auction house, the document was partially filled out by an auction-house worker instead of the owners.
What was seen at auction confirms the findings of an international audit obtained by the Star: that Canada’s ability to trace prohibited drugs in food-bound horses “is inadequate” to protect consumers. Some common horse medications, like “bute” and nitrofurazone, are linked to causing bone-marrow disease and cancer in people if eaten in meat.
Canada’s equine information document is the first step in protecting the public from drug-tainted meat. The document is a type of animal passport that relies on voluntary ownership disclosure of information such as a horse’s physical description, its primary use — racehorse, for example — and drug history.
About $90 million in horsemeat from more than 80,000 animals is exported from Canada annually. Each horse to be slaughtered is to have a passport stating it is free of drugs that would be dangerous to humans if consumed. Horsemeat is a common dish eaten in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan and Quebec, and is even available at select restaurants in Toronto.
Concerns over public exposure to tainted meat has intensified in recent years as thousands of racehorses — raised on powerful drugs to boost performance — enter the slaughter pipeline, most of them coming from the United States into Canada since the closure of U.S. slaughterhouse facilities in 2007.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s cash-strapped racing industry has fewer tracks, race dates and prize money than a year ago — rendering thousands of racing thoroughbreds, standardbreds, quarter horses and their breeding stock unnecessary.
European Union food safety regulators have pushed Canada for tighter passport and drug-testing controls for domestic and American horses. But the Star’s investigation, where we examined specific cases, found horses with drug histories that should prevent them from becoming food can easily slip through the system.
In two cases tracked by the Star, Backstreet Bully, a former Frank Stronach racehorse, and Holly, a 23-year-old trail horse, were sold at the Ontario Livestock Exchange auction near Waterloo with false or misleading claims on their passports.
Backstreet Bully was slaughtered in Quebec in January, though it is unclear whether his meat entered the food chain — neither the government or slaughterhouse officials would tell us. Backstreet Bully had been given multiple doses of phenylbutazone (bute) and nitrofurazone during his life.