*Note: I would love to see this shared widely across China, Japan, France, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, Tonga, Italy, Kazakhstan and all other countries that frequent horse meat in their diets. I’m genuinely interested in their impressions regarding Canadian horse meat, how it is marketed to them and the safety of it.
So the thought occurred to me that maybe the people who eat “Canadian” horse meat, aren’t aware of what’s really on their plates. Are they picturing wide open pastures with rolling green hills and horses leisurely grazing in the summer sun? Grass fed, no pesticides and medication free? Do they think our horses do this 365 days a year?
THERE ARE NO HORSE FARMS RAISING HORSE MEAT LIKE THIS IN NORTH AMERICA! In fact, there are no horse farms raising horse meat. Period.
In North America, we have horses to ride, drive, race, jump, perform, compete, breed and to have as pets. I have never met a single person who raised a horse from birth for consumption. Ever. No one here raises a horse like they do a cow. No one here looks at a horse in the same way they look at a cow.
What we do raise are horses that do a job, closely with people. They are very versatile! Even if they are “only pets”.
For horses to work in such close proximity with people, we treat them with care. Bathing, brushing, trimming, clipping…. Many stay in stalls so that they’re safe and warm at night. Turned out in fields during the day when they’re not working. Feed specifically brought in just for them. Supplements for good feet, shining coats, endurance and speed. Everything and anything that might give them the edge in their chosen vocation.
So far it doesn’t sound like anything that would eliminate horse meat from your plate (unless the idea of eating someone’s pet or partner upsets you).
What is ALSO on your plate
Since North American horse owners never consider that their horse may end up on someone’s plate, we administer drugs, supplements and pesticides to them to ease their lives with us. Flies are pests that bother our horses and distract them from working with us. We spray them with fly spray. Internal parasites compromise our horses health, we dose them with medication to kill them. Our horses develop soreness that inhibit their ability to work. We treat them with pain killers and anti-inflammatory medication. We want them to run faster or jump higher. We treat them with various cocktails of drugs to improve their performance. We want to breed them outside of their normal seasons or assure conception in a short time frame. We give them hormones to achieve that.
“You better not give that to your horse, you won’t be able to send him for meat if you do.” Said no horse owner EVER. It simply is not a thought or given a moment of consideration.
Many would argue that our horses in North America are over medicated. They’re probably right. There are much more holistic approaches that would not expose our horses to contaminants and pesticides. However what I’ve described above is the norm. It is not the exception, it is generally the rule for North American horses.
During an informal poll, I asked horse owners what they generally give to their horses. No race horse owners or trainers responded (yet), so these are your general, run of the mill, majority approach to horse care.
Deworming: Ivermectin is probably the most common deworming medication. Rotated with others, it is typically in everyone’s rotation. Reading the data sheet for Ivermectin it warns against:
“First aid measures
- General information:No special measures required.
- After inhalation: Not an expected route of entry. Seek immediate medical advice.
- After skin contact: Immediately wash with water and soap and rinse thoroughly.
- After eye contact: Rinse opened eye for a minimum of 15 minutes under running water. Get medical attention immediately.
- After swallowing: Immediately call a doctor.
- Information for doctor: Direct contact with the eye can cause irritation. Ivermectin is non-irritating to the skin in animal studies.
- General protective and hygienic measures: Wash hands before breaks and at the end of work.
- Avoid contact with the eyes and skin.
- Do not eat, drink, smoke or inhale.
- Do not store food in the working area.
- Protection of hands:
- Rubber or other impervious gloves: Penetration time of glove material. The exact break through time has to be found out by the manufacturer of the protective gloves and has to be observed.
- Eye protection: Safety goggles.
- Safety phrases: Do not empty into drains, dispose of this material and its container at hazardous or special waste collection point
- Water hazard class: Water hazard class 2 (Self-assessment): hazardous for water.
- General notes:
- Water hazard class 2 (Self-assessment): hazardous for water
- Do not allow any volumes of product to reach ground water, water source or sewage system.
- Danger to drinking water if even small quantities leak into the ground.“
So if you shouldn’t touch it, you need to seek medical attention “immediately” if you swallow it and it is a danger to drinking water “if even small quantities leak into the ground” – do you really want to eat the animal that it’s been given to?
Most horse are given deworming medication every 3 months in North America. Chances are, this is in your horse meat. This is just deworming! Something done routinely, without thought, even kids know to deworm their horses.
Phenylbutazone or “Bute”: According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food: “Phenylbutazone (Bute) is an analgesic (relieves pain) and anti-inflammatory medication, commonly used for the treatment of lameness in horses. It belongs to a group of medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Phenylbutazone is available in many preparations for horses, including 1-gram tablets, oral paste syringes (containing 6 grams or 12 grams/syringe), an injectable (200 mg/ml in 100-ml vials) and oral powder. Bute is one of the most common medications administered to horses.”
In my personal experience, I don’t know of any horse owner who has not given “bute” to their horse at some point in time. Just as people reach for an asprin, tylenol or advil, for aches and pains; horse owners reach for bute for the same issues in their horses. It’s generally thought to be safe, effective and a non-issue unless they require constant dosages in which case, they need to move on to a new drug.
It is no longer approved for use in humans as it was found to “cause severe adverse effects such as suppression of white blood cell production and aplastic anemia.” Again, do you want to eat the animal who has been given this medication?
Hormones: Regumate is given to mares to suppress estrus (heat) to improve behaviour (a mare in heat is distracted and often difficult to manage as well as a distraction to the other horses around her, especially stallions). It can also be given to aid in breeding, as when the medication is removed, her cycles become regular and easier to anticipate breeding times.
Regumate warnings: “WARNING: Do not use in horses intended for food.
HUMAN WARNINGS: Skin contact must be avoided as Regu-Mate® (altrenogest) Solution 0.22% is readily absorbed through unbroken skin. Protective gloves must be worn by all persons handling this product. Pregnant women or women who suspect they are pregnant should not handle Regu-Mate® (altrenogest) Solution 0.22%. Women of child bearing age should exercise extreme caution when handling this product. Accidental absorption could lead to a disruption of the menstrual cycle or prolongation of pregnancy. Direct contact with the skin should therefore be avoided. Accidental spillage on the skin should be washed off immediately with soap and water.
INFORMATION FOR HANDLERS:
WARNING: Regu-Mate® (altrenogest) Solution 0.22% is readily absorbed by the skin. Skin contact must be avoided; protective gloves must be worn when handling this product.”
This is not a product that you would want on your plate, in your food. What are the chances this could be in your food? Well, 50% of horses are mares…. If they were being shown, bred, raced, in any level of competition or had issues with their cycles, chances are good. It’s a common, proven solution for mare owners.
Fly Spray: Flies are a real pest in the horse world. They’re distracting and cause painful bites. It is generally accepted to have some sort of fly spray for horses. Sometimes you can get away with a home made recipe if the owner is so inclined. However commercial solutions are very common and sometimes the flies are so bad where nothing but a commercial product will do. In DuraGuard made by Absorbine, it is sprayed on horses and absorbed into their systems (please note that I’m using this product only as an example, there are hundreds out there, but Absorbine is a very common and popular brand). During fly season, fly spray is used widely and often. Warnings on the label:
“PRECAUTIONARY STATEMENTS, HAZARDS TO HUMANS & DOMESTIC ANIMALS CAUTION: Harmful if absorbed through the skin. Avoid contact with skin, eyes, or clothing. Wash hands thoroughly after handling and before eating, drinking, chewing gum, or using tobacco. Remove and wash contaminated clothing before reuse.
ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS: This pesticide is extremely toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water. Do not contaminate water when disposing of equipment washwaters or rinsate. This pesticide is toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow drift when bees are actively visiting treatment area.
PHYSICAL AND CHEMICAL HAZARDS: Do not apply this product around electrical
equipment due to the possibility of shock hazard.
If swallowed, If on skin or clothing:
• Immediately call a poison control center or doctor.
• Do not induce vomiting unless told to do so by poison control center or doctor.
• Do not give any liquid to the person.
• Do not give anything by mouth to an unconscious person.
• Take off contaminated clothing.
• Rinse skin immediately with plenty of water for 15-20 minutes.
• Call a poison control center or doctor for treatment advice.
Have the product container or label with you when calling a poison control center or doctor, or going for treatment. For information regarding medical emergencies or pesticide incidents, call 1-888-740-8712.”
If it’s absorbed through the skin, it would be in the meat, on your plate.
Other very common drugs are, but not limited to:
- clenbuterol (ventipulmin) treatment of breathing issues
- flunixin (banamine) anti inflammatory
- dexamethasone – anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant
- various antibiotics given intravenously, orally and topically
- various steroids
Horse owners first and only concern when treating their horses are their needs at the time and the well being of their horse. There is ZERO consideration given to the possibility of human consumption of their horse. None.
The conditions of the system submitting horses to slaughter are not rolling green pastures. Far from it.
Horses submitted to auction are often thin, due to being given up on by their owners, due to stress of going through the system or due to poor quality feed (or differing feed from they are accustomed to). No longer individually cared for, they are often dirty and matted, many pick up lice due to close quarters and cross infection from other various animals going through the auction process.
Some horses then remain for days in the feedlot, waiting to be either resold or shipped to the slaughter plant.
Horses who receive injuries either at auction or in the feedlot (strange horses, stressed, disoriented may fight or injure each other) most often don’t receive treatment. If they were to receive any medications it would (theoretically) negate them from the possibility of being slaughtered. Open wounds, painful and distressed – there is no relief.
Transportation of horses is another concern. Horses do not travel well. They require support, divisions from one another and careful footing. Unlike cattle, they cannot be transported “en masse”. Attempts to transport multiple horses often result in injuries. Also the conditions that some allow are criminal. No feed, no water for many hours, dehydration is common, along with over heating. Add the panic factor of horses, should they fall either due to distress or by loss of footing, they are trampled by the others. Injuries abound with no relief offered, some arrive dead at the plant.
Lastly, our slaughter methods for horses are intended for cattle. Although deemed legal, it is hardly effective or humane. Numerous complaints have been lodged finding horses hit multiple times incorrectly by a captive bolt shot: “The principle behind captive bolt stunning is a forceful strike on the forehead using a bolt to induce unconsciousness. The bolt may or may not destroy part of the brain.” Due to the flight nature of a horse, getting them to stay still to place the carefully placed shot is difficult, resulting in multiple strikes and torture to the horse.
Canadian Horse Meat Is NOT Always Canadian
American horses are transported north of the border every day to Canadian slaughter plants. There is nothing in place to stop the practice. Even though many EU nations have banned American horse meat due to the drug infestation of the stock, meat labeled as Canadian is accepted. The issue of course is that since the meat is processed in Canada, the meat therefore becomes Canadian.
What surprises me is that practices of horsemanship in Canada and the US are the same. The same drugs, the same approaches, the same treatments and training methods. The horses are equal – so why Canadian horse meat would be acceptable while American horse meat is not, is laughable in a very sad sense of the word. In reality, they are the same as the horses come from both places for processing.
For the record, the same issues apply to Mexican horse meat. The vast majority of Mexican horse meat are from American horses, transported south of the boarder. Although unimaginable how things can be worse, apparently the conditions there are much worse than here. For these horses, they are tormented and tortured in their last days to their last dying moment.
The Face Of Your Meat
There are common misconceptions both of horse meat consumers and of horse lovers of the types of horses that go to slaughter. Although I cannot speak for horse meat consumers, I would think that they’d be interested in the fact that the horses are not of one type or age.
There have been foals born at feed lots. Foals a the sides of their dams, weanlings and yearlings at auction. Healthy babies which for no other reason than being unwanted for some reason, are in the lot. All can be purchased by a kill buyer. Elderly, sick, lame and injured horses are sent to auction. They can be purchased for meat as well. Ex-racehorses no longer competitive enough to earn their keep. Some who had earned their owners and trainers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Once celebrated in winners circles with flowers around their necks, also wind up in the lot. Camp horses that brought children to tears to leave them at the end of the summer. Show horses discarded at the end of the season for their next up and coming horse. Mares that are now barren. Pets that have become too much to afford in this economy. All, the full range, all ages, all breeds – whatever they can purchase that is equine – are at auction and going to slaughter.
There are still those in the horse industry that think only “sick”, “old” or “lame” horses are submitted. They believe that young or healthy horses don’t go to auction and they certainly don’t go to slaughter. They are dead wrong. Go to the facebook page of the Need You Now Equine Alumni. Each one was adopted from a kill buyer. Each one a step away from being loaded on a trailer to a new home or a trailer to slaughter. That close. Stop sticking your heads in the sand. This is reality.
If you trust the system, horses are turned away from slaughter. The truth is there is no quality control. There are no breeds considered a higher grade as there is in cattle. There are no claims of “grass fed”. The only requirement is that it is a horse.
For those that eat horse meat, please reconsider your choice. The range of drugs possible to end up on your plate is staggering. The horrific circumstances and immoral practices under which the horses are slaughtered should be more than enough to deter anyone. Lacking any ethical solution, the only choice is to boycott Canadian horse meat and put an end to the slaughter.