The Toronto Star has written again about the horse slaughter issues here in Canada. Granted, I appreciate their effort. Their reach to educate the public is much farther than mine with my lowly little blog. This is simply my personal concern and disgust with the system.
For some reason, the Star falls short or even seems to avoid calling out the true reason why Equine Information Documents (EID) fail. They also seem to only refer to the racehorses entering the system being a problem when all horses are highly suspect of being drugged. Pleasure horses are just as likely to be dosed with anti inflammatory drugs such as phenylbutazone or “bute” (a banned drug for human consumption). It’s common and cheap. Think along the same lines as when you take an advil or tylenol for various ailments, bumps, pains and inflammation.
The Canadian Horse Defense Coalition regularly posts the breed representation of the weekly auction at OLEX on their facebook page. This past week of 75 horses, approximately one third were potentially race horses. It’s not to say that race horses entering the slaughter system aren’t a problem, however they aren’t the only problem. Not by a long shot.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires EID’s for all horses entering the slaughter system:
“It is mandatory for all operators of Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspected facilities in Canada engaged in equine slaughter for edible purposes to have complete identity and medical records for all animals (domestic and imported) presented for slaughter. These records are referred to as equine information documents.
A completed individual animal information document is referred to as an Equine Information Document (EID) and contains a standardized description of the animal, as well as a comprehensive record of the equine’s medical treatment for at least the preceding six months.”
It’s as obvious as the nose on a horses face. The so-called “owners” of a horse who is physically delivering the animal to the slaughter facility or abattoir and filling out the EID paperwork, hasn’t owned the horse for “the preceding six months”. In fact most haven’t owned the horses for 6 days. Some for only hours at best.
“Kill Buyers” are contract purchasers for slaughter plants who go around purchasing horses for slaughter. It makes no sense to have individuals submit their individual horses to the plant. Multiple people, single or two horses per trailer, parking, trailering costs, individual haggling over price, the emotional turmoil of some while handing over their horses to their deaths…. The logistics are overwhelming, time consuming and costly.
Therefore, the plants employ “kill buyers” to deliver multiple horses per load, price already set, no emotional attachment, very aware of the process, speedy and effective. Efficient business practices allow for lucrative returns.
*Please note that it is not lost on me that this may very well be “by design” on the part of the slaughter industry. Encouraging a recent, short-term ownership scenario where the “owner” will be unlikely to be aware of the medical history means fewer declarations of drug administration. Fewer declarations means fewer rejections, lower statistics and a perceived “safe” source of food overall. The cycle continues seemingly unquestioned and unchallenged.*
The reality is that the individuals submitting the animals have no idea of what the animals may or may not have had administered to them in the last six months. The ink is barely dry on their ownership papers before the horse is entering the slaughter house gates. Many of the animals who have found themselves in the slaughter system have been through several owners in the weeks leading to slaughter. Sometimes there’s a paper trail, many times there’s not. Many are sold on nothing more than a handshake.
It is the very nature of horse ownership in North America that has required this disassociation between ownership and ‘dissolvement’. Owners in North America purchase horses for business or pleasure. When the business fails, when the pleasure ends, when the costs rise, when the kids grow up, when the horse ages or becomes injured, when life changes; horses need to move on. When a buyer cannot be found, what is an owner to do? Horses are not like cars, they cannot be put up on blocks in storage to wait until something better comes along. A horse enjoyed or a horse unwanted, both are equally costly. There are two choices: Euthanasia or Auction
Euthanasia: Call the vet, pay for the farm call and euthanasia. Either have themselves or someone on their behalf assist the vet. Watch the animal die. The emotional turmoil is a very heavy burden.
If the owners have property, they may be able to bury the horse on their own (pay for a back hoe or dig it on their own). For those who don’t have that option, a call is made to a company to come and take the body away. The total cost may be anywhere from $300 and up (most often much higher, generally around $700.00).
Auction: Ship the horse to auction. Get a few hundred dollars back, prices range. The horse may go to a home, may go to a dealer who will resell it or to a kill buyer for slaughter. While it would be nice to have an “only to a home” option, there is no such option available. Sending your horse to auction means it goes to the highest bidder, regardless of what their intentions are for the animal.
For someone caught in a financial shortfall, shipping to auction is a last resort. If they had the money for euthanasia, they spend it on keeping the horse longer, in hopes that their situation would turn around. A couple more months of doing anything in their power to sell the horse or even “free to a good home”. At the end, some money back is often the only light in a horrible situation.
For a business person who has found that the horse is no longer satisfying their needs, spending money for euthanasia versus getting money of auction is a non-starter. Why would they “throw good money after bad” when there is a further opportunity to make money? Even if it is at a loss, some money in hand is better than money out of pocket. As distasteful as it may sound to horse lovers, it makes business sense.
These decisions are what fuel the horse slaughter industry. Owners are able to say good bye on the farm. Simply load their horse up on a trailer and pretend that is the end of it. Their last memories of the horse are of happily grooming them, giving them a last carrot or apple and a pat as they load.
They don’t follow the horse through the feedlot. The terrifying conditions, potential injuries and poor treatment, the often dangerous transportation to the slaughter plants or the brutal and terrifying slaughter process. If they had to participate, I am sure the rates of horses sent to slaughter would plummet.
Keep in mind that before someone “gives up” on a horse, all other options have been exhausted. Horses that are lame are medicated. Horses that have behavioural issues are drugged. Horses that are in competition are treated. Horses that are not performing well are prescribed various last ditch cocktails. Horses with fertility issues are given hormones. When all of the medications fail, they go to auction and slaughter. A horse gone to auction is often at the highest risk of being drugged simply because people wanted to be sure they “tried everything” before shipping them.
Another consideration is that many horses are sold via various avenues. Barn managers, trainers, riders, auctions…. Most of which may or may not be aware of the horses previous medical history. They may have gone through multiple owners in a short period of time. Some become “auction rats” where they are shipped from auction to auction, sold to be sold again.
Due to this convenient buffer between the tranquil barn setting and the horrific scene at the slaughter house, people are given free reign. Free of guilt. Free of responsibility. Call it fraudulent. Call it ignorance. Either way – unless a horse has been under the same ownership for the last 6 months and goes directly from that owner to slaughter, there is no way anyone can possibly vouch for the medical history of the animal. The EID cannot possibly be filled out accurately in the vast majority of cases. Add that being completely honest on an EID will limit your potential customer base and there’s little to no policing, fraudulent entries are rampant.
EIDs fail because the system surrounding it is broken. You cannot ensure the safety of meat for consumption of an animal not raised for consumption. You cannot demand clarity and compliance for long term medical histories from a system that demands short term ownership before slaughter.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Horses are NOT raised as food animals in North America. Therefore they should never, ever be consumed. The drugs they are given, the supplements they are put on, the vaccinations they are given, the topical treatments applied to them, none are given with the assumption or consideration that the animal may be eaten. It doesn’t matter if they are Canadian or American horses. No horse meat coming out of North America is safe for consumption.