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The Great Canadian Horse Meat Scandal – A Political Affair (Part 1)

by JANE ALLIN

Part-1

May 14, 2014 was a lamentable day for horse advocates on both sides of the Canadian-American border. An opportunity to effectively shutter the horse slaughter industry was lost due to a stubborn and unrelenting political party whose members blindly accept their leader’s dictatorial rule without reflection on what ill-effects the outcome has on humans and animals alike.

A Big Brother nation of fools – mindless robots adhering to political policy out of fear, greed and the despicable disregard for food safety. Clearly this was an unashamed demonstration of a non-democratic movement to safeguard their over-inflated salaries, the comfort of ludicrous benefits and ever-growing monopoly of money over basic principles that govern decency, goodwill and stewardship of morality. Ignorance is blissfully ignorant, at any cost.

Bill C-571, a Private Members food safety bill and successor to Bill C-322, was defeated by Canadian Parliament by a margin of 102 yeas (40%) to 155 nays (60%).

BC Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko introduced Bill C-571 to the House of Commons earlier this year when it became apparent that Bill C-322 would not have sufficient parliamentary support to survive the second reading as a result of the negative impacts it would have on trade. In other words entirely political in nature and exclusive of accountability for animal welfare or food safety.

While the goal of Bill-322 was to prohibit the importation or exportation of horses and horse meat products for human consumption, the premise of Bill C-571 targets food safety which, in theory, should not impact trade.

This enactment amends the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act to prohibit the sending or conveying from one province to another — or the importing or exporting — of horses or other equines for slaughter for human consumption or the production of meat products for human consumption. It also provides for an exception to that prohibition.” [1]

What this “exception” implies is that the only way a horse or other equine can enter the food chain is if he/she were raised for that express purpose. To avoid loopholes in the system an accompanying prerequisite involves the submission of a medical record containing a standardized description of the horse together with a complete lifetime record, in chronological order, of all medical treatments received.

Fundamentally this is equivalent to the EU equine passport structure where strict enforcement of a passport system is in effect. Moreover, the EU system, which has been in place since 1996, requires mandatory micro-chipping that further reinforces the system as a measure to preclude passport forgeries. That said, the stringency of the EU system is decidedly questionable, but nonetheless serves as a model to facilitate the segregation of ineligible horses thereby excluding them from the food chain.

WHY BILL C-571

It has long been known that there are serious flaws in the Canadian (and Mexican) horse slaughter industry. Flaws which permit the export of unsafe meat products to countries that consume horse meat as part of a regular diet. The majority of these countries belong to the EU where stringent (take that with a grain of salt) regulations are in place to prevent prohibited drugs from entering the food chain. For the most part, the EU responds by turning a blind eye. This has been going on for years.

Following extensive lobbying initiated by the International Fund for Horses (now The Horse Fund), later joined by European food safety activists, in 2010 the EU issued sanctions requiring the quarantine of horses intended for human consumption who had been administered a laundry list of prohibited substances. The most common among these drugs are phenybutazone and clenbuterol. [2]

To comply with EU regulations, effective July 2010 (finally coming into effect on July 31, 2013), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) required all slaughter-bound horses to have a passport referred to as the Equine Identification Document (EID). Unlike the stricter version of a passport required by the EU, the EID simply calls for “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.” [3] Laughably, despite the serious nature of it all, there is no proof required for this sad excuse for a passport.

What a joke it all is as evidenced by the findings described below.

To start, in 2011:

In May of 2011 a report was released by the European Commission Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) regarding inspections of EU regulated plants in Mexico slaughtering horses for human consumption during the latter part of 2010.

    . . . . a number of serious infractions and actions taken were cited. Some of these violations that failed to meet EU regulations included; hygiene and water quality provided for the horses, non-traceable carcasses some of which were in contact with EU eligible horse meat, presence of EU prohibited drug residues, falsified sworn statements regarding veterinary medical treatment histories including cases of positive results for EU prohibited drug residues.’ ” [4]

Then in July 2012, the European Commission’s RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) reports:

the unauthorised substances clenbuterol (0.0023 mg/kg – ppm) and phenylbutazone (0.0013; 0.0015; 0.0010 mg/kg – ppm) in chilled deboned horse meat and frozen deboned horse meat from Canada

were found during routine testing. [5]

These are not isolated cases.

As a result of lax enforcement, effective July 2013, the EU demanded that all horses slaughtered for human consumption at EU-certified plants in countries that export horse meat to Europe must have a veterinary record listing all medications they have been given during their lifetime. Lifetime? Why then does the EID only require “at least” 6-months?

Nothing has changed, absolutely nothing.

It is no secret that horses are not regarded as food sources here in North America and are therefore not regulated like other “livestock” in regard to medications administered over their lifetime.

Horses bound for slaughter have often changed hands many times over and are gathered from random sources at various stages in their life – there is unquestionably no system in place here in North America that tracks medications and veterinary treatments administered to them to ensure compliance with this broken system.

Moreover, one need only look at the EU and Canadian regulations for prohibited drugs – not just drugs with 6-month withdrawal times but rather drugs that are categorically not permitted for use in horses slaughtered for food – ever. The list is long and many of these drugs are given to horses on a regular basis in both Canada and the US, particularly those in the racing industry, many of whom make their way to the slaughterhouse. [6]

Phenybutazone, clenbuterol, estradiaol, nitrofurazone, boldenone, ventipulmin – the list goes on.

These drugs are prohibited for a reason, yet in all likelihood over 98% of the horses that enter the slaughter pipeline have been administered at least one on the list. Obviously there is no such thing as zero tolerance when it comes to the CFIA. The CFIA is in absolute denial as are all other others who support the horse slaughter industry.

For example:

Phenylbutazone (PBZ)

In horses, phenylbutazone is metabolized in the liver where it is converted to oxyphenbutazone, c-hydroxyphenylbutazone and probably c-hydroxy-phenbutazone and follows a bi-exponential model of decay.” [7]

In other words since the kinetics and drug activity of phenylbutazone and its metabolites (e.g. oxyphenbutazone) are characteristic of a bi-exponential decay rate (the sum of two single exponential decays), in theory, regardless of the elapsed time there will always be residuals present in blood plasma (i.e. the concept of infinite division).

Oxyphenbutazone has NSAID properties and at one time was thought to be less toxic than PBZ. However, oxyphenbutazone also has serious adverse effects in humans including those of producing aplastic anemia, agranulocytosis, thrombocytopenia, leucopenia, pancytopenia and hemolytic anemia.

The mortality rate of PBZ- and oxytphenbutazone-induced aplastic anemia was 94% and 71% respectively. Overall, the data suggests that the risk for development of the lethal adverse effects in humans by PBZ and oxytphenbutazone are not always dose-dependent indicating an idiosyncratic effect. In addition to its well-known bone marrow suppression effects, PBZ is also associated with a hypersensitivity reaction in the liver which can cause death.

The lack of oversight to prevent horses given PBZ from being sent to slaughter for human consumption as ordered by the FDA indicates a serious gap in food safety and constitutes a significant public health risk.” [8]

Clenbuterol

According to studies done by the Agricultural Research Service, consumption of meat from veal calves exposed to clenbuterol can poison humans. Also recent studies by the ARS suggest that residues in edible tissues in swine exposed to clenbuterol remain high after slaughter, despite a withdrawal period from the drug. Their research has shown that even after a seven-day withdrawal period, the residues of the drug still exceeded European maximum residue levels. In conclusion, clenbuterol use in swine and other livestock was determined to be inconsistent with human consumption standards.” [9]

Nitrofurazone

The use of all nitrofurans, with the exception of furazolidone was banned in the EU in 1993. The ban was introduced because of concerns over the carcinogenicity of these compounds. Two years later, the ban was extended to cover furazolidone. Again, the reasons for the ban were the carcinogenicity of the parent drug, the extensive metabolism of furazolidone and the lack of information concerning the safety of its metabolites. Since then, it has been forbidden to use any nitrofuran in any food-producing animal within the EU, or in any animal destined for export into the EU.” [10]

All three of these drugs are prohibited from ever entering the food chain yet the CFIA states that a horse’s medical history must only show that he/she has not received these drugs “within six months of slaughter” for human food. In any case the truth of it is these EIDs depend solely on the honor system and are routinely falsified.

They skirt the core issue: that most horses slaughtered in Canada have received drugs that disqualify them from the human food chain. They would rather talk about not finding toxic residues in a situation where residue testing is not even applicable.

Let me quote world experts: ‘It is not possible to establish a lower limit of toxicity for Phenylbutazone’, according to the European Medicines Agency and European Food Safety Authority, April 2013.  

What part of that is so hard to understand? Horse slaughter is very much a human health, food safety, and liability issue.” [11]

The CFIA even goes so far as to refuse to say whether drug-tainted horse meat has entered the food chain.

Backstreet Bully was unloaded from a trailer after dawn and led by his halter into an abattoir in rural Quebec. Once owned and raced by Magna’s Frank Stronach, the chestnut thoroughbred was to be slaughtered then packaged for human food.

That same January morning earlier this year, frantic phone calls from the Stronach group tried to save Backstreet Bully’s life — and protect the public from eating toxic meat.

The Star obtained Backstreet Bully’s veterinary records from when he was under Stronach’s care, which show that in addition to bute and nitrofurazone, he had been given numerous other risky substances, such as the anabolic steroid stanozolol.

Most problematic, though, were the 21 applications of nitrofurazone, a topical ointment used to treat skin infections. In Europe, nitrofurazone was banned for use in food-producing animals in 1995 because it was linked to cancer in humans.

Canadian officials gave a conflicting and confusing response about nitrofurazone: the drug cannot ever be administered to a horse that will be eaten by humans, but the horse’s medical history must only show it has not had the drug for six months before it is slaughtered.

What happened to Backstreet Bully’s carcass is a closely guarded secret. Neither the government nor the slaughterhouse owner will say whether the horse’s meat became someone’s dinner somewhere in the world.” [12]

Clearly guilty as charged.

Moreover the greater majority of horses slaughtered in Canadian abattoirs are sourced from the United States; in 2013 of the 71,961 horses slaughtered here, 45,547 or approximately 63% were transported across the Canadian-US border to one of five federally regulated horse slaughter facilities in Canada. [13] Sadly over twice this number of US horses (102,254) met their grisly fate in Mexico.

But the EU does not permit US horsemeat exports.

The Commission is aware of the possible uses of substances in horses which are prohibited in the EU. However, the USA is not authorized to export horse meat to the EU as there is no US official control programme for residues of veterinary drugs approved by the EU.”

Yet the European Commission has failed to stem the tide of horsemeat that makes its way into Canada and Mexico – a decidedly convenient loophole for the horse meat industry and those amoralistic countries involved.

To thwart these accusations and defend their deceitful practices the CFIA consistently gives the same tired response. Here are some excerpts from a letter I received from Colleen Barnes, Executive Director, Domestic Food Safety Systems and Meat Hygiene Directorate (Canada).

The six month time period is considered sufficient since it allows a generous window of opportunity for an animal to naturally eliminate remnants of medication that may have been previously administered.

What about all those drugs that are prohibited from ever entering the food chain regardless of withdrawal times? Or for that matter the falsified EIDs and the fact that many horses, particularly race horses, will have had medications administered within a few days of being slaughtered – there is no shortage of evidence to prove that “stable to table in less than seven days” is a sad reality of the horse slaughter industry.

And then in the same breath:

In the case of drugs where the maximum residue limit is zero, such as phenylbutazone, should any trace of the drug be detected during testing, a risk assessment would be conducted by either CFIA or Health Canada and corrective action would be determined on a case by case basis.”

Incredible – she doesn’t even seem to understand the phrase “prohibited from ever entering the food chain” – phenylbutazone under no circumstances is permitted in any food animal. In point of fact she is confirming that the CFIA is breaking the law.

I also note your comment about CFIA sampling of horsemeat. The National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program is carried out in accordance with internationally accepted CODEX Alimentarius principles and guidelines……The percentage of horsemeat tested for residues is an internationally acceptable sample size that provides Canada and its trade partners with confidence in the safety of Canadian horsemeat.

These so-called internationally accepted guidelines are for “REGULATED” livestock, not horses whose past medication histories are unknown and contaminated with forbidden drugs.

The recently aired 16 x 9 program “Tainted Meat” stated that; “in an email to 16 x 9, the CFIA said its testing typically finds 98% of samples are clean. They’ve tested an average of 385 samples per year since 2010 – less than 0.5% of horses slaughtered over that period”.

Watch the video here: http://globalnews.ca/video/1217746/full-story-tainted-meat/

Clearly this is wishful thinking on the part of the CFIA. This does not mean that 98% of horses were found to be in compliance but rather 98% of 0.5%. Even this is questionable given Ms. Barne’s previous statement plainly indicating that if phenylbutazone was detected “a corrective action would be determined on a case by case basis”.

Out of a total of 332,514 horses slaughtered in Canada since the beginning of 2010 until the end of 2013 only 1540 carcasses were tested (0.46%). Carcasses of horses to whom the majority of have been administered medications on the banned list.

These kinds of sweeping protocols for statistically biased populations, in this case unregulated medication histories, are terribly flawed.

She goes on to say:

The low rate of detections of unacceptable residues in Canadian horsemeat, despite the scrutiny and testing to which it is subjected both here and abroad, speaks to the effectiveness of the system. For this reason, in combination with the absence of reported cases of human illnesses resulting from the consumption of Canadian horsemeat, I can confidently reassure you that the meat is safe.”

Same drivel, different day.

Words from Henry Skjerven, former director of Natural Valley Foods, a beef and horse slaughter plant that went out of business tells a different story from both Ms. Barnes, an abhorrent government lackey, and the CFIA – the true story.

I never saw or heard of the CFIA doing drug screening. The horses were coming in many times offloaded into the hold pen outside the plant, and fifteen minutes later they’re being killed. They see that animal for how long? Seconds. So did they have time to do this and do that, and get everything done they’re supposed to do? My personal opinion is, no.

Skjerven says the CFIA knows the EID system isn’t sufficient to track horses’ veterinary history and ensure the meat is safe, but the agency continues to look the other way.

Have they got their ostrich a** in the air and their head in the sand? Yeah. There is no traceability,” he says. “Yes, the CFIA has changed regulations, but if you actually look at what’s actually going on in the industry, it’s window dressing.” [15]

It has nothing to do with food safety when it comes to horsemeat in Canada, or the EU for that matter; it has everything to do with the unsettling fact that if the foundation of the horsemeat industry and its traceability system were transparent and authenticated there would in fact be no horse slaughter industry. It’s all about the bottom line.

Read Part 2 »

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[1] http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6394749
[2] http://wp.me/p6VVi-626
[3] http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/meat-and-poultry-products/manual-of-procedures/chapter-17/annex-e/eng/1370023131206/1370023203607
[4] http://www.horsefund.org/horse-slaughter-comes-to-town-part-3.php
[5] https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/rasff-window/portal/index.cfm?event=notificationDetail&NOTIF_REFERENCE=2012.1078
[6] http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/meat-and-poultry-products/manual-of-procedures/chapter-17/annex-e/eng/1370023131206/1370023203607#e5
[7] http://www.equinewelfarealliance.org/uploads/Food_and_Chemical_Toxicology_FINAL.pdf
[8] Same as 7.
[9] http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f00/web1/paluska.html
[10] http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y5723e/y5723e0n.htm
[11] http://www.hilltimes.com/letters-to-the-editor/politics/2014/06/02/inhumane-horse-slaughter–happens-despite-cfia/38671
[12] http://www.thestar.com/news/investigations/2013/03/29/star_investigation_ottawa_refuses_to_say_whether_drugtainted_horse_meat_entered_food_chain.html
[13] http://canadianhorsedefencecoalition.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/horses_slaughtered_canada_todec13-2.pdf and http://www.equinewelfarealliance.org/uploads/00-Slaughter_Statistics.pdf
[14] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+WQ+E-2013-003094+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=hr
[15] http://globalnews.ca/news/1186346/tainted-meat-canadas-horse-slaughter-industry-under-fire/

Featured Image: Neon Sign Over a Horse Meat Butcher Shop, France. Source — The Huffington Post

4 thoughts on “The Great Canadian Horse Meat Scandal – A Political Affair (Part 1)”

  1. Why Are Horses The Exception To Every Food Safety Regulation and Protocol that every other Animal “raised for consumption” must Comply with? Why? I just don’t get it! Would Cattle, Poultry and Swine randomly gathered by kill buyers from any ole’ source, with no traceability be eligible for slaughter, for human consumption..not hardly..so why are Randomly gathered Horses!?!?!?!?

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  2. American horses are NOT raised as food animals and should neither be slaughtered for food in Mexico or Canada.

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  3. “Out of a total of 332,514 horses slaughtered in Canada since the beginning of 2010 until the end of 2013 only 1540 carcasses were tested (0.46%).”

    What a pathetic system. Here we have less than one half of one percent of the meat product being tested and this is an assurance that the product is safe. The even sadder and more disgraceful aspect of this is that the horses aren’t tested before they are shipped.

    It is estimated that between 92 and 95% of racehorses have been administered a substance banned for human consumption. No kill buyer is taking blood samples. Thus if they have been administered these drugs that render them legally inedible, they still make this horrific, terrifying inhumane journey,where they are starved, dehydrated, cramped and injured for the sake of being murdered and then less than one half of one percent of them are tested for safe consumption?

    Firstly this is pure torture plain and simple. Secondly there is a great deal of expense and money changing hands on behalf of this futile torture and questionable “food product”: an auction house, a kill buyer, a transport agent, a customs official and the time it takes to “review” the paperwork, an abattoir, a packer, the refrigeration process, the cost of freezing, the cost of transport most possibly to another continent. All these costs are generated from a frightened, tortured, tainted horse that isn’t fit to enter the food chain.

    Now you can add up the potential costs at the other end. The consumer may eat the tainted meat, become ill, incur medical costs, perhaps disability from recovery time necessary from an illness induced from eating the tainted meat, loss of income, or perhaps even death. All for the absolutely inane, inhumane and downright dangerous industry of horse slaughter. Is the product of cheval worth the cost and the risk?

    Is that box of “processed” mystery meat you buy at Tesco’s or Ikea worth all this pain and suffering?

    I have my own conclusion. You tell me!

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