Journey to death for unwanted horses in Canada

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      By Lynn Curwin

      Many horses from Canada and the U.S. are ending up on dinner plates in other parts of the world.

      Race horses which are no longer fast enough to win, ponies children have outgrown, and old show horses often end up spending their last moments facing a frightening death in a slaughterhouse.

      Thousands of horses are slaughtered in Canada every year, with most of the meat being shipped to continental Europe and Asia. Since the last U.S. horse slaughter facility closed in September 2007, the industry has grown in Canada, according to a CBC report.

      “Canada seems to be quickly becoming the horse-slaughter capital of the world,” said Twyla Francois, central region director of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition. “My investigations in the U.S. showed that horses in the mid to northern states were all coming up to Canada to be slaughtered. Those in the southern states (Texas and New Mexico primarily) were sent to slaughterhouses in Mexico.”

      The journey to the slaughter house is often a painful and frightening experience. Many of the horses shipped for slaughter are already suffering from health problems, which makes the trip even more difficult for them.

      “The horses were, and continue to be, suffering during transport,” said Francois. “We've recently captured horrible beatings to get horses loaded - horses rearing, falling, and tripping, with men beating them with whips and sticks. They're also still being loaded on double decker trailers. I shot footage in July of horses being loaded on double decker trailers. A CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) inspector was standing there and while shooting into the trailer I asked him if he'd ensured the horses metal shoes were pulled before loading. I have him saying "Of course I made sure they were pulled!" then panning the camera down to the hooves where their metal shoes are clearly visible. So we know they're still being loaded on double-deckers, and we know they still aren't having their metal shoes pulled so we can surmise that the death tolls are as high as they ever were from kicking, head wounds, loading of injured, loading stallions with mares and young horses etc. Just last month I recorded the overloading of a small trailer with far too many adult horses. They were so crowded they were immobilized.”

      Horses from the U.S. were arriving late at night, when no one was present to check on their welfare, which is against the US Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter regulations.

      “The US regs require a vet to be present to euthanize any suffering horses,” explained Francois. “Instead, they were being dragged off and left unattended with no food, water or medical attention. The slaughter process itself was inhumane at both Richelieu and NVF (Natural Valley Farms). Thirty percent of the hits with the captive bolt pistol at NVF were inaccurate, resulting in horses not losing consciousness but being pushed through the butchering line none-the-less. In hidden camera footage we obtained you can actually hear the CFIA vet and workers woo-hooing and yelling "Look at him go!" at a horse who's just had his hoofs cut off.”

      Natural Valley Farms slaughtered horses from 2007-2009. It was closed in February, 2009, although a buyer is now being sought for the facility.

      In May 2008 the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition was provided with video footage and photos taken at NVF. It showed horses waiting in pens. Some had obvious tumors and injuries. The animals had no food or water, and were so tightly packed that it was impossible to lie down.

      There was also footage of the slaughter process. It showed terrified horses in a kill pen, while a slaughter house worker attempted to shoot them in the head with a captive bolt. Some of these horses trembled in fear as they moved about to avoid the gun. The horses were also exposed to the sounds of saws, compressors, clanging metal, and frightened horses; as well as the smell of blood.

      In the CBC documentary, “No Country for Horses” Dr. Temple Grandin, who has designed slaughter pens, said that the pens in the video footage were designed for cattle and were unsuitable for horses. The sides were not high enough, and the pen was too wide (allowing for too much movement). She said non-slip flooring is essential in pens used for slaughtering horses. The horses in the footage were shown scrambling and falling as they slipped on blood.

      After viewing the footage Dr. Nicholas Dodman, section head and program director of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said that many horses were not unconscious when they were butchered, as required by the Meat Inspection Act. He said that horses experienced “sheer terror”, and that some were clearly not dead before the butchering began.

      The Canadian Food Inspection Agency allows for about five per cent of animals to wake up during the slaughter process.

      Twyla Francois examined bodies and remains of horses from NVF which were dumped in a field. She found no evidence of bolt or gun wounds in some of the heads, raising questions about whether these horses were still alive when butchered. If a horse is shot in the base of skull with a captive bolt it is immobilized but still conscious.

      There are currently six horse slaughter plants now operating in Canada. They are Viande Richelieu Inc. in Massueville, Quebec; Les Viandes de la Petite-Nation Inc, in St. Andre-Avellin, Quebec; Bouvry Export in Calgary; Medallion Meats International Inc. in Kamloops, B.C.; Canadian Premium Meats Inc. in Red Deer, Alberta; and 948685, also doing business as Norval Meats, in Southgate, Ontario.

      More information on equine slaughter in Canada can be found online in the Black Beauty Betrayed report and at the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition.



      Patricia Bewley, Vice President the RACE Fund

      Dec 17, 2009 at 2:36pm

      How can human people do these things. no amount of profit will ever justify this. judgement will come someday on all of this and those who do this.

      Paradise Stable Horse Rescue

      Dec 18, 2009 at 7:35am

      This is so terrible. As an operator of a rescue I feel helpless in this fight. I have come to the conclusion that the general public would rather brush it under the carpet than face the reality of this horror. People do not want to believe that humans can be so cruel and that this must not really be happening to these wonderful horses. Is this what the end result is..after years of loyalty to the owners? We need to be more vocal on these issues and help out in all possible ways, media, letters, and please support the rescues as we are the only safe haven these horses have and we cannot do it alone.


      Jan 5, 2010 at 5:20am

      I do not understand this cruelty - how can anyone take a horse that has given you so much of his life to you and then submit him to these horible conditions-I'm sure we all would like to die in diginity when its our time, so would they !!!
      How do we stop this !!!


      Jan 12, 2010 at 8:23am

      This is so heartbreaking. I just hope and pray that the Indian reserve (whom is taking a vote on January 13) will make the right decision and not reopen the Natural Valley plant. Surely there is a better way to make a buck. Horses are such beautiful and proud creatures, and should be treated as such. Humans on the other hand, are too stupid and arrogant for their own good. I cannot believe that professional veterinarians and inspectors were behaving the way they did. You bastards do not deserve to have jobs, I hope what goes around comes around for all of you.


      Sep 16, 2011 at 2:11pm

      I had the great misfortune of viewing photos and video footage of mexican and canadian horse slaughter.Slaughter is not the right term,but sheer brutality cruelty and total disrespect.It makes me sick to the pit of my stomach and deeply disturbed to have seen such practices and to know that there are people who physically carry this out.I do beleive we need to end some horses lives .Euthanasia not LIVE BUTCHERY.Thanks to those determined and brave people who tirelessly campaign to try and make lifes end a little easier for ,certainly my favourite friend,the horse .


      Jan 17, 2014 at 10:57pm

      Get the petition from the Canadian horse defence coalition and have people sign it to support Bill c-322. Pressure our politicians. 2/3 of Canadians are against this! We are setting up an info session and petition table in our community for two days, I encourage others to do the same for the gentle giants that carried us into the 21st century <3


      Dec 11, 2014 at 7:23pm

      Please, im literally nauseated and feeling woozy after reading this article about the horse apalled, im sickened, and yet, im not surprised....we humans have the capacity of being heartless, cruel, disgusting evil monsters. We are the animals. Honestly, this is unacceptable.please tell me where to sign or what i can do right now to make this stop. How can i help?