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.