10/13/2012 8:12AM

Canada stops accepting U.S. horses for slaughter

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The United States market for slaughter horses was thrown into confusion Friday after slaughterhouses in Canada appeared to have closed their doors abruptly to U.S. horses, according to slaughter buyers, lower-market horse dealers, and the auctions they frequent.

U.S. horse auction officials said that the situation remained unclear, but it appeared the sudden closure might also apply to Mexico and could be related to European Union concerns over U.S. slaughter horses’ medication histories and veterinary documentation. As of late Friday night, slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico had not issued statements regarding their policies on U.S. equine imports, leaving auctioneers and slaughter buyers across the U.S. in limbo as auction houses canceled or postponed sales.

“We canceled upon hearing from some of our buyers that they would not be on the market because they would not be accepting horses into Canada,” said one Western auctioneer who did not want to be identified because he was concerned there could be public backlash against the auction house with which he is affiliated. “Nobody really knows right now if it’s coming from the Canadian government, the EU, or the packing plants.”

“They don’t want our horses, because they can’t ship the meat overseas,” another auction operator said.

Word of the Oct. 12 closures came one day after the European Commission’s Health and Consumers Directorate-General issued its report covering an 11-day audit of Mexican equine slaughter facilities. Although the report found many practices satisfactory at facilities audited by the commission’s Food and Veterinary Office, it called verification of slaughter-bound horses’ veterinary records “insufficient.”

Effective July 31, 2013, the European Union – a major market for meat from U.S. horses slaughtered in Canada and Mexico – will require lifetime medication records for slaughter-bound horses. Both Canada and Mexico have attempted in recent years to tighten their requirements for veterinary records, responding to EU concerns over medications, such as Bute, that it bans from the food chain. But equine welfare advocates have long contended that the affidavits or Equine Identification Documents that are supposed to accompany slaughter-bound U.S. horses, and which detail their veterinary histories, are easily and frequently forged or fabricated as horses pass through the pipeline to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses. The recent FVO audit of Mexican slaughterhouses, which said 80 percent of horses killed in Mexico’s slaughterhouses originated in the U.S., did not use such stark terms but raised serious questions about the affidavits.

“[T]he systems in place for identification, the food chain information and in particular the affidavits concerning the non-treatment for six months with certain medical substances, both for the horses imported from the U.S. as well as for the Mexican horses are insufficient to guarantee that standards equivalent to those provided for by EU legislation are applied,” the Oct. 11 European Commission report said. The report also noted that Mexican officials “are not allowed to question the authenticity or reliability of the sworn statements [affidavits] made by owners of imported horse from the U.S. on veterinary medical treatments,” and that “there is no system in place to verify the declarations” on those horses’ documentation.

The situation could be complicated politically by the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it will audit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency later this month. That word came after a late September E. coli outbreak prompted a Canadian meat packer to recall beef in more than 30  U.S. states, though the Canadian agency has said the audit was planned well before that outbreak and not in response to it. The Canadian agency has suspended the beef packer’s export permit.

Earlier this year, the Quebec slaughterhouse operated by Viande Richelieu returned two former racehorses, Canuki and Cactus Cafe, to Mark Wedig, partly because anti-slaughter advocates were able to show that the horses had been given medications and partly because of publicity surrounding the horses’ sale to the slaughter plant, the anti-slaughter advocates have said.

Leroy Baker, who operates Sugarcreek Livestock Auction in Sugarcreek, Ohio, said Friday night that the tighter EU regulations on horse meat already had contributed to a sharp decline in low-end horse prices, even before word filtered out among slaughter buyers that U.S. horses would not be welcome across U.S. borders.

“I told people the last couple of months who complained about the price, I said, ‘It’s coming, by the first of the year I think the borders will be closed down, so instead of worrying about the price, you better start worrying about getting rid of them,’” said Baker. “It’s probably down, oh, 35 percent. And if it’s shut down, there won’t be any market for 85 percent, maybe even 90 percent, of horses. If they don’t get it worked out and get those places opened back up, there will be absolutely no market.

“Starting the last six months, any horse would bring $150 to $550,” he added. “Now, it’s down from nothing to $400. Today, with the market shut down, it’s from nothing to $100. And that’s just little traders who didn’t realize what happened and they think they’re going somewhere else tomorrow or the next week and sell the same horse over and someone will buy it. But news travels fast. By tomorrow at noon, everybody in the country will know that they’re shut down.”

“It’s going to kill the horse industry in the U.S.A.,” said horse dealer Brian Moore.

Baker said he first heard about the slaughterhouses’ closure to U.S. horses at 6 a.m. Friday morning and said the news took him by surprise. He said he called some horse sellers he knew and told them not to bother bringing their horses to Sugarcreek.

In Davenport, Wash., the Stockland Livestock Auction canceled its Oct. 13 horse sale, saying on its website that “Stockland has just become aware of a possible situation regarding horse exports [as of 10/12/12]. We have reached out to numerous experts and traders in the business and as a result and due to the uncertainty surrounding the information we have so far we have decided to cancel the horse sale. We hope to reschedule later this fall or early in 2013.”

But early Saturday morning it still wasn’t clear how long the market might be tied up, the Western auctioneer said.

“Even if it’s just a 72-hour thing, it still crushes our market,” the auctioneer said. “I’ve heard anywhere from 72 hours to six months or better. It depends on where it’s coming from. If the Canadians are putting a stop to it because of inaccurate EID forms and they want the USDA to get tougher on those, then it could be a short deal. But if this is coming from the EU or it has to do with the European economy, then it could be a lot longer. If the U.S. is not going to guarantee that these horses haven’t had these medications that are banned for food in the EU, and if they can’t find a way to make those records more accurate, then it’s going to be a long deal.”

Meanwhile, many anti-slaughter groups cautiously hailed the apparent shutdown as they, like participants in the slaughter market, scrambled to find clarification on whether policies have, in fact, changed permanently in Canada, Mexico, or the EU.

“The most likely explanation for the sudden move is that the expanded residue testing program has yielded worse than anticipated results,” theorized the Equine Welfare Alliance’s John Holland.

But Sugarcreek’s Leroy Baker countered that a slaughter shutdown would still be bad news for U.S. horses.

“These animal rights people want to save them, but all they do is prolong the agony,” Baker said. “They think they’re saving them. They think they saw starving, thin horses that weren’t [taken] care of before when people could sell them and get something? Just imagine: they will turn them out on the roads and in empty fields and everything now.”

Psyche Williams More than 1 year ago
for all those mentioning europeans not wanting American horsemeat because of drugs you better look at the cattle, swine and poultry. they are vaccinated , loaded up with antibiotics to coming out their ears. this is the real world. people get sick , animals get sick . It is called VACCINATION!!!!
Vince More than 1 year ago
Opening plants will give US citinzens the money instead of giving ALL profits to the Mexicans. A kill horse brings 18 cents per pound at auction today in the us. It is sold at eagle pass tx for 50 cents a pound. After being passing thru the broker at the border It. Is sold at the kill plant in Mexico for over 1.00 per pound. The Mexican Drug Cartel Owns the plants in Mexico. So thanks to our highly intelligent government,, the drug lords in Mexico make a good profit on US citizens. Makes me sick, to think of our ignorance.
Heather Clemenceau More than 1 year ago
The Mexican drug cartels DO NOT own the EU plants in Mexico, Chevideco, a Belgian company, owns Mexico Crown.
Lisa Boswell More than 1 year ago
Just imagine: they will turn them out on the roads and in empty fields and everything now.” I call BS. I believe there are laws against people turning their livestock out on roads. Even an empty field is owned by someone and that is called trespass. So, I find it hard to believe this will come to pass. A more likely result is breeders are going to have to adjust their practices and not pump the market full of unwanted horses, plain and simple. Or they will have to do what responsible dog and cat owners do, euthanize the animal. That is the only way to end an "agony" the animal may be in. However, I hardly call shipping a horse in a cramped livestock rig for 20-30 hours with no food or water and then waiting at a slaughterhouse for the final agonizing end to be relieving it of it's agony. Sounds like that IS the agony.
tony More than 1 year ago
There should be a horse rescue as there is for dogs and cats. Horses of all breeds do good things for the American people and to just discard them like trash is horrendous. Horses have "horse sense" and I think they know they are being abused. Look at all the fun and thrills the thorougbreds, standard breds, and public riding horse, bring to the general public. To treat them like "meat" is disrespectful and inhumane. And I'm not even a PETA member.
Brittany More than 1 year ago
Are you really that ignorant?? There are HUNDREDS, if not THOUSANDS of horse rescues out there, and it still isn't enough. We need an outlet for unadoptable horses in order to keep the horse industry afloat. I am not saying that we don't need changes, but we need to be realistic that there are horses out there that are not suitable riding horses or pets and we cannot let them starve (because that is what WILL happen if slaughter is not an option) Also, are you impervious to the fact that over half of all dogs and cats in shelters are EUTHANIZED every year because they are not adopted?! You seriously need a reality check!!!
PeterG More than 1 year ago
To Suzanne Moore: These commenting sections are not only for making comments about the article above, they are for commenting on what other people here are saying. To me it's a conversation. I was more responding to some comments I read instead of what the article said about BUTE. There's some people below who are disgusted by the idea of horses being slaughtered to eat. I'm not one of them and that was what my comments were about. I read the article.
Ponies Payme More than 1 year ago
Too mant people telling too many people what/how to solve this problem. In the long run, it is just talk. Pretty much what most people do in this country. Stick their noses in ans do nothing. If you are here and have a site for these broken down animals - Great for you!! It still doesn't give you the right to tell someone how to run their business. Yes, it is a business. Worry about yourself/your horses/your life or write a big fat check!!! As problematic as this is . As terrible as it is. As savage as it is......... It's all Nonya
Barbra Arnold More than 1 year ago
hey maam alot of horses are not sick, you r ignorant animal hating
Rob C More than 1 year ago
Bakers problem is that he will lose money, i understand that there are way to many horses out there, i do. But you I have been to several auction barns and i'm telling you they are not cared for or are very little is done for their well being before they are killed, they are in nasty lots no water and no hay no care for those hurt, and if you want to sell a stud you cannot. So what is done is they cut that horse just before it is taken to auction. Don't say i am lieing, I have seen this done, all of it. maybe not all of them do it , but a lot of you do.
Barbra Arnold More than 1 year ago
well what have you done to let people know what is going on, how about contacting the media!!
Mary Adkins-Matthews More than 1 year ago
What Baker and all other pro-slaughter advocates fail to understand that regardless of his position on how it impacts the prices in the market, it is still not right and should be a crime to sell meat from a horse or any animal not bred for food to a human being especially when the animals are clearly being given drugs that are shown to not be meant for an animal for human consumption. No one, no matter how strongly that they believe that it is okay to eat horse meat, wants to eat or feed the meat to their children if it is from a sick and diseased horse or from a horse that is from a race track etc that is filled with drugs.. ABSOLUTELY WRONG
PeterG More than 1 year ago
really didn't say I was solving "the problem" , if it is a problem. I said I'm ok with humans consuming horses if that's what they want to eat. Every other animal on earth gets eaten by somebody, including humans. Bears find humans to be very tasty. I know horses are beautiful animals but so are a lot of animals. Deer are beautiful and millions are killed every year and nobody has a problem with it. Same thing with rabbits. Whales are beautiful and humans are killing them like crazy. Who decides which animals are off limits.? Almost none of them are off limits as far as I"m concerned except for humans eating other humans, although Jeffrey Dahmer might disagree. Sick animal. Rest in Peace to his victims. Yea, it's a complex problem. Maybe we should send unwanted horses to PETA because they are the only ones capable of solving this problem. They will then kill the horses and ask you for a $100 donation so they continue to try and solve this complex problem.
Suzanne Moore More than 1 year ago
Our horses are NOT food animals and are not regulated like food animals. Food animals are raised under strict regulations and documentation from birth to slaughter. There are many substances that cannot be used even once or that animal is permanently removed from the human food chain. None of this applies to horses. There is NO regulation or documentation at all. Substances that are banned for use in food animals are some of the most widely used horse medications and other products. Once any of these products are used on a horse, that horse is no longer eligible for slaughter for human consumption. WHY is this so hard to comprehend? How can everyone not know this already if you have any interest in this subject at all? Maybe you should do a little boning up before you start complaining about how things you know nothing about are handled. These are food safety LAWS in the US, the EU, Canada, Mexico and every other country that HAS food safety regulations. One of the most widely prescribed drugs in equine veterinary medicine is the NSAID phenylbutazone - commonly known as bute. It is so widely used in fact that there are few American horses that have not had at least one dose in their lifetime. That is all it takes to ban these horses permanently from the human food chain. We have no way of tracking which horses have had what drugs and no way of removing contaminated horses from the human food chain. The kill buyers just forge the documentation and off they go. They ALL know the horses are contaminated, but they don't care as long as they can make a buck. As it turns out, this wasn't the "Big One," but it WILL come on or before next July 31. If these people had any brains, they would be preparing for the day when the permanent ban comes down, because the US isn't going to implement an expensive new tracking system in this economy. The USDA is all but broke and the 80% of the American people who are absolutely against horse slaughter are not going to allow their tax money to be spent to subsidize a business they hate. I guess it never changes. People don't make changes until they have to, but after the way the killers panicked over this, you'd think they would wise up. But, they ARE kill buyers after all.
Steven Ricketts More than 1 year ago
Suzanne you are MORE than WRONG! Horses are INDEED food animals, and are regulated as such! They just are consumed here! Do some research!!!!
Ponies Payme More than 1 year ago
yep
Steven Ricketts More than 1 year ago
Amen, thank you PeterG! The United States is probably the ONLY country in the world that doesn't consume horse meat! It is considered better than beef all over the world! Hell some countries think we are monsters for eating swine and cows which they consider to be sacred animals! So don't judge how some make their living!
rhonda More than 1 year ago
How deivistating that any horse should go to slaughter. Breeding needs limited and Euthinazia as a last hope. No different then sending shelter dogs to slauhter to supply pet food or Korea! Horses are interligent Animals that dont dersearve this aweful treatment.. So sad...
Steven Ricketts More than 1 year ago
They are obviously far more "interligent" than you!!!! WOW!!!!