05/31/2012 2:27PM

Canadian slaughterhouse firm no longer accepting Thoroughbreds

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Viande Richelieu, the company that operates two of Canada’s four equine slaughterhouses, appears to be backing away from accepting Thoroughbreds for slaughter after their unusual move of returning slaughter-bound former racehorses Canuki and Cactus Cafe.

The two Thoroughbreds left Beulah Park’s barn area May 1 after their owner, Barbara Price, allegedly sold them to trainer Mark Wedig. Ohio stewards investigating the horses’ whereabouts ruled Price off for a year and fined her $1,000 for impeding the investigation and providing false information. About three weeks later, Wedig presented Canuki and Cactus Cafe to West Virginia state veterinarian John Day in connection with Mountaineer Park officials’ inquiry into the horses’ whereabouts.

According to a May 24 e-mail from Richelieu administrative technician Geneve Ethier to Mindy Lovell, a Canadian farm owner whom Ohio stewards authorized to contact Richelieu on their behalf, the Canuki and Cactus Cafe case “did occur major problems to us and a lot of time, efforts, and money consuming. So to avoid that in the future, the plant advises all his suppliers to not BUY those thoroughbred[s] and overall not have them ship to us. . . . For us, thoroughbred[s] are definitely banned from our premises.”

Viande Richelieu operates the equine slaughterhouses Viande Richelieu Meat Inc. in Massueville near St.-Hyacinthe, Quebec, and Bouvry Export in Fort MacLeod, Calgary, Alberta.

Asked whether Richelieu had told him to stop buying Thoroughbreds on the company’s behalf, supplier Bruce Rotz of Shippensburg, Pa., said: “They did. I buy horses for them. We never did bring them too many Thoroughbreds. We tried to stay away from them. They’re just aggravation. A lot of people don’t want them slaughtered, you know.”

Richelieu Viande declined to comment, but Ethier told Daily Racing Form : “Someone told me you already talked to our buyer in the U.S.A. . . . So you speak with someone, so you have your answer.”

About 90,000 horses of all breeds are killed annually in Canada’s four federally registered slaughterhouses, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and about 66,000 of those horses arrive from the United States. The federal agency did not provide information regarding the number of Thoroughbreds slaughtered in Canada each year. Canadians annually consume about 300 tons of horse meat, on average, the CFIA says, but most of the horse meat from Canadian slaughterhouses is exported to European food markets.

The use of North American horse meat for human consumption, and strict European Union protocols regarding food safety, form an important undercurrent in the debate over racehorse slaughter.

In July 2010, the CFIA began requiring that all horses presented for slaughter be accompanied by an Equine Information Document, including a description of the horses’ markings and a record of all their vaccinations and medications for the previous six months. Slaughterhouse operators are required to screen each EID, match it to the horse presented for slaughter, and then provide the document to a CFIA official for verification. Anti-slaughter advocates maintain that the EIDs can be forged or falsified, a federal offense in Canada, by owners or suppliers selling horses to slaughter. That, anti-slaughter and equine welfare advocates say, can allow drug-tainted meat to enter the human food chain.

Some drugs commonly administered to race and sport horses are considered safe in food animals, once certain withdrawal times have passed. These include ivermectin, furoseminde (Salix or Lasix), flunixin (Banamine), and altrenogest (Regu-mate). But others – including clenbuterol (Ventipulmin), boldenone (Equipoise), phenylbutazone (Butazolidin), and nitrofurazone (Fura-Zone or Furacin) – are not permitted at all in horses slaughtered for food.

“All carcasses are individually inspected to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” CFIA media relations official Lisa Gauthier said in an e-mail. “Furthermore, federally registered establishments where animals are slaughtered are routinely inspected to ensure compliance with the Meat Inspection Act and Regulations. The Agency also has a monitoring program to randomly test meat for the presence of pesticides, environmental contaminants, and drug residues. . . . When the CFIA detects results that are of concern, sampling frequency can be increased.”

It’s not yet clear whether concerns over drugs played a role in Richelieu’s apparent policy change on Thoroughbreds. Richelieu supplier Rotz says anti-slaughter advocates, not Canadian regulations, were his biggest headache in buying Thoroughbreds for slaughter.

“I had a lot of hassle with it,” he added. “I don’t even want one [a Thoroughbred] on my premises. These people that say, ‘Save the Thoroughbreds’ or ‘Save any horse,’ if they put 10 dollars a week to feed the homeless people and the mistreated children in this world, you know, this world would be totally different.”