Updated on 10/16/2012 5:17PM

Canadian slaughterhouses resume deliveries from U.S.

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Slaughterhouses in Canada resumed accepting U.S. horses Monday, just days after slaughter contract buyers and low-end horse auctions were thrown into confusion when Canadian slaughterhouses put the brakes on importing U.S. horses.

Claude Bouvry, who operates Canada's Bouvry Exports Calgary in Alberta, said Tuesday afternoon that the problem was due to a European Commission veterinarian in France having misread the EU's import requirements.

"It was a mistake by the EU," Bouvry said. "They have books and books and books of directives."

Bouvry said the EU official wrongly interpreted the regulations to mean that, because the horses originated in the United States, which does not have EU approval to export horse meat to Europe, the EU could not accept the horsemeat from those horses, even though the meat was imported from EU-approved slaughtering facilities in Canada. The official believed that "if the Americans cannot ship the meat to Europe, then you cannot ship from Canada, either," Bouvry said.

Earlier Tuesday, the EU's Directorate General of Health and Consumers denied that the shutdown on U.S. horses in Canadian slaughterhouses was because of an EU directive, according to Adriaan Brouw of the directorate, who said "there is no change in our policy."
"If slaughterhouses have decided to halt the slaughter of horses, it is due to a decision they themselves [or their governments] have taken, not because of anything the European Commission has done," Brouw said in an e-mail Tuesday.

Told that the EU was referring inquiries to the slaughterhouses, a woman who answered the phone (but did not give her name) at the Quebec slaughterhouse Viande Richelieu plant said, "That's crazy."

Several horse auctions across the country either canceled sales or alerted vendors not to bring horses after slaughterhouse buyers informed them they could not ship U.S. horses to Canadian plants. There was widespread confusion over the origin of and reason for Friday's directive, even among slaughterhouses and slaughter buyers, according to auctioneers, buyers, and horse welfare advocates.

Leroy Baker, who operates the Sugarcreek auction in Ohio, said his secretary received a call Monday from a plant manager at Viandes de la Petite Nation in Quebec, saying they were resuming shipments. Baker said he also had heard that the stoppage was because of an EU official mistake but that he had no first-hand knowledge of that situation.

"They called and told me yesterday, 'You can go,' and I thought, 'Okay,' but it wouldn't surprise me a bit if somebody called back today and told me it's over," Baker said. "I don't know why they shut it down in the first place. I've heard different things."

The shutdown came a day after the European Commission's Health and Consumers Directorate-General issued a report that called verification of slaughter-bound horses' veterinary records "insufficient" in Mexican slaughterhouses. Both Canada and Mexico ship horse meat to the EU, which has expressed concern about drug residue in imported horse meat, including phenylbutazone and other medications banned in the EU food supply. Anti-slaughter and equine welfare advocates have pressed the EU on the issue of veterinary drugs in horse meat, and in July 2013 the EU will require more stringent record-keeping, including lifetime vet records for slaughter-bound horses.

But slaughterhouse operator Claude Bouvry said drug residues had nothing to do with the temporary closure. "Absolutely not," Bouvry said. "We used to test for [drugs] in the parts per thousands and millions, and now we test per billions."

Representatives from another major Canadian slaughterhouse operator, Viandes de la Petite Nation, did not immediately return calls seeking clarification or comment.