horse slaughter in canada

I've been reading about horse slaughter in Canada for a while now. After much pressure from activists, the US outlawed the slaughter of horses in March of 2007. Immediately after, the same people began to ship horses to Canada for slaughter.

The animals are transported under brutal conditions - why would you spend money on the comfort of a creature you're about to kill? - then slaughtered under terrifying conditions. Their meat is then exported to countries where horse meat is consumed. These animals were not raised for meat; humane slaughter, if one believes such a thing is possible, has not been designed for them.

Today CBC News has this story.
A CBC News investigation into the horse slaughter industry in Canada, including hidden-camera footage from one slaughterhouse in Saskatchewan, is raising questions about how horses are being killed.

The footage, obtained from the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition but shot by an unidentified videographer, documents slaughter practices at Natural Valley Farms in Neudorf, just east of Regina. It appears to show what anti-animal cruelty activists say is the inhumane treatment of horses.

A vet from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is posted at the plant but doesn't appear on the footage to have done anything to stop the practices.

Many of the horses slated for slaughter are race or workhorses no longer fit for their former jobs, or unwanted pets. The horses are shipped to any one of seven slaughterhouses in Canada from the U.S. The meat is sent to parts of Europe and Asia where it is considered a delicacy.

Horse slaughter businesses in Canada have grown by 75 per cent since laws were passed in the United States in 2006 making it illegal to kill horses for food, according to figures from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It is still legal to ship horses outside the country for slaughter.

John Holland, an engineer from West Virginia, was one of those responsible for getting the slaughter ban passed in the U.S.

"Those people have simply moved over to your border," he told CBC News. "So Canada is basically being used to get around the fact that we don't want our horses slaughtered."

One of the arguments Holland and others used in advocating for the ban on horse slaughter was that it is extremely difficult to slaughter horses humanely.

Experts such as Dr. Temple Grandin, an American professor who has designed dozens of slaughter facilities in the U.S., said it is possible to deliver a humane death if the right slaughter infrastructure is in place.

The key to humane horse slaughter is a stunning box, or kill pen, that is designed specifically for horses and high enough so the animals cannot see over the side in order to contain their large bodies, Grandin said. Non-slip flooring is also essential.

"Animals panic when they start to slip. People need to be calm. No whistling, no yelling, no hitting and you can do it where they can just walk right in," Grandin, who did not review the hidden-camera footage from Natural Valley Farms in Neudorf, told CBC.

A veterinarian who did see the footage said the kill pen being used at Natural Valley was designed for cattle, not horses.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a professor of veterinary medicine at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and a founding member of Veterinarians for Equine Welfare, said the pens at the farm are too large.

He said the pens allow the horses space to move around and back away from the captive bolt operator responsible for shooting them with a device called a captive bolt pistol, sometimes referred to as a bolt or cattle gun, which is used to stun horses before slaughter.

The footage shows the operator is not always able to stun the horses properly to render them fully unconscious before they are slaughtered by slitting of the throat, Dodman said.

The footage also showed horses slipping on the kill pen floor, which appeared extremely slippery.

"Its legs are spinning around; it's like it's on ice. The legs are just spinning around in circles, it's trying to go backwards, it's trying to go forwards — it's just sheer terror, sheer panic," Dodman said of a horse on the videotape.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency allows for about five per cent of animals to wake up during the slaughter process. But in the worst cases, the horses are incorrectly shot, usually as a result of struggling, Dodman said.

"There are parts of the animal that are still moving that let you know that for at while at least, it's conscious," he said.

Twyla Francois, central region director of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, said she is trying to raise awareness among horse owners who don't realize the horses they take to auction could end up at slaughter.

In the 10 to 12 hours of hidden-camera footage she watched, a CFIA inspector was never present at the kill pen, Francois said, despite government regulations that require a vet from the agency be present to oversee the slaughter process at the plant.

The CBC left repeated phone messages at the plant that weren't returned. Requests for an interview with someone from the organization that represents the horse slaughter industry were turned down.

Two months after CBC News filmed compost heaps at the facility from outside the property, the hidden camera operator returned to the compost area to find large exposed mounds of horse remains dumped in a field that were not covered, as required under Saskatchewan environment ministry regulation.

When CBC reporters arrived at Natural Valley Farms to speak to the man who runs the operation, Ken Pillar, he also refused a request for an interview and a tour of the plant. But he did say that the facility follows all regulations.

"We have trained and went through every possible thing to unload horses carefully. They are euthanized here in a perfect manner, as humanely as possible," Pillar said.

The CFIA said it has investigated complaints about the plant in the past, but never found any problems.

One scene from the video footage shows a stun gun operator repeatedly hitting an unco-operative horse with a stick. There was also evidence horses had been transported with their horseshoes still on, which violates regulations, unless the animals are separated in the truck, because the horses could hurt each other.

In accepting the hidden camera footage, CBC agreed not to contact government officials for comment until after the footage was released publicly.

Full disclosure time. I eat meat. I care about animals. And I know there's a contradiction inherent in those two statements. After being a vegetarian for a few years, then returning to being an omnivore, I've decided to live with the contradiction.

I want all animals to be treated as humanely as possible, including ones that are raised and killed for meat. I believe humans, being animals ourselves, have a right to eat other animals, but I also believe we have a responsibility to minimize the damage we do.

Animal activists in the US were able to change laws to protect horses. I hope Canadian animal activists can do the same.


PeterC said...

The problem is not eating the meat, it is how we treat those animals and perhaps just how much meat we do eat.

I've a story to relate and perhaps I'll turn it into a blog post later but...

I was with a friend in Alberta attending a regular horse auction. Lots of well trained horses up for sale. It just so happens I am a nosy guy and I was wandering all over the premisis before the auction. I met a few meat animals there, and I can tell you there is no compassion for them. Particularly. a clyde with a broken leg. He didn't want much but a few scratches from me. Unfortunately, the animal control officers who showed up were too late to find any evidence enough to convict anyone.

Anyhow, thank you for posting this.

L-girl said...

Thanks PeterC.

I included the information about my meat-eating habits because when I post about animal cruelty, there will inevitably be comments from vegetarians and vegans accusing me of hypocrisy - and usually from people who (bizarrely) defend animal cruelty, telling me I have "no right" to point fingers if I eat meat.

I've started eating only (or at least mostly) farm-raised, grass-fed meat. I think it makes a big difference (on a small scale, of course).

Thanks for your post.

Daniel wbc said...

L-girl, I am a vegetarian and I have come to, I think, the same conclusions as you: I have to live with contradiction and there is contradiction when it comes to the relationship between humans and non-human animals. I have never been a preachy vegetarian and most people I know (including my husband) are omnivores.

I believe, as you do, that animals -- even animals that will be used for food -- should be treated as humanely as possible. I don't know what any animal "thinks," but I do know they are capable of suffering and anyone can relate to suffering.

I also think that more attention should be paid to the cost to the environment and overall world human population of too much reliance on meat.

Anyway, I don't think I'm being very clear, but my point is that I'm a vegetarian but I'm not against meat eating; I think there are issues that need to be addressed in terms of the "industry."

L-girl said...

Thanks Daniel, I appreciate your thoughts.

I also think that more attention should be paid to the cost to the environment and overall world human population of too much reliance on meat.

I completely agree - the cost in animal suffering, and to the environment, are very high. Insupportable and horrendous.

I deeply respect the choice not to eat meat, and I wish it was something I could do and still be happy and healthy. But for me, I decided the issue was not meat-eating but the factory farm.

And you're being very clear - you always are. :)

rumor said...

I was up until this moment completely unaware of the state of horse slaughter in Canada, so I thank you for spreading the information, as this is certainly unhappy news...

Hopefully CBC coverage will began a broader public interest in demanding and ensuring higher standards for humane treatment and killing of horses (Lord, it does feel strange to use the words "humane" and "killing" together, but I try to be honest).

L-girl said...

Rumor, thanks for the feedback. Your comment reminds me of one important reason for blogging.

Werner said...

Hello L-girl

I just happened to see your article on horse slaughter in Saskatchewan. I thought I was the only person paying attention to this issue outside of the Canadian Horse Coalition members. I guess I was wrong. I posted a similar article on my own blog "shagya blog". It's located at Shagya Blog. I'd like to reprint your article on my blog if that's ok. I'll put it up now but if you object I can take it down.

L-girl said...

Werner, please do post it, and thanks for asking. I don't have much to add to the discussion, but at least I can add my outrage and disgust.

I see from your profile you are a fan of my great writing hero, George Orwell. Homage To Catalonia is one of my favourite books.

Thanks for stopping by and for your support for horses.

Nigel Patel said...

So far this ban has been pretty bad for horses when you factor in the higher prices of feed, there is a new problem of horse abandonment.
People and animals (though not of their own volition) eat horse meat. I think we need to rethink the ban.

L-girl said...

People in many US states are abandoning their animals because they cannot afford to feed them. But slaughtering horses is not a solution to that.

This ban took years to get through. It needs to be expanded into Canada, not rolled back in the US.

Nancy said...

Anything you eat is, or once was, alive but vegetables aren't sentient. I prefer to be a vegetarian, but environmentally speaking, tofu is more wasteful than grass fed local beef.

I am deeply sorry for the poor horses. The thing is, with the fuel prices skyrocketing, what will happen when it is not commercially viable to ship them to Canada? Think of the killing fields at many 'humane societies' for dogs and cats. The poor horses will probably end up shot in a field and left to rot.

Animals are helpless. They deserve kindness even if they are about to die. As do we all.

FatLady said...

I lived in Nevada for a number of years. I've seen a wild Mustang herd with my own eyes and it was a sight I'll never forget. I've also seen a Bureau of Land Management "adoption Center" and it was a pretty sorry affair. (The BLM is a bureau of the Interior Department and is in charge of the "management" of public range land.)

Here's the real issue: The BLM leases "grazing rights" for a pittance of course, to the cattle ranchers. The ranchers don't like the horses any more than they like the wolves. The cattle must be well-fed at all cost and any creature who threatens the cattle must be eradicated. But they can't exactly kill them outright--not the one animal that is the "symbol" of the American West. No. That would create a public outcry.

A simple thing like a ban on slaughtering isn't going to stop them from getting those beautiful creatures off what they consider to be "their" land. Slaughtering is banned in the US? Then ship 'em to Canada. Ban it in Canada and they'll ship 'em to Mexico (if they aren't already.)

Never underestimate the ingenuity of the greedy and the corrupt.

L-girl said...

I prefer to be a vegetarian, but environmentally speaking, tofu is more wasteful than grass fed local beef.

I appreciate your saying that.

Thanks for your thoughts on the horses. It's so horrible. I get really upset about it, then feel so helpless.

L-girl said...

Fatlady, thanks for your comment. It's very true. A ban is too simple. But I guess it was thought to be a start. (I'm guessing - I wasn't involved in the movement so I can't say.) Yet it didn't work.

The ranchers don't like the horses any more than they like the wolves.

That says it right there, doesn't it?

Never underestimate the ingenuity of the greedy and the corrupt.

Just repeating this for emphasis. It applies to so many things.

MSS said...

Animal rights activists got something through the US congress in 2007? Under Bush? (Maybe even under Republican Congress, if the bill actually passed in 2006.) I wonder what bill that was attached to.

On the tofu issue raised above, of course one can be a vegetarian without ever eating tofu. (However, those chickpeas and mung beans might have been grown rather far away--to pick up on a theme of a later thread.)

ignaciagirl said...

Where are we at with this? I'm from Arizona and I lost the trail for new info around september 08. The problem with any of this progress is that there are so many loopholes that allow the killers to slip away and buy these horses. This is still going on at the auctions/sales over here. I'm sorry you are having the same problem up north.
I am a vegetarian and I don't think of you as being a hypocrite. Although considered as such, I don't view horses as being livestock. They are interacted with, given names and identities, taught to respond to their environment through training..A living being with a strong sense of self is going through a living hell.
I don't like the way livestock is slaughtered either, but I'm trying to pick my battles. I suppose that makes me a hypocrite.
thanks for listening

L-girl said...

Ignaciagirl, thanks for your thoughts.

I don't think you're a hypocrite, and I don't think I'm one either. No one is free from ethical contradictions. There's no one perfect way to be conduct one's life. But because I eat meat, doesn't mean I can't speak out against any cruelty.

Unfortunately I don't know where this situation stands. My attentions have been focused elsewhere. The Stop Horse Slaughter blog (linked in this post) is probably the best place to get updated.

Thanks for stopping by, and for "following" this blog!