A Legal Industry Surrounded by Controversy
By Margaret Evans
Horse slaughter frequently, and understandably, triggers emotional responses and it has been the focus of many claims and petitions against the practice by various animal activist groups. The purpose of this feature has been to provide a broader understanding of the horsemeat industry from both a global and a Canadian perspective.
Slaughter involves an animal being placed in a kill box and shot through the brain to render it unconscious and unable to regain consciousness so that it can be hung and bled out in order for its meat to be harvested. Problems arise when the process does not meet industry standards.
In April 2010, the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) released their Report on Horse Slaughter Practices in Canada with disturbing information on inhumane practices in the killing process of horses at slaughter plants. The report stated that at three different plants there was a level of unacceptable performance in which animals were slipping, falling, or requiring multiple stuns in the stun box, while some were willfully abused. Information for the basis of the report came from video documentation recorded by the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition a few years earlier.
As a result, the auditors of the report made a number of recommendations to improve humane practices. Some of those recommendations included improvements and redesign of the kill box to prevent slippage and enhanced restraint for accurate shooting; proper training, supervision, and discipline of employees; implementing the practice of unannounced in-person audits to assess the accuracy of captive bolt operators and successful stunning; and care for animals in the holding pen.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “The technology related to the stunning of animals prior to slaughter has improved, in great part due to research into the energy that must be transmitted into the brain to achieve the required instant, irreversible stunning effect. As a result, this has helped to enhance the humane treatment of the animals.”
The Agency said that it is the responsibility of the plant operator to ensure that all personnel at the registered establishment who are involved in the examination, handling and slaughter of food animals receive appropriate training on the process and tasks for which they are responsible, and that they are qualified to perform their duties. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) provides oversight to ensure that the operator has developed, carried out, and kept up-to-date a written training program for these employees.
In addition, regulation requirements state that no food animal shall be slaughtered unless the slaughter has been authorized by an inspector. During slaughter operations, there must be at least one veterinarian on site and additional veterinary inspectors may be present depending on production volumes and the plant’s size.
But when things go wrong, as they have in the past, the CFIA has a broad range of enforcement activities that can be applied as appropriate up to and including prosecution. They have the flexibility to select an appropriate response based on the gravity of the infraction and consider all factors such as the potential or the actual harm, the compliance history of the plant or regulated party, and the potential intent of the party to commit a contravention or cause harm in the first place.
In August 2013, Teresa van Bryce, writing for Canadian Horse Journal, interviewed Dr. Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University and renowned for her humane innovations in livestock handling. She had visited Canadian slaughterhouses and her recommendations to improve kill box design included higher sides to prevent horses looking out, non-slip level flooring, and two people to run the stun box. She also suggested streaming video uplinked to a web page for public observation, but that is not going to happen given privacy laws in Canada. The theory was that public monitoring of slaughter practices would ensure plants matched or bettered humane standards. And in Dr. Grandin’s opinion, horse slaughter in a professionally run plant is better than the alternative facing thousands of unwanted horses in the United States.
As Dr. Grandin said during her interview with Ms van Bryce, “I asked activist groups to give me some alternatives to slaughter that I would present to a horse summit two years ago, things like bigger rescue places, euthanasia stations, dude ranches, etc. I presented these things and haven’t had one of them follow up with me as to whether or not any of these things were done. They don’t have a practical solution to the problem. I think that horse slaughter in a decent plant is a better alternative to starving. The problem on these issues is that people are so far away from the practical realities of things.”
Those words still hold true now. Horse slaughter for meat is a fact of life and a legal industry in Canada. But Canadians have a right to know that the plants are humanely run, professionally overseen, and accountable when things go wrong. And with Europe’s increased demands for humane handling, the stakes are higher.
The CFIA stated that the Canadian animal welfare requirements have been assessed by the European Union authorities and are considered to provide standards comparable to those specified in Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of slaughter.
This article was originally published in the Equine Consumers’ Guide 2015, the special January/February edition of Canadian Horse Journal.