New requirements set to bite American horse slaughter trade

January 31, 2010

by Neil Clarkson


Tough new rules regarding medications have been imposed on the equine slaughter trade.

America's horse slaughter trade faces a massive hurdle as Canada takes the first steps in complying with tough new European Union rules, effective from July 31.

From January 31, horse owners selling animals directly or indirectly to slaughter in Canada must complete and sign a form detailing the medications used in the preceding six months.

While there is list of medications that require a withholding period of six months, others such as the common anti-inflammatory drug, phenylbutazone, or bute, cannot be given to horses at all if they are to enter the human food chain.

The new Canadian requirements, especially as it relates to bute, is likely to hit so-called kill buyers hard, who may struggle to obtain the background of each animal to satisfy European Union requirements.

Bute is one of the most common drugs administered to horses, effective as a painkiller and anti-inflammatory agent.

An estimated 100,000 horses are shipped across US borders each year to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico, to satisfy mostly European demand for horse meat.

The US has no horse slaughter industry and there is no federally-developed official birth-to-death record kept of each horse's health, medication and vaccinations, as now happens in Europe with horse passports.

US opponents of the slaughter trade in the United States have warned for months that the North American industry will struggle to meet the tough new European Union requirements.

Meat testing is likely to quickly reveal whether the drug-free declarations are working effectively to ensure the meat meets the drug-free requirements.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says horse owners who wish to keep their sale options open should record all vaccines, medications given (administered or fed) and record any occurrence of illness in their animals.

"The collection of this information will better prepare the equine industry for July 31, 2010, when it will be mandatory for all federally inspected equine facilities to have complete records dating back six months for all domestic and imported animals presented for slaughter," it said.

To help owners collect the necessary information, it is launching an Equine Information Document (EID).

It says it is the first step in the development of a comprehensive food safety and traceability programme for the Canadian equine industry, for both domestic and international markets.

Anyone selling a horse may have to provide an EID at ownership transfer, it said.

The previous owner remains liable for the accuracy of information declared in the form, which details the identification of the animal for traceability purposes.

"The document will require an owner-signed declaration to verify the accuracy of the information," the agency said.

It says there are a number of medications and substances that are prohibited from being given to equines intended to be slaughtered for human consumption.

It is unclear what moves Mexico will make, if any, to meet the new European Union requirements.

The merits of a domestic slaughter industry in the United States have been hotly debated. The last plants to close, in Texas and Illinois, primarily served the lucrative European meat trade.

However, it is clear that any redevelopment of such an industry would require a system similar to the European horse passport system to ensure the integrity of the meat supply.