The status of the American horse slaughter trade remains unclear today, amid reports plants in Canada are no longer accepting US horses.
The cause of the change in circumstances remains unclear, but comes just a day after the release of the final report into an audit by a European Union body of horse slaughter plants in Mexico.
The European Union signalled some time ago it would require equivalent standards of traceability for slaughter horses from July next year. Those standards will be difficult to meet for horses from the United States because they are not raised as food animals.
For American horses to be accepted from that time, they will need to be accompanied by documentation recording their lifetime drug history. The use of some drugs at any stage in their lives, including the common anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone, would automatically rule them out from slaughter.
The report, by the European Commission’s Health and Consumers Directorate-General, concluded in its executive summary: “The systems in place for identification, the food chain information and in particular the affidavits concerning the non-treatment for six months with certain medical substances, both for the horses imported from the US as well as for the Mexican horses, are insufficient to guarantee that standards equivalent to those provided for by EU legislation are applied.
“This is mainly due to the absence of a verification by the CAs [competent authorities] of the validity and authenticity of the affidavits and that the live horses covered by these affidavits are normally not clearly identifiable until a few days before slaughter.”
While the report related to an audit carried out in late May and early June in Mexico, the issues in respect of traceability of US horses are almost certain to be identical to those in Canada.
The Equine Welfare Alliance, an umbrella group for more than 200 horse advocacy organisations, broke the story yesterday, describing what it called a state of confusion around the apparent decision of Canadian plants to stop taking US horses.
It was unclear whether the same situation applied in Mexico.
The slaughter trade in the US ended in 2007, resulting in more than 100,000 US horses being shipped annually to plants in Mexico and Canada, where they are processed for human consumption.
No statements have been forthcoming from slaughterhouses on the situation, leaving auction houses and kill buyers uncertain. Horse auctions frequented by those who buy for the slaughter trade are reportedly being cancelled or delayed, pending more information.
While efforts have been made to provide more history around drug records for horses bound for slaughter, the industry appears unlikely to meet the European standard until such time as a passport-style system for each horse, as used in Europe, is in place.
However, it remained unclear today whether the halt resulted from a European directive, issues around the mandatory forms required to accompany each horse, or some other factors.
Horse advocacy groups, including the Equine Welfare Alliance, have long argued that there are risks around horse meat derived from US animals because of the drug issue.