Advocate urges EU to get tough on North American horse-meat

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stock-eyeThe introduction of a mandatory six-month residency requirement for US horses in Canada that are bound for slaughter will not prevent meat tainted with drugs from entering the European food chain, a senior animal advocate says.

The executive director for Humane Society International/Europe, Dr Joanna Swabe, said the proposal also raised questions around animal health and welfare.

She called on the European Commission to swiftly suspend the importation of horse-meat from Canada to the EU, citing traceability and food safety concerns.

Swabe, in an opinion piece on Euractiv.com, was commenting on the tens of thousands of horses that were shipped each year from the US to Canadian slaughter plants.

She said there was minimal regulatory burden in the US in respect of veterinary record-keeping for horses.

“These animals have not been raised for food production, but have been instead kept for companionship, recreation or sport. They endure long stretches of travel to the slaughterhouse without adequate veterinary care, food or water.

“Their meat is then exported primarily to France and Belgium to be sold and distributed across the EU. It is a lucrative trade in horse-meat that revolves around a reservoir of cheap horses and comes with health risks and animal welfare concerns.”

Swabe noted that, last spring, a Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) audit of the Canadian horse-meat industry confirmed her organisation’s concerns about the reliability of the controls over both Canadian and US horses destined for slaughter and export to the European Union.

Previous audits by the FVO had highlighted veterinary record-keeping deficits which her organisation believed meant no guarantee could be given that horses had not been treated with substances banned for use in food animals.

Following the latest FVO findings, members of the European Parliament asked the Commission how it planned to prevent the import of Canadian horse-meat that may not meet EU food safety standards.

She noted that, in response to a recent parliamentary question, the commission said it would be amending the import certificate, achieving an equivalence of requirements with regard to veterinary treatment and establishing a mandatory residency of six months for horses in the country of slaughter.

“The commission’s proposed measures are fundamentally flawed and will do nothing whatsoever to address the food safety and traceability concerns raised by the FVO,” she said.

“The commission seeks to bring the requirements related to veterinary treatment of horses in line with Canada’s residue monitoring plan. However, up to 70 percent of horses slaughtered in Canada originate from the US, where there is no residue monitoring plan for horses and no mandatory lifetime record-keeping for veterinary treatments.”

She said her organisation had identified 55 substances routinely given to US horses which are strictly prohibited in the EU for use in food animals, such as anabolic steroids, antipsychotics and central nervous system stimulants.

“If these substances were administered to horses in the EU, they would be permanently excluded from the EU food chain.

“The introduction of a mandatory six month residency requirement for US horses in Canada will not prevent meat from horses, which have been treated with these substances, from entering the EU food chain and posing potential health risks to EU consumers.”

Swabe also argued that the proposed residency requirement could also cause significant animal health and welfare problems.

“The commission should really suspend the import of Canadian horse-meat, in line with the precedent it set last December for Mexican horse-meat – also largely derived from horses of US origin.

“Instead, the commission seems to be continuing to flog a dead horse by trying to achieve the impossible. This can only be of detriment to horses and EU consumers.”

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