The slaughter of American horses is likely to be curtailed by new EU regulations. Image from Savin' all my love for you.
The Equine Welfare Alliance and the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition said they had long warned that American horses were not safe for human consumption.
They said they had urged Congress to protect the health of foreign consumers by passing legislation that would ban slaughter and prevent the export of American horses for the same purpose.
The moves announced late last week by Canada are aimed at complying with tighter new European Union regulations which come into force on July 31.
The regulations effectively require documentation of medications received by horses bound for slaughter. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says horses going to slaughter in Canada will need to be accompanied by a signed declaration.
The declaration will outline medications received by each horse. While a long list of drugs have a six-month withholding period, several medications received by horses, including the anti-inflammatory Phenylbutazone (bute), are banned altogether.
The two organisations also noted that Clenbuterol, one of the most effective approved drugs for treating Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), was also banned. Anabolic steroids such as Winstrol are also banned, as are drugs used by horse breeders to regulate oestrus cycles.
Tens of thousands of horses are trucked from the US to Canada and Mexico for slaughter each year, with much of the meat bound for the lucrative European market.
In 2009, 56 per cent of the 93,812 horses slaughtered in Canada were US exports.
The two organisations said EU regulations, as well as those of the US Food and Drug Administration and Canadian Food Inspection Agency, have prohibited the slaughter of animals for human consumption that have ever received the prohibited substances. However, until now, there had been no serious attempt at enforcement.
Group representives John Holland and Sinikka Crosland said Phenylbutazone was of particular concern.
Equine Welfare Alliance's food safety expert, Dr Ann Marini, said: "PBZ is a known carcinogen and can cause aplastic anaemia (bone marrow suppression) in humans."
It is used so prolifically in the racing industry that its administration before a race is noted on racing forms at many tracks.
"Unlike the EU countries that electronically track veterinary records from birth, the US and Canada have no such system for horses since they are not raised as food animals," Holland and Crosland said.
"Many slaughter-bound horses have had multiple owners, and without a tracking system, it is impossible to guarantee that the horses have not been given prohibited substances.
"Also, most horse owners do not intend to send their horses to slaughter, as they unknowingly end up in the slaughter pipeline when sold to unscrupulous buyers or are taken to auctions where they are purchased by kill buyers."
The Canadian authority, in announcing the changes, said they were only the first step towards strengthening Canada's food safety and traceability system for horses.
"The EU has indicated this was part of a three-year plan to bring third countries into complete compliance with current EU standards.
"This would mean that horses presented for slaughter will eventually require documentation from birth, assuring they have never received banned substances," Holland and Crosland said.
During 2008, in response to the closure of the three US-based slaughter plants the previous year, the export of US horses for slaughter in Canada and Mexico soared to over 77,073 and 56,731 respectively.
However in 2009, as the world economy declined, exports dropped by 20 per cent. "The only practical means to meet these requirements is quarantine," suggests Holland, "and we estimate that will double the cost of these horses, further reducing the demand."
Crosland added: "The welfare of the horses has not been considered, and horses in quarantine feedlots will be at huge risk of sickness and suffering."
The groups said they would release a discussion paper in the coming days detailing their concerns with the new regulations.