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Footage reveals "equine house of horrors"

April 4, 2010

This mare and foal were among sick, young, and pregnant horses at an Ontario kill buyer feedlot.

A Canadian horse welfare group has released hidden camera footage from two slaughter plants it says shows that both facilities fail to meet humane slaughter standards.

The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition says it is "compelling proof that puts into question the effectiveness of the assembly-line slaughter of horses".

Its release prompted a call from the Humane Society of the United States to ban the export of horses to Canada for slaughter.

One noted veterinarian who watched the footage labelled one plant an equine house of horrors.

Equine Canada said it had contacted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency over the material, which can be viewed at (warning: graphic content).

The organisation's release of the material was accompanied by a statement from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), which said it was "appalled by evidence of grossly inhumane slaughter of horses taking place in Canada".

London-based farm animal programme manager, Dr Rasto Kolesar, and Toronto-based programmes manager for the WSPCA in Canada, Patrick Tohill, commented on the footage, saying: "It is clear that neither the facilities nor the behaviour of the personnel shown are suited to the humane slaughter of horses, and that extreme suffering results for many individual animals.

"Problems include failure to restrain each animal's head properly before shooting, shooting from too great a distance, shooting in the wrong part of the head or body, failure to follow up with an immediate second shot in animals that were not killed by the first, hoisting apparently conscious animals, and - in the case of [one] plant - cruel handling and treatment of the horses, including excessive whipping and overuse of an electric prod, as well as an apparent callous disregard for the animals' suffering.

"An additional cause of very major concern is the presence of what appear to be either plant supervisors or inspectors who observe the employees' actions and yet do nothing."

The WSPA called on the appropriate authorities "to take immediate action to close both these plants down and ensure that those responsible are disciplined".

Neither plant, the pair said, should be reopened until or unless they have been redesigned to meet humane slaughter standards, "and all staff in contact with these intelligent animals have been trained to treat them with the dignity they deserve".

It said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) needed to audit plants to ensure problems were not occurring at other plants.

"Measures must be taken to ensure that procedures at the slaughterhouse are carried out in accordance with legislation, including the Canadian Meat Inspection Act which requires that all animals should be slaughtered humanely," they said.

The CFIA should guarantee avoidance of practices that inflict extreme pain and suffering on slaughtered animals, they said.

"The WSPA would be happy to provide advice on appropriate facilities and training for humane slaughter, if required, to help protect animals from needless suffering."

Equine Canada, the country's governing body for equestrianism, said it was notified of the material on March 30.

"While recognising that no aspect of these allegations is confirmed, Equine Canada immediately contacted the CFIA.

"Equine Canada has been assured that the CFIA takes allegations of abuse very seriously and that their officials are investigating this case.

"The CFIA has further assured Equine Canada that their routine surveillance indicates that most producers, transporters and processers in this sector are committed to treating the horses in their care humanely.

"In those rare cases when abuse is determined, the CFIA has a range of enforcement options at their command."

Equine Canada said it will monitor the proceedings and provide an update when findings are available.

The Humane Society of the United States said the footage further demonstrates what it has documented for years about horse slaughter: "Foreign-owned horse slaughterhouses have set up shop just over the border, and US horses will continue to suffer both during long-distance shipping and then during a gruesome butchering process - all for the culinary whims of foreign gourmands."

The society noted that some horses in the footage bear tags from the US Department of Agriculture, indicating animals shown in the video originated in the US.

"Every day while Congress delays, 'killer buyers' are transporting American horses to Canada and Mexico, and there the animals are meeting an awful demise, often after a painful and harrowing journey," said Wayne Pacelle, the society's president and chief executive.

Pacelle said cruelty in the industry will end only when the Congress passes the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act.

He said about 100,000 US horses are purchased by "kill buyers" at auctions across the US annually, to be transported to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico.

"Despite Canada's regulations and inspection standards for plants that process horses, this investigation shows how ineffective they are at preventing suffering."

Nicholas Dodman, a noted veterinary behaviorist, a founding member of Veterinarians for Equine Welfare, and Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine professor, reviewed the videos for the society, labelling one of the plants an equine house of horror.

"Horses kicking after they have been shot, sinking down and rising up; sometimes periods of struggling or paddling before a second or third shot has to be administered.

"This atrocity goes against all veterinary guidelines for humane euthanasia. Terror and suffering is the rule at this equine house of horrors ... and all in the name of the gourmet meat market."

The society urged federal lawmakers to pass legislation to prevent US horses being exported for laughter for human consumption.



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