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Canadian MP seeks ban on "irresponsible" slaughter trade

June 20, 2010

A Canadian MP has tabled a private member's bill seeking an end to processing horse meat for human consumption, citing concerns over the drugs used.

Alex Atamanenko
New Democrat Agriculture spokesman Alex Atamanenko, who represents the southern interior of British Columbia, tabled a bill that would effectively shut down the slaughtering of horses for human consumption in Canada.

"The fact is that drugs which are prohibited for use during the life of any animals destined for the human food supply are routinely being administered to horses," Atamanenko said.

"It is irresponsible for Canada to allow the sale of meat from horses as a food item when they have never been raised in accordance with the food safety practices required for all other animals."

Atamanenko pointed to the anti-inflammatory drug, phenylbutazone (bute), as one example of a medication that is quite likely to be prevalent in horse meat. Bute is a known carcinogen and its use is illegal in any animal that enters the food supply.

"It is more likely than not that the vast majority of horses will have been administered bute, or 'horse's aspirin', as it is commonly called," Atamanenko said.

The horse-slaughter industry in Canada has grown in recent years thanks to the banning of slaughter in the United States.

Around 100,000 US horses are now shipped either to Canada or Mexico for slaughter.

However, the lucrative horse-meat export trade to the European Union is under a cloud, with tighter regulations requiring better traceability and drug records for animals going to slaughter.

Both would seem difficult requirements to meet, given so many horses going to slaughter are bought by kill buyers at US auctions.

According to Atamanenko, at least half the horses being slaughtered in Canada are imported from the US. The meat is then sold to markets in Europe.

There are no regulations in the US to prevent horse owners from administering banned substances because horses are not regarded or treated as food-producing animals, he points out.

Under pressure from the European Union, Canada is set to introduce a new equine-passport system to track the health history and medical treatments of horses arriving at slaughterhouses, including those from the US.

Atamanenko believes that it will be impossible for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to verify data in these passports. He expects to see a high incidence of inaccurate records.

"Many in the US believe it should be our job to verify information from US horses since Canada is the only one slaughtering them for human consumption," Atamanenko said.

"It's a stretch to think that information on hundreds of thousands of unwanted horses that were never raised to be food, will be complete or accurate."

The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition welcomed Atamanenko's bill and urged backers of the bill to use the current summer recess for parliament to contact their MPs and encourage them to support the proposed legislation.

A private member's bill must be debated and pass three readings before it can move forward in the Canadian parliament and it must be supported by a majority of MPs.

Most Private Member's bills do not make it through to become law.

Atamanenko's bill seeks changes to the Health of Animals Act and the Meat Inspection Act to bring about the ban on slaughter.



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