Interesting study about horse slaughter decline

Here is a link to an interesting study of the number of horses slaughtered in the US, Canada and Mexico from 2006 through 2009, produced by the Equine Welfare Alliance:

The study concludes that worldwide demand for horse meat — at least US horse meat — is declining, and that slaughter of horses exported from the US is declining in both Canada and Mexico since 2008.  The study proposes that the worldwide economic downturn has decreased the demand for horse meat, and that decreased demand has counteracted what might otherwise be increased supply of slaughter horses due to the economic downturn in the U.S.    The survey also implies that reversing the closure of slaughterhouses in the U.S. would not be economically viable given the decreased demand for horse meat. 

Interesting…  A few thoughts about it:  The references are to USDA statistics.  I haven’t yet verified it, but I believe USDA stats only track horses going directly to slaughterhouses once they cross the border, and don’t include counts of horses that go to a feedlot before proceeding to slaughter.  Not sure if that has any bearing on the stats from 2006-2009, although it might have some bearing on future stats, given the new EU and Canadian requirements for health history on horses bound for slaughter.   

Given the new EU regulations about quality of horse meat imported to the EU for human consumption, I wonder if any businesses will find horse slaughter worth the investment and start-up costs, even if legislation is passed to allow it to resume in the US?  If horses are routinely tested for drugs and owners provide complete and honest health records (two BIG If’s), many sport horses will not be suitable candidates for slaughter.  Given the close scrutiny that will most likely be given to new slaughter operations in light of public opinion and sensitivity to inhumane methods, new horse slaughter facilities are unlikely to be able to cut corners — which means more expense.

I’m also curious about whether demand for all horse meat has declined, or is the decline in demand primarily for US horse meat because of concerns about toxic chemicals used on American horses that should not be entering the food chain?  If it’s true that there’s little demand for the product (wouldn’t that be nice?), the market will take care of a significant part of the problem.   The slaughter business has always been profit-driven.  If there’s not enough profit in it, perhaps it won’t happen here.

Horse Mom’s homemade anti-fungal recipe

Every once in awhile — particularly in “mud season” in the spring, we have some outbreaks of fungal skin conditions such as scratches, rain rot, or just random crusty or itchy spots.  I’ve always been leery of using harsh chemicals, some of which interact dangerously with each other.  So, I was looking for something natural and less expensive than some of the preparations in the tack store.  For the past several months I’ve been using a simple lotion made with two ingredients, and having success with it.  I have a white dog who suffers terribly from allergies.  He often licks and scratches until he gives himself a staph infection.  I tried a bunch of products that promised to control the problem, but had no success.  Desperate, one day I tried adding a little bit of tea tree oil to aloe gel, and spread it on the dog’s irritated and discolored belly skin.  It did not seem to hurt him, and by the next day his skin was a normal pink and healthy-looking.  Needless to say, I keep up that treatment anytime he starts to act uncomfortable.  I no longer need to use it every day — we’re down to about once every ten days to two weeks.  What does this have to do with horses, you ask?  Read on…

One day, my daughter complained of a particularly persistent and painful fungal infection that was plaguing one of the horses that recently came to us as a boarder.  She had been scrubbing his “scratches” and felt bad that she was hurting him when scrubbing and picking off huge chunks of scurfy mess.  I suggested that she try some of my mixture of aloe and tea tree oil, to see if it would help him.  She started applying the mixture every morning and evening.  The horse didn’t object to it, and within two days she reported a noticeable improvement.  She kept it up for five or six days, and the problem cleared up.  Now I keep a pump bottle of the mixture around the barn, to use on itchy spots and fungal problems.  The tea tree oil seems to kill the bad stuff, and the aloe promotes quick healing, healthy skin and hair re-growth. 

Disclaimer and cautionary note:  the above should in no way be construed to be veterinary advice.  If you decide to try this yourself, do so at your own risk, and be sure to read the cautions on the aloe and tea tree oil bottles.  Pure tea tree oil is very strong and can burn or irritate the skin if not properly diluted.  I use about 2 tablespoons of tea tree oil to 5 or 6 ounces of aloe vera gel, and shake *well* to mix it up.  The result is a cloudy, slightly watery gel with a strong smell somewhere between eucalyptus and pine turpentine.  Tea tree oil and the anti-fungal gel from this recipe should NOT be taken internally, and should not be used in or around the eyes.

The Horse | Proposed Canadian Bill Could Halt U.S. Slaughter Exports

From The Horse:  Proposed Canadian Bill Could Halt U.S. Slaughter Exports.  New legislation has been introduced in Canada to ” forbid the import and transport of horses for slaughter for human consumption in that country” and “amends the Canadian Meat Inspection Act to prohibit the import, export or transport of horsemeat products within Canada on grounds that those products are likely to contain the anti-inflammatory drugs Phenylbutazone (bute) and Banamine, and the sedative Acepromazine. All three drugs are commonly used by owners to treat their horses, but are banned substances under European Union (EU) food inspection regulations.”

If you read my previous posts on the horse slaughter issue, you know that beginning July 31, Canada is instituting new regulations requiring health and medication histories on horses presented for slaughter.  The above legislation is new, and if passed would ban horse slaughter for human consumption in Canada altogether.  Something to keep an eye on, for sure.  In the meantime, have a look at the article in The Horse.

New Canadian Horse Slaughter Regulations – Part II

My last post on this subject addressed the new Canadian regulations for horses that will be slaughtered and processed for edible meat.

Check here for a recap of the new rules. 

How will the new regulations change the way horses are handled, both before and after shipment to Canada? 

Will the new regulations affect the number of horses sent to Canada for slaughter? 

Will the new regulations put additional pressure on the current alternatives to Canadian slaughter (rescues and/or slaughter shipments to Mexico, for example)? 

Probably no one knows the answers to the above questions for certain, at least not yet.   A few things are certain, though.  The new regulations pertain to documentation that must accompany a horse (domestic or imported) presented to a slaughterhouse that is inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).  The regulations require, along with information identifying the animal, a statement about the animal’s health record and medications/drugs administered during the previous six months.  The only exception is a horse that’s younger than six months old.  Each person who owned the horse over the previous six months must make a statement about what drugs or vaccinations were administered to the horse and on what dates.  In the case of drugs, the statement must include dosages.  The statement must also disclose any illness diagnosed within the past six months, and specifically whether the owner has knowledge of the animal being treated with a drug on a list of banned substances.  The owner must certify that the information supplied is accurate and complete.

Is Canada’s move a good one?  From a food safety standpoint, it’s certainly a move in the right direction.  This is only the first in a series of new regulations that are intended to result in a database with full medical histories of horses by 2013.  By that time, horses that have been administered a banned substance will be flagged and ineligible for slaughter.  Much of the incentive for the new Canadian regulations is the issuance of new European Union regulations which went into effect in April, 2010.  The new EU rules pertain to all horse meat intended for human consumption – both domestic and imported.  In the EU where horses are more commonly raised for food, horses have an electronic “passport” linked to databases recording the entire health history of animals placed into the food chain.  Electronic passports are flagged as suitable for human consumption or unsuitable for human consumption.  In the absence of a full health history, the EU requires the horse to have a 180 day quarantine prior to slaughter.  Canada exports horse meat for human consumption to the EU, and is thus subject to the new rules.  It appears that the new Canadian rules are meant to comply with the 180-day quarantine rule.

What do the new rules mean for horses, livestock auctions and kill brokers?  If the kill broker doesn’t have a six-month health record from the previous owner, I suspect it means either a) the horse will have to remain in a feedlot for six months — either here in the US or in Canada — before being transported to slaughter, or b) more horses will be shipped to Mexico for slaughter.  Mexico will also have to abide by the EU regulations for exported horse meat, but Mexico also has slaughter plants for domestic consumption, which are subject to Mexican regulations only.  Do the current kill brokers who currently keep horses for a matter of days or weeks before shipment to slaughter have the facilities and the cash flow to hang onto and care for horses for six months?  Doubtful.  For those in the northern half of the United States, that could mean a very long trip for horses headed to slaughter in Mexico.  Is Mexico prepared for a bigger influx of slaughter horses from the US?  Are the highway patrols prepared to enforce the rules about shipping horses long distances without food and water or in double-decker trailers?  Note that in some states it’s not illegal to transport horses in a double-decker trailer if they’re heading for a feedlot.

Here’s an important point to consider:  the new Canadian regulations pertain to horses presented for slaughter.  They do not specifically pertain to horses crossing the border into Canada.  Horses crossing the border into Canada must have health certificates and negative coggins, a certification that they’ve been in the US for the past 60 days, and have not passed through certain states with communicable disease problems (currently, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas) within the past 21 days.  A horse can enter Canada without documentation required for slaughter.  However, once a horse makes its way into Canada, if it doesn’t have a history starting with January 31, 2010 it can’t enter the slaughterhouse.  Presumably, that means it’s off to a feedlot in Canada until a six month health history has been accumulated.  That’s up to six months of food and care — and additional cost.   I’m not sure whether standing in a feedlot constitutes “quarantine” under the EU rules — I’m still researching that.

The Canadian list of banned substances is quite a bit longer now than it used to be (although it still doesn’t include Ivermectin and Fenbendazole, two commonly used wormers that should not be used with food animals).  Is a horse standing in a feedlot more or less likely to need medication?  Feedlot operators are going to be faced with more challenges associated with six-month (versus days/weeks) stays:  quarantine, communication of illnesses and treatment of illnesses and worming.  While it doesn’t seem like the new regulations will decrease the number of horses crossing the border, it seems like the cost of getting them to slaughter will almost surely increase over the short term. 

Last but not least, the new Canadian rules don’t appear to have many enforcement “teeth” in them.  Owners need only say that “to their knowledge” their horse has not been given any banned substances.  The time period covered is only six months at the moment.  The new rules do not seem to have any requirements for more stringent testing of horses with a seemingly-clean six-month record, to detect banned substances, although the EU rules require it.  Until the new EU rules were issued, I understand that Canadian horses used for food were only routinely tested for roundworms.  Without a significant amount of testing, it seems that there is still risk that horses unsafe for human consumption will be getting into the food chain.  I would think that a Thoroughbred horse from the US with a lip tattoo would be an immediate red flag for testing, wouldn’t you?  If a horse has been given a substance that requires a withdrawal period, it’s off to the feedlot.  If a horse has been given a banned substance, then what?  Has anyone considered the huge increase in horses going to rendering plants that might ensue?  What arrangements will be made for humane dispatch of those horses heading to the rendering plant?

It will be interesting to see what (if anything) changes at U.S. livestock auctions as a result of the new Canadian regulations.  Will livestock auction organizers begin to require owners to provide sufficient information necessary to complete a Canadian Equine Identification Documents?  Will livestock auction operators flag horses with race or show records, and will kill buyers stop buying them?  Will Canadian slaughterhouses stop doing business with US kill brokers because the cost of a six-month quarantine is too high and the percentage of rejected horses is too high? 

If you go back more than 10 years to the 2005 study of the economic impact of the horse industry in the US, 81% of horses were used for racing, showing and recreation.  If we accept that percentage as probably still valid, then we only need to consider whether the majority of those horses have been treated with at least one banned substance in their lifetime.  I looked over the list, and believe that 80% of the horses in my barn have been treated with a banned substance at some time in their lives.  I don’t consider my horses part of the food chain, so I generally don’t pay much attention to the warnings on labels that read “should not be used for animals intended for food.”  I’d be willing to bet that most other people who care for show and recreational horses don’t think about that either.  

Therefore, my completely unscientific conclusion is that the majority of horses in the US used for sport or pleasure are simply not safe for human consumption and should not be sent to slaughter.  This is true regardless of other considerations about whether consumption of horse meat is good or bad, or slaughter of horses is humane or not.  From a food safety standpoint, I think most of the horses in this country are unsuitable to be used for food.

And then there’s the final, painful question:  what will happen to all those US horses who have been given banned substances?  In the short term, it might mean that they stand in a feedlot for six months.  If they can be identified before they get on the kill broker’s trailer, that’s good, right?  But where will they go?  Will horse rescues, already reporting that they’re full and turning away horses, be asked to take on even more horses?   I think the answer to that question is yes, and we’re back to the age-old question of how to cope with unwanted horses.  A topic I think about every day…  and if you’re a horse owner, I hope you do too.

Horse Slaughter: New Canadian Rules

There’s been a good bit of talk lately in the horse community about new rules taking effect in Canada on July 1 for horses bound for slaughter.  Thinking about the changes, several questions came to mind…

What, exactly, are the new regulations?  What is the goal of the new regulations? How will the new regulations change the way horses are handled, both before and after shipment to Canada?  Will the new regulations affect the number of horses sent to Canada for slaughter?  Will the new regulations put additional pressure on the current alternatives to Canadian slaughter (rescues and/or slaughter shipments to Mexico, for example)?

Today’s post will address the first two questions, since they deal with factual information that can me measured and verified.  Tomorrow, I’ll post my opinions about the rest of the questions. 

What are the new regulations?  The new regulations are part of the Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures, which is a reference document for inspectors of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and all other stakeholders in the Canadian meat hygiene program.  According to the CFIA, “The Manual contains information covering policies on the importation, exportation and interprovincial trade of meat products in addition to policies concerning the preparation of meat products in establishments licensed under the 1990 Meat Inspection Act and Regulations.”  The new regulation is found under Chapter 17, Annex E:  Ante and Post mortem Inspection Procedures, Dispositions, Monitoring and Controls – Red Meat Species, Ostriches, Rheas and Emus.  

It states:  “Effective July 31, 2010, it will be mandatory for all Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspected facilities in Canada engaged in the slaughter of equine for edible purposes to have complete records for all animals (domestic and imported) presented for slaughter. These records will include unique identification for each animal, a record of illness and a record of medical treatments administered to the animal for the six-month period preceding slaughter. The template entitled “Equine Information Document” (EID) of this annex (see E.2) shall be used by equine owners for this purpose.”  In short, this means that each horse bound for slaughter must be accompanied by a document with identification information (name, sex, color, markings, pedigree and registry numbers), photos or drawings completed by a veterinarian, and a signed statement from the owner documenting period(s) of ownership, vaccination and drug history covering at least six months and medical history covering at least six months.  In addition, the owner must certify whether he/she has knowledge of the horse being treated with one of the drugs on the list of drugs prohibited for use in food equines. 

Quite a few common medications used with sport and race horses appear on the “banned” list.  Here are a few of them:  phenylbutazone (“bute” a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory), nitrofurazone (“Fura-Zone,” “Furacin,” an anti-microbial), Bacitracin (a topical antibiotic), chloramphenicol (an antibiotic), clenbuterol (“Ventipulmin” a bronchodilator for horses with COPD) and Boldenone (“Equipoise” a steroid sometimes used in race horses).  While some of these substances are now forbidden by the USEF and FEI in competition horses, the drug rules for those organizations pertain to drug testing for competitions.  In other words, the USEF does not object to the use of some of these drugs for legitimate diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, it simply requires that the drugs clear the horse’s bloodstream and urine prior to competition (see the USEF’s rules here).  The USEF has no restrictions pertaining to how long forbidden drugs might otherwise reside in the horse’s tissues, since the USEF’s restrictions pertain to fairness in competition.  The Canadian rules pertain to safety of food for human consumption.  What might be fine for use in a competition horse is dangerous for use in a horse that will end up as someone’s dinner.

What is the goal of the new regulations?  The regulations are intended to address concerns about food safety, for horse meat intended for human consumption in Canada and for export from Canada to other countries.  While most Americans find human consumption of horse meat objectionable, there are many cultures that consider it perfectly acceptable.  Of course, if nobody ate horse meat, the regulations would be unnecessary.  However, the facts are that a number of people in several cultures consider horse meat an acceptable form of animal protein for food.  Chemicals that are used to medicate and de-worm horses are NOT meant to be used with food animals, and are surely dangerous to those who might be eating the meat, whether it’s cooked or raw.  The new regulations are intended to make it more difficult for tainted horse meat to enter the market, and easier for inspectors and slaughterhouses to identify horses that will be unsuitable for human consumption.  The full list of medications disallowed by the Canadian government for use with equines can be found here.

To read Part II of this series, which includes more opinion and less fact, click here

Can Horses suffer from IBS?

Here’s an interesting article from The Horse that considers whether some sub-colic GI issues in horses that don’t seem to have ulcers could be similar to irritable bowel syndrome in humans.  Good to know that someone is interested in studying this…

Been gone for awhile…

Hello fellow thoughtful horse people!  I’ve been away from my blog for awhile, dealing with some “whoa-Nellie!” family and business issues.  I’ve been thinking about a lot of things while I’ve been away.  So, welcome back to some interesting and fun discussions, thinking about horses!

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