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:  http://www.equinewelfarealliance.org/uploads/Horse_Slaughter_Trends_2006-2009.pdf

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.

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

Something to think about – Wild Horses II

Thought for today about wild horse adoption versus euthanasia:  The BLM needs an EXTREME MARKETING MAKEOVER!

Seriously, folks.  The American Mustang horse is one of the hardiest, sturdiest and most sensible horses you could ever want.  Just look at all the testimonials from people who have adopted them.  Based on the very few people I know here on the East Coast who have adopted a mustang, every one of them is happy.  I think there should be a serious breed registry for the American Mustang Horse, dedicated to promoting and preserving the breed.  Some breed registries like the Arabian Horse Association and American Quarter Horse Association are huge businesses that represent tens (hundreds) of thousands of horses, breeders and owners. 

Note to BLM:  I know some serious kick-butt marketing people who could help increase the public’s awareness of wild horses in a *positive* way — and help place more horses.  Another note:  recruit more horse trainers in highly populated areas in the eastern and far western U.S.  These people move a lot of horses every year, and could be instrumental in placing more Mustangs in new homes. 

Note to Horse people:  let the folks who can’t adopt a horse contribute to the foundations set up to protect the wild horses — those of us who CAN adopt, let’s do that.  For those of us who CAN train, why not pick up Mustang project horses the way some of us pick up TB’s (Thoroughbred’s) from the track?  I’m not advocating diverting any resources away TB adoptions — goodness knows that’s another very important endeavor — just pointing out that Mustangs are another source of horses that can be re-trained to lead very useful lives.

Another thought:  If a breed registry were established with the horses’ brand, and/or the horses were microchipped:

  • ownership transfers could be recorded,
  • the horses themselves could be tracked more easily, which could help reduce concerns about the horses being abused, neglected or sent to slaughter,
  • an organized breed registry could work toward recognition of the American Mustang with major performance competition registries like the USEF (U.S. Equestrian Federation) and other affiliated performance registries.  With the tracking of performance results for the American Mustang would come year-end awards, prizes, and a considerable increase in the appreciation of the breed.

With that, I think I’ll pat myself on the back and start working on that breed registry thing.  If you are interested in participating, please comment on this post!

Something to think about – Wild Horses I

I call this posting “Wild Horses I” because I have a feeling there will be a II and possibly a III, etc.  Everyone who knows me is aware that I get my knickers knotted whenever the subject of unwanted horses comes up and the speaker is (IMHO) speaking from a strictly sentimental or naieve viewpoint without attempting to base their opinions on any facts.  I love horses; I’ve dedicated a large portion of my life and my resources to caring for them as part of my personal passion and for business.  I also am a life-long learner, and I believe in educating myself by trying to gain factual information from both sides of an issue before making judgments.   

I have received numerous e-mails in the past weeks from people who are upset about the BLM (Bureau of Land Management, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior) announcement after the June 30th advisory board meeting of the Wild Horse and Bureau Advisory Board that BLM is considering euthanising horses. 

There seems to be a significant amount of mis-information and hysteria floating around.  I’m hearing things like “BLM is going to kill 30,000 horses!” and “America’s wild horses are soon going to be extinct!”  I have been researching those claims, along with statistics published by the Bureau of Land Management, to try to satisfy myself about the truth.  I will share with you what I’ve found, and I welcome your comments.  Ultimately, I wish to present a balanced discussion of the current situation of the American Mustangs, the BLM’s current problems and plans for the Mustangs, and reasonable approaches and options for dealing with the issue.  I hope that others with similar concerns will join in.  It would be great if people with first-hand knowledge of wild mustangs and the issues of herd management on public lands would comment.

If you are a victim of mass hysteria and all you have to contribute is “omg save the pretty horses from extinction!”  you probably won’t find much of a sympathetic ear here.  However, if you have reliable information,  intelligent questions and comments, please do contribute. 

I don’t claim to have any answers, at least not at the moment, but as someone who is concerned with the welfare of horses on a day-to-day basis, I feel compelled to get to the bottom of the current BLM issue — hope you’ll come along with me.  

Some questions to be addressed:

– what exactly is the BLM proposing to do?  what is the BLM’s authority to euthanize horses?  Why does BLM feel that’s necessary at this time?  Who decides whether to euthanize horses, and which ones will be euthanized?

– how many wild horses are there?  how much land do they inhabit — how has the amount of land dedicated to the horses changed over the years (if at all)?  where are the horses that are in “holding facilities” kept?

– what exactly is the BLM’s budget for wild horses, and how is it spent? 

– what has the BLM done to control the horse population to-date?  are the wild horses endangered?

– what can I do to help?

Something to think about — unwanted horses and other musings

No, this is not another post on the BLM/Wild Horse issue, although it’s related, and there will be more posts on the Wild Horse subject soon.  There are some highly recommended links at the end of this post, so be sure to check them out.

To get into the horse slaughter discussion is to really “step in it.”  But it’s difficult to talk about the issue of how to deal with the large number of unwanted horses in this country without talking about it, and some other highly-charged issues.  So pull on your virtual muck boots and lets go — it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Things I think about on a regular basis:

– Stewardship of equines is our responsibility as humans.  Can we all agree on that?  It’s a basic premise for everything that follows.  If you disagree, send a post and lets talk about it.

– I have not been totally anti-slaughter because I can’t think of an alternative.  While I believe that many horses bound for slaughter are treated inhumanely, the vision of tens of thousands of starving and mistreated horses dying slowly because no one can care for them seems worse.  I’m pretty sure all the people who insist that we could have found suitable adoptive homes for the 70,000 or so horses that went to slaughter last year are living on Planet Pollyanna.  If all the horse rescues are already bursting at the seams, where are we going to find an additional number of homes with responsible people who have the means and the knowledge to care for these horses?

– If there was a truly humane way to dispose of unwanted horses, would it matter whether the meat was bound for human consumption outside the U.S.?  The answer isn’t a simple yes or no.  Humane euthanasia involves drugs that render horses unfit for human consumption.  In fact, given the chemicals we use in wormer — read the label! — the vast majority of horses should not be entering the food supply, regardless of what country they’re headed for.  So, I guess whether people eat them or not should be a moot point.

– If the slaughter methods used for horses are exactly the same as the slaughter methods for cows and pigs, isn’t slaughter of all livestock equally inhumane?  Why are those methods ok for meat that we eat here in the U.S., and not for horse meat?  If we can set up a space station, shouldn’t we be able to figure out a humane way of slaughtering all kinds of animals that we need for food?  I’m not saying we should stop raising animals for meat or stop eating meat.  I am saying that we should insist that the animals we intend to eat should be healthy, transported safely and comfortably, and not subjected to stress, fear or pain in the process of converting them from living beings to our sustenance. 

– Do all the horses that go to slaugher represent unwanted horses? Apparently not.  Some people who send their horses to dealers and auctions apparently have no idea that the high bidder might be a kill dealer.  That’s the waay the dealers want it — otherwise they’d have a lot fewer customers.  Depending on the demand for meat and the kill dealer’s desire to meet his quota, it might be difficult to outbid him.  One interesting statistic that I read recently indicated that horse theft dropped by 34% in California when that state outlawed selling horses for slaughter.  Makes you think, doesn’t it?  I’ve read some reports recently of horses rescued from slaughter whose original owners specifically noted in their bills of sale that the horse should never go to auction, but that’s where the horses ended up anyway.  My take on it:  don’t kid yourself about horse auctions (I’m told that the majority of horses sold at New Holland are bound for slaughter) and NEVER send your horse to an auction unless you are ok with it going to slaughter.  If you don’t believe me, stick around at the end of an auction and watch the dealers who are loading up a whole bunch of horses on a trailer.  Chances are good that they’re heading north or south to a slaughterhouse in Canada or Mexico.

–  Big sources of horses that go to slaughter:  The Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industries — both through overbreeding and breeding nurse mares, and the Premarin industry.  Some of the results of these breeding programs are perfectly good horses.  Others are inbred nightmares that aren’t suitable to be sport or companion horses.  Horse breeders (myself included) have an obligation to produce animals that will have a decent life, and do everything we can to ensure it.  Some large-scale breeders kill or send the foals to slaughter right away if they won’t be suitable for the purpose they were bred for.  Is that wrong?  I’m not sure.

– There’s probably a lot more that we could be doing toward the goal of being ultimately responsible for the horses we bring into the world — such as making sure all horses are registered and microchipped.  Yes, microchipped.  I know a lot of people are against requiring that, but I’ve come to believe the benefits outwiegh the negatives.  Here’s a scenario:  I put specific instructions in my horse’s registration that he is never to be sold at auction or sent to slaughter.  That information is stored in a national datbase somewhere, along with the horse’s pedigree and chain of ownership.  There’s a person with a scanner at the auction house scanning horses and checking brands, and my horse brings up an alert when scanned.  The alert is recorded, along with the name of the auction house, and a contact person for the horse and the breed registry are notified.  It’s up to the breed registry whether they notify the breeder and/or the last owner of record.  The auction house risks prosecution, both civil and criminal if it sells the horse.  A local horse rescue that is funded by the state to protect such horses is notified, and they collect the horse from the auction house.  If the horse was stolen, the owner can get him back.  If the horse is unwanted, the rescue will attempt to place him and if he can’t be placed in a new home, he will be humanely euthanized, and that information will also be communicated to the breed registry.  I would be willing to pay a small additional fee to the state for each horse I sell, and/or to the breed registry when I register the horse to defray the cost of administering such a program.  The above doesn’t take into account “backyard bred” horses that don’t have a breed-registry pedigree.  I’m sure the model could be adjusted to include them.  I have a lot of other ideas about the benefits of microchipping, but I’ll save them for another blog post.  🙂 

So, what do you think of my ideas?  Here’s a link to a good article with a fairly realistic assessment of the unwanted horse and slaughter issue:  http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/features/horseslaughter-152.shtml.  Here’s a link to information about Temple Grandin and humane slaughter methods:  http://spiritofhumane.com.  Lots of information about Thoroughbreds, TB racing, horse welfare and off-the-track TB’s can be found at www.alexbrownracing.com.

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