Claiming human health risks in meat coming from animals that weren’t raised for the dinner plate, the federal New Democrats’ agriculture critic has proposed to ban the slaughter of horses for food.
“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,” Alex Atamanenko said in a release Thursday on Bill C-544.
The southern B.C. MP’s bill was introduced Wednesday in the House of Commons as a private member’s bill to amend the Health of Animals Act and the Meat Inspection Act.
Drugs which are prohibited for use in food animals during their lives are “routinely” being administered to horses, he said, naming phenylbutazone, a.k.a. “bute.”
Bute is from the group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) commonly used to treat lameness in horses, as an analgesic (pain reliever) and anti-inflammatory drug.
However, according to a 2004 Ontario ag department fact sheet on bute, horse owners are warned to never inhale or ingest it and to wash their hands right after handling it, as it’s associated with “bone marrow, renal, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal side effects” in people.
At least 50 per cent of the horses now slaughtered in Canada are imported from the U.S., where horse slaughter has been essentially banned over the past several years, Atamanenko said in his release. Horse meat from Canadian slaughter plants is sold primarily for export.
And, he said, there are no rules in the U.S. to block horse owners from administering bute, which he described as a “known carcinogen,” or other banned substances because horses are not treated as food animals.
“Many in the U.S. believe it should be our job to verify information from U.S. horses since Canada is the only one slaughtering them for human consumption,” said Atamanenko.
“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.”
Canada, he said, is preparing to introduce a new “equine passport” system to track health history and medical treatments of horses arriving at Canadian slaughter plants, including those from the U.S.
The system, he said, has been crafted under pressure from officials in the European Union, and he predicted it will be “impossible” for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to verify the data in such passports.
According to CFIA’s animal health division, federally- and provincially-inspected slaughter plants processed 111,236 horses for meat in 2008, up from 79,850 in 2007 and 50,067 in 2006.
Canada’s horse meat exports totalled 20,912 tonnes in 2008, up from 13,809 in 2007 and 10,105 in 2006. Most of those exports are shipped as boneless and bone-in cuts. France alone took about 26 per cent of Canada’s horse meat exports in 2008.
Most private members’ bills never make it through the House of Commons to become law and it’s not known how much support C-544 can expect from other MPs.
Another of Atamanenko’s recent bills, however, has made it through second reading, to the chagrin of groups representing Canada’s seed, biotech and crop chemical industries.
Currently before the Commons standing committee on agriculture and food, to which it was referred after second reading in April, his Bill C-474 calls for an export market assessment on any new genetically-modified (GM) crop variety proposed for registration.