EU standards could signal new challenges for veterinary records, horse transport and slaughter

EU standards could signal new challenges for veterinary records, horse transport and slaughter

Aug 01, 2010

National Report — Since it's 2007 ban, America has exported the job of equine slaughter to its neighbors to the north and south — Canada and Mexico, both of which have cited increases in slaughter rates over the last three years.

But all that may soon change when a new European Union (EU) requirement, designed to safeguard horse meat exported to Europe for human consumption, will restrict the sale of meat from horses who have been given certain drugs that are unsafe in the food supply.

Effective July 31, 2010, the EU will not accept imported horse meat from countries like Canada and Mexico unless it can prove that certain drugs and steroids were not ingested by the horse within six months of slaughter. By 2013, the EU rule will require each slaughtered horse to be shipped with an Equine Identification Document (EID) — a detailed electronic log of a horse's lifetime veterinary record and the drugs it has been given. A number of drugs — including, but not limited to phenylbutazone, testosterone, common dewormers and some antibiotics — must not have been given to the horse in at least the last 180 days prior to slaughter or they can not be imported into EU nations.

This could mean big problems for the United States — especially if Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses stop accepting its unwanted horses.

How big is the problem?

Since the last of the United States equine slaughterhouses closed in 2007 at the urging of humane organizations, another problem has emerged, and some industry reports indicate that slaughter of United States horses at plants in Mexico and Canada at are an all-time high.

Prior to slaughterhouses closing in 2007, it was estimated that the United States processed about 100,000 horses per year.

The number of United States horses slaughtered in Canada rose about 13 percent after the last domestic plant closed, reports the Animal Law Coalition. Other agencies report similar numbers.

According to a report compiled by the Equine Welfare Alliance and the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC), about 50,000 horses were slaughtered in Canada in 2006, resulting in more than $20 million in revenue. In 2008, the year after the last United States slaughterhouse closed, that number jumped to nearly 113,000 and more than $109 million in revenue. By 2009, numbers had decreased to about 94,000 horses — down from the year before, but still well above the 2006 level. Additionally, only about 35 percent of horses slaughtered in Canada were imported from the United States, compared to nearly 60 percent by 2009, according to the report.

In Mexico, similar increases have been noted. A report by the American Veterinary Medical Association found that from December 2006 to December 2007, the number of horses shipped to Mexico for slaughter rose from nearly 11,000 to more than 44,000 — an increase of more than 300 percent. Exports for other reasons, like breeding and recreation, also increased, "raising concerns that many of these horses are actually being sent to slaughter, but shipped under false pretenses," AVMA says.

In addition to the number of horses sent to slaughter, there is the big question of exactly how big the unwanted horse problem today.

A July 2009 survey by the Unwanted Horse Coalition found that 90 percent of respondents believed the number of unwanted, neglected and abused horses was increasing. Almost 90 percent called the unwanted horse issue a "big problem," compared with only 22 percent prior to the shutdown of stateside equine slaughterhouses. A majority of equine rescue and retirement facilities are at full capacity, and many respondents blamed the closure of U.S. plants, the economy, and the high cost of euthanasia and disposal for the growing crisis. Aside from educating horse owners and funding rescue operations, many of the survey respondents — consisting of horse owners, veterinarians, trainers, breeders and more — favored reopening slaughterhouses as a means to curb the number of unwanted horses.