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Six things we learned from the Star’s investigation into the Canadian horsemeat industry

A horse tartare sandwich from the Black Hoof (Image: Jen Chan from the Flickr pool)

Any time an investigation takes place at a “kill auction,” you know its findings will be grim. This weekend’s report from the Toronto Star’s Robert Cribb on Canada’s central role in the horsemeat industry is no exception. Horsemeat, which predominantly comes from animals not bred for food, has come under fire in Canada before (notably during Top Chef Canada) over complaints of poor sourcing and inhumane practices, and recently many countries—including the U.S.—have banned the stuff. Six things we learned from the Star’s investigation, after the jump.

1. This is no mom-and-pop cottage industry.
The industry in Canada rakes in $70 million annually, and Canadian slaughterhouses ship out 20,000 tons a year (300 tons of which are consumed within our borders, mainly in Quebec). Between 90,000 and 113,000 horses are killed in Canada for consumption per year.

2. The true North, strong and…opportunistic?
In 2007, when horsemeat was officially banned in the United States, horse sellers immediately turned to Canada, where they were promptly embraced. The total number of horses slaughtered for horsemeat in Canada has risen by nearly 120 per cent since then.

3. If Canadian officials won’t police the safety of horsemeat, the EU might.
European Union inspectors will be coming to Canada for an audit of horsemeat facilities in September. They will be primarily concerned with dangerous levels of phenylbutazone (PBZ), an anti-inflammatory commonly used for pain relief on horses, which has shown up in a series of tests over a five-year period. PBZ is banned from use in animals intended for human consumption in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and the EU.

4. The waiting is the hardest part.
Horses, unlike most livestock, do not travel well. So, suffice it to say, they don’t always respond well when being transported from kill auctions in the U.S. to federally licensed slaughterhouses in Quebec. In what is easily the most disturbing part of the article, we learn that more than 30 horses at a time are forced travel together in cramped trailers for 22 or more consecutive hours, standing upright without water or hay—with tragic results.

5. The debate may not be as cut and dry as many think.
The article quotes horse buyer Jeron Gold arguing: “There is an end life for everything. I’d like to know what people want to do with all these horses that nobody wants. I’d like somebody to answer that. [Every day] I see…horses mistreated, skinny, didn’t have proper care and there’s nobody to take care of them. Who’s going to take care of them?”

6. Toronto restaurants are engaged in the horsemeat trade.
La Palette on Queen Street West serves horsemeat on its menu and sources it from the same slaughterhouse in Quebec that Cribb visits. And while owner Shamez Amlani is quoted defending the treatment of those horses, Cribb also points out that some customers simply leave the restaurant when they see “viande chevaline” on the menu.

• Dirty little secret: Canada’s slaughter industry under fire [Toronto Star]

  • HPC

    I got seriously angry reading that article. We have a habit in this part of the world of getting on high horses and looking down on and criticising things that are different or that we don’t understand.

    The author of that story sure made eating horse sound bad without producing any real reason for it being worse to eat than more common mass produced meats. Worried about hormones and drugs injected into horses? UH….why don’t you google what goes into the feed of industrially produced pigs and cattle? Oh…horses are more prone to stress when they are transported for slaughter? What about pigs who have a proven higher IQ than horses and are equally prone to stress? What about venison, which are essentially wild animals and are much less used to being placed in confined places? It doesn’t appear the author took issue to that.

    If you are going to act all high and mighty about the evils of horse meat, I would suggest addressing first the issues of poultry, pig and cattle farming which is a much larger and prevalent problem in our society than horse meat will ever be.

  • Debi Blood

    The commenter before me, HPC, is absolutely right. The public tends to become indignant over the mistreatment of what we consider “companion animals”, yet the majority of animal abuse occurs in beef, pork and poultry industries. I find it disingenuous of anyone who eats meat to be dismayed at the slaughter of equines.

    If the public in general actually cared about the ethical treatment of the animals we share this planet with, they’d stop eating flesh hacked from the corpses of abused, tortured and cruelly slaughtered “livestock” animals.

  • D Orsatti

    I was shocked to read this article on the inhumane treatment of these animals it upset me all day that these horses end their days being crammed into vehicles without proper food and water.

    Congratulations to the Star for bringing this to our attention to talk about this amongst our co-workers, neighbours anyone who will listen. We must speak out to stop things like this from happening.

  • scout

    Check out #3 HPC and Debi.

    PBZ is a carcinogen even in minute quatities in the tissues of food animals !!!! and is banned from any horse entering the food chain. PZB never leaves the system unlike other drugs that are flushed from it over given time intervals. Essentially EVERY horse in NA is given “bute” (horse aspirin)so all represent toxic meat.

    Besides, horses are not raised as food here in NA but rather as pleasure and sport companions and that is our culture, so you should respect it.

    On that note I completely agree that the torture of factory farming is unspeakable and the suffering of animals intended for food is abhorrent. In general, the public DOES care about these conditions. Unfortunately it is big business. $$$$$$$$$ talks. There are numerous advocacy groups out there trying to lobby for change however, the government turns a blind eye as it is all about the mighty dollar.

    What are you doing about it???

    Greed rules the world – simply sick~

  • HPC


    I wasn’t saying that eating horse meat was okay. I was making a point about how silly it is to vilify a relatively negligible part of Canada’s food industry while forgetting to talk about issues that are much more serious.

    According to the article, Canada slaughters 90-120 000 horses a year. But our pig industry slaughters over 15 million pigs a year, most of which have been intensively reared, pumped full of antibiotics and generally live an insanely pitiful life.

    Do you get my point? It’s ridiculous to single out horse meat production as dangerous and inhumane when most people in our society, including restauranteurs and news paper columnists have no problem chowing down on an intensively reared, drug filled pork chop.

    And as far as your assertion that most of the public does care about how meat is raised….Well, I’m sorry, but your own argument disproves itself. You’re right, big business and the government are all about money. And that’s why they would change their ways if there was some form of monetary incentive. Say, if people stopped buying hormone filled, factory farmed meat and demanded stores carry more ethically grown food. If that were the case, big business would be forced to change it’s ways to preserve its large profit margins.

    The truth is, North Americans want a lot of meat and they want it cheap. This fact is evidenced in the insanely low prices of meat at the super markets and the comically large steaks you see on people’s plates at restaurants. Sorry to say, but the public, on the whole, isn’t interested at all in the welfare of food animals. And, to that end, shouldn’t be worrying about horses either.

    Or maybe dumping ill-founded, hypocritical judgement on certain types of meat production is an innate part of the North American cultural identity and we should “respect it”.

  • Helene Brigden

    With the seal slaughter, horse butchery, the thousand of puppy mills in Quebec, Canada is becoming more and more known throughout the world as the uncaring, indifferent, greedy, ugly country where politicians is allowing to sell our cruelty to Asia so we can get their own atrocities such as dog and cat fur. What a beautiful country for sure.

  • Libby B

    Horses are noble and beautiful creatures. They were someone’s pony, pet, dressage horse, racehorse, companion, or workhorse. Should slaughter be their reward? I am the proud parent of four horses. They are high-spirited, spooky, fearful, intelligent, loyal, trusting, and simply magnificent. I have promised them a kind end of life when the time comes. The sick people who send their horses to auction need a wake up call. It costs $100-$200 to euthanize a horse. To send a horse to auction earns almost no profit after transportation costs and fees. But people are greedy for every last dime. And the people who eat horses – aren’t there a lot of French in Quebec? Nuff said.

  • Mac

    This is a public safety issue. Irresponsible horse owners in the US dump their pets and companion animals at slaughter auctions without regard to the health effects. RAcing and show horses are kept fit an competitive using a variety of drugs and supplements, most of which are not intended for use in meat animals. If people want horse meat then lets produce hoses for human consumption.

  • Linda Redman

    Only the Canadian government and people can stop this atrocity. American horses are not meant to be eaten. In the US they are considered “companion animals” and Canada’s “open door” policy not only provides an opportunity for killer buyers to send horses to Canada it puts everyone at risk who eats horses (although I think they should be put more than just “at risk”).

    Canadians stand up and stop this!

  • annie

    I don’t remember reading in any history books pigs,cows ect being ridden into battle. My horse is my partner. I will not eat my cat, dog or my horse, they are companion animals. Horses have always been in the service of man & have played an important part in the history of mankind. All animals should be treated with respect & kindness. Support your local small farms & know where your food comes from & how it is treated & how it is killed. Any place of business that sells horse meat will NEVER get one red cent from me!

  • Ruth

    Ok people, now you can eat horse meat, cheap, next, you will east human meat, cheaper. No one knows the difference in meat product, so, when you buy a burger for less a dollar, don`t complain. Meat is meat. :)

  • R

    I think the issue is when does this stop? When do we, as Canadians say enough? We live in such an opportunistic society, where we believe because we are top of the food chain that we have this entitlement that we can destroy life – it doesn’t matter who or what it is. We can treat it however we want; and we don’t care how it lives or dies; we just want it.

    I am disheartened by it all. I believe when a reporter writes an article about horsemeat, it causes enragement because there are boundaries for some of us. And its these boundaries, once crossed and raised, that I hope causes enough motivation to take action and say this is not okay. Stop!

  • Anti Peta but PRO HORSE

    We have gone to war with Horses, Horses are used by the Police, and we have them as companions, race horse, or some other discipline. How can we compare a PIG, COW(who are bred for consumption) to a horse who is a remarkable animal, and has been a LOYAL animal to humans for hundreds of years. Some of you A holes wake the F up!. I am NOT a tree hugger or an animal activist. I am a person who loves these incredible animals, and allowing kill buyers to ship them up here crammed from floor to ceiling in tiny trailers for 25-30 hrs on end is simply a travesty. If you want to kill a horse….humanly euthanize it and that is that. You want to make a WHOLE 300 bucks WOW!. I live in Toronto, and if anyone has a problem with what I just wrote let me know a time and place and I will gladly meet up with you :)

  • Heathe Clemenceau

    What some have written here about cruelty and phenylbutazone is quite true, and the author provides a balanced investigation, which is more than I can say for some of the comments.

    For more info about horsemeat in general and the La Palette protest underway, please read: