Horse Slaughter Bill C-571 Defeated

A private member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Alex Atamanenko “In the hopes of legislating severe restrictions on Canada’s horse slaughter industry” was voted down in the House of Commons on May 14, 2014. 

Bill C-571 sought to amend the Safe Food for Canadians Act and the Meat Inspection Act to prohibit the importation or exportation of horses for slaughter or horsemeat products for human consumption. If passed, the bill would have effectively shut down Canada’s horse slaughter industry.
Bill C-571 was an extension of a previous bill C-322 that was voted down in 2011, this time providing an exception for when horses have actually been raised primarily to produce meat for human consumption with lifetime medical records to prove that medications and other substances toxic to humans have not been administered. According to Atamanenko, “If this law were in place today there would be few, if any, horses that could be considered eligible as a food animal, especially those arriving from the US.”
Atamanenko, a former NDP Agriculture Critic representing British Columbia Southern Interior, further stated on his website, “Tens of thousands of Canadian and US horses with virtually unknown medication histories are being slaughtered every year to produce meat for human consumption…The passage of Bill C-571 would ensure that the same safety standards and accountability required for all animals intended for the human food supply is applied to horses – if the industry cannot live up to these standards then it should not be allowed to operate at all.”
In the debate preceding the vote, Mark Eyking, Liberal agriculture critic for the riding of Sydney-Victoria, Nova Scotia, supported Bill C-571, calling it, “a step in the right direction.” He described a $19 million industry that, in 2013, processed over 72,000 horses, 85 percent for export, employing 500 people across Canada. 
As a horse owner, Eyking separated the issue of the humane treatment of slaughter-bound horses from fulfilling food safety requirements. “The question today is not whether we should we be using horsemeat or disposing of horses in this way. The question today is whether horsemeat is safe. We have to make sure that it is safe and that there are no chemicals or medications in the meat when we sell it or consume it ourselves in this country.”
The bill was not supported by Mylène Freeman, MP for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC, the location of one of five Canadian horse slaughter plants that employs about 70 people in a town of less than 4,000 residents. Their horsemeat is all shipped to Europe.
Freeman stated that the handling of horses at that facility is viewed as one of the best in North America; “slaughtering is conducted according to government regulations. The meat is tested, examined, and batches are identified to avoid any problem. If there is contamination, the whole batch is traced and pulled out. That plant's modern system for the handling of animals was designed by Temple Grandin, a professor at the University of Colorado who is a professor of animal science and an internationally renowned expert in animal husbandry. The goal is to respect the animals and ensure their well-being to reduce their stress.”
She pointed out that there is already legislation on health and safety for the industry. “We have regulations about transport, about how horses should be slaughtered, and about the types of drugs that are allowed or not allowed. All this is regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.”
Freeman conceded, “it is always possible to improve inspections…to ensure that horses in auction houses have correct documentation and that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency meet standards and respect animals.”
In the U.S., while Congress did not create an explicit ban on horse slaughter, starting in fiscal year 2006 it prohibited the use of federal funds for inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) of horses in transit to slaughter and at slaughtering facilities, effectively shutting down their domestic horse slaughter industry in 2007. Freeman explained that this left many horses suffering welfare issues as they were transported to Mexico or Canada for processing or just abandoned.
In Canada, an Equine Identification (EID) system was introduced in July 2010 that requires identification and health information for all domestic and imported horses for the six-month period prior to slaughter. Atamanenko told Ontario Farmer that this system is “very loose” and difficult to enforce. The CFIA “seems content” that the system is working well, which is one of the reasons that he felt his bill was defeated. 
As he prepares for retirement, a dismayed Atamanenko will now pass the torch to the next government. In a press release after the vote he thanked the efforts of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition and the Humane Society International, whose agenda is to shut down horse slaughter in Canada, that “have worked so hard to bring about action to clean up the shady and irresponsible practices of this unnecessary industry.”
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©2014 K. Dallimore. All Rights Reserved.