B.C. MP Alex Atamanenko wants most horsemeat off the menu

An MP from B.C.'s Kootenays is hoping his bill banning the slaughter of most horses in Canada gets traction in the House of Commons this month.

Bill C-571 would ban the slaughter of horses unless they are raised primarily for consumption

A butcher works behind a ‘no horsemeat’ sign in central England in 2013, at the height of the scandal involving undeclared horsemeat being found in products labelled as beef. A B.C. MP wants to ban the slaughter of most horses for meat in Canada, arguing that many of the animals have been given drugs that are banned in food animals. (Darren Staples/Reuters)

An MP from B.C.'s Kootenays is hoping his bill banning the slaughter of most horses in Canada gets traction in the House of Commons this month.

Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko says most of the horses killed and processed in Canada come from Canadian and U.S. auction houses and are often given drugs throughout their lives that are banned for use in Canadian food animals.

"These horses — most of them have, at some point in time in their lifespan, received drugs that are prohibited in the food chain; however, we are still slaughtering horses without adequate oversight," Atamanenko said. "I'm hoping to put a stop to this."

He's drawn up a private member's bill that, if passed, would impose limits on the horse slaughter industry in Canada.

Specifically, Bill C-571 would ban the slaughter of horses unless they are raised primarily for consumption and have a complete, documented, medical history — effectively excluding the general population of horses from being considered eligible food animals.

The meat industry, which is opposed to the bill, points out that horse meat brings $83 million into the Canadian economy and that, as with beef or pork, the meat is inspected by the Canadian government and by governments in the importing countries.

According to Atamanenko, well over 50 per cent of the horses being slaughtered are imported from the U.S., where horse slaughter is currently prohibited. The U.S. is not permitted to sell horse meat directly into the EU, which is Canada’s primary market for horse meat, and instead sends horses to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.

An existing tracking system in Canada, the Equine Identity Document system, documents the medical history of horses brought in from the U.S., but only from the six months prior to slaughter. Atamanenko says it's not good enough.

"We have a really tightly-controlled meat industry where we have certain criteria that ranchers and those in the cattle industry have to conform to. We don't have that in the horse industry at all," he said.

Canada slaughtered just under 72,000 horses last year. Most of the meat was exported to Belgium, France and other parts of Europe, and to various parts of Asia.

With files from the CBC's Bob Keating

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