With slaughterhouses closed in the U.S. and lucrative markets for horsemeat in France and Japan, the horse slaughter industry in Canada is booming. It's a controversial business to begin with, and after a lengthy investigation, CBC News has uncovered disturbing information about the way horses are transported, and the way they are slaughtered at one plant.
Now, some are asking whether this sector is being properly monitored, and how the slaughter of horses can ever be called humane.
Mellissa Fung reports.
Read more from Dr. Temple Grandin
The following are selected responses about the conditions and quality of horse slaughter plants from an interview between reporter Mellissa Fung (MF) and Dr. Temple Grandin (TG), a designer of livestock handling facilities and a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD STUN BOX
TG: You have to have a non-slip floor - I can't emphasize that enough. The problem with flooring is that it wears out gradually, and people don't realize it's wearing out and the slipping and the falling gradually gets worse and worse and worse. If you have a slippery floor, animals panic. All species of animals panic when I go into new plant that's got a problem that I haven't been in before. I’ve had to put in new materials on the bottom of the stun box for non-slip flooring. It's easy to fix. You can put mats down or weld rods on the bottom of the box. One of the problems you get is called jigging and the foot will just go like this (makes a sound with her hand on table) and the animals will go more and more into a panic. Well, one little steel rod and that stops, and sometimes, that's all. It’s amazing sometimes how little tiny fixes will work.
RICHELIEU MEAT INC.
TG: There was a horse looking out over the top of the cattle stun box. That is not acceptable. You need high solid sides so the horse cannot see out into the plant. That's an easy fix, you're talking about just framing up a little bit of steel and putting some metal on that. You're not talking about capital improvements here.
MF: Why is it bad for a horse to be able to look out of the stun box?
TG: If the horse can see out, you get a lot of motion and commotion, which is scary. You don't want them seeing a lot of commotion. In the lead up to the stun box they can look over the top, that's fine, but once they go into the door through the plant they should not be looking out - the door should come down.
MF: What can cause stunning problems?
TG: There can be problems if they don't maintain the gun. When they stun the animal, you have to see - did they aim it right? Was the gun misfired or is the horse jumping all around? If the horse is jumping all around, that's either caused by a slippery floor or they poked it with an electric prod out in the alleyway and they got it all upset and frightened, or they let it stand up in the box too long. So you have to figure out - do I have a problem with the gun, or do I have a problem with the handling, or the floor of the stun box? Those are things that can cause stunning to fail. But those guns have to be maintained, like a fine hunting rifle. Every day you’ve got to take the gun apart, clean it fix it, you’ve got to make sure the gun doesn't get damp. It gets back to management paying attention to detail. One of the things that video showed was that management was sloppy. I've been in that Bouvry plant three times and when I’m standing there it works just fine. This brings up another thing, if someone wants me to approve a plant; they better put in video auditing that is audited by third party that can be tuned into at any time. So they never will know when someone’s watching, and they can do the scoring over the internet. In fact, some of the big cattle companies have already put that in.
MF: How long should a horse be in a stun box?
TG: I'd like to get them stunned within 15 seconds. It [the horse] walks in, you shut the door and you do it. They're putting them in there and letting them wait, and that's wrong. They need to wait until the plant's ready and then open the door and bring the horse in. You don't let it wait in the stun box. Some of the plants do that now because they’re understaffed. Maybe they're going to have to add another person for handling so they don't have to do that.
MF: How long should you wait between shots if they first shot isn't accurate?
TG: You should just do it immediately. They have to do what's possible for them to do. If the horse falls down in the box, they may not be able to reach it that quickly, but they need to do something about it right away. You don't wait.
TG: OIE guidelines right now - and that's the World Organization for Animal Health - says that electric prods should not be used on horses. They need to be pretty much just getting rid of electric prods. Electric prods should not be used on sheep. On the 2010 of the AMI guidelines, to get an excellent score for sheep now, it has to be zero percent. They're still allowing 5% for big rams.
TG: A horse, as a species, is more flighty, than cattle are. So if you poke a horse with an electric prod, it’s going to get more upset than cattle would. They're both going to get upset, but the horse is more reactive. Horses as a species are more reactive than cattle are.
MF: Is that what makes horses harder to stun?
TG: They can be stunned really easily. I've been in these plants and I've seen them work right. It gets down to management just wanting to make the plant work right. I was supposed to go to that plant in Saskatchewan, but by the time I landed the trip was cancelled. That plant had a ton of problems. But I’ve been in Bouvry plant and seen it work well.
MF: How long ago since you've been there?
TG: About two years ago, and it worked just fine. But, it was not working just fine on that video. What this means is when backs are turned, people are not managing. We've had some problems with this, with cattle. When we're out there with a clipboard watching, people behave. This is why some companies now have video auditing. Cargill put in video auditing in all their plants for cattle and for pigs. And now an auditor that's in another state will tune into those plants on that video every day and score at least 20 cattle at random - they never know when they're going to get watched. It's very interesting what happens. Stunning usually stays the same. Handling is the thing that gets bad when the back's turned. Stunning is very equipment dependent - you've got to have a well-maintained gun. Handling is 100% people dependent, other than the slippery floors - slippery floors are a really important equipment thing.
MF: Why would someone just whip a horse?
TG: Well, some people shouldn't be handling animals. One of the things I’ve learned is when you look at 10 people out in a plant, or out in some big place handling tons of animals, there's one that shouldn't be there. They like to herd them and they just shouldn't be there. There's probably two that are very good handlers and then there are others I can train and supervise it really gets down to management taking animal handling seriously. Something like that horse being whipped in the face, I’d blame that on plant management. Plant management needs to be controlling that stuff. It’s up to plant management to set the standard. Good equipment makes good handling possible. I'm going to say to Bouvry’s if they fix the floor they'll have adequate equipment. It’s not state of the art, but it's adequate. But then, management has got to not just care when I’m there and do a show. I was really angry when Kurt was giving me this report of this video, because I know Bouvry's is capable of doing it right. You see, this gets down to management taking handling seriously all the time. This is not unique just for horse plants. Places that have a manager who cares, have good handling. Places that have a manager that does not care, often have bad handling. It doesn't matter what species you're handling.
MF: So those videos tell you that the management doesn't care.
TG: Management is not paying attention. You know, they put on a show when I was there.
BOUVRY HORSE EXPORTS
TG: It's an older facility, but it's an older facility than the one that's operated. It's adequate. They've got a covered bar - it's adequate. They've got just a single file chute that holds about four horses that leads up to the stun box and that's outside the plant. It's out in the barn, the chute where the horses wait in line. They line up in the barn and stand there pretty quiet. It's in the barn, and the steel gate comes up like this, one horse at a time, goes right in. I've watched them work that - they just went in with a pat on the rear end. They went in there pretty easily.
MF: Do the horses stay calm in the chute?
TG: They seem to stay calm in the chute because it's outside the slaughterhouse building itself. The chute is out in the barn. That’s good, that’s a real good design. The horse doesn't enter the slaughterhouse itself, until it enters the stun box. I've seen them wait quietly. When they get in the box with all the noise is when they start to get scared. There are things you can do to reduce noise. One of the problems in the plants are the materials that absorb noise you cannot clean. Materials that are easy to clean tend to be noisy materials.
TG: With the equipment they have at Bouvry they're capable of putting horses down in one shot and doing a good job - if management chooses to do a good job. The problem at Bouvry is not equipment mainly it's management. Hitting the horse in the face is management, that's Richelieu.
ELECTRIC PROD USE AT RICHELIEU
TG: Well, I’m more concerned with whipping the horse in the face. That's absolutely not acceptable and I understand that they were putting more than one animal in the stun box, that's also not acceptable. It's one animal at a time in a stun box. When you shoot the first one, the second one gets all upset. That's true for cattle, too. It’s one animal in a stun box.
TG: Whipping an animal in the face - doesn't matter what species it is - that's an automatic failed audit - a willful act of abuse.
MF: Why would somebody do that?
TG: Because they're stupid and not being supervised.
MF: What does management need to do to make sure that doesn't happen?
TG: They need to stop it. As far as I’m concerned, they need to put these plants on video auditing and have people who can look in at any time and score them. Just like some of the big beef plants have put in. The part that seems to get bad when the back is turned and nobody's watching is handling. Things like hitting them with a prod too much, that's the thing that tends to get worse when nobody's watching.
MF: Why is that?
TG: People are lazy and it's easier to get them [the horses] in if you poke them with a prod. Good animal handling is going to require that person who's driving the animals - no matter what species you're handling - to walk more. He's got to go back and get smaller groups. If he puts two ponies in a stun box, then he doesn't have to walk as much.
Read More From Dr. Brian Evans from the CFIA
The following are selected responses about the conditions and quality of horse slaughter plants from an interview between Mellissa Fung (MF) and Dr. Brian Evans from the CFIAMF: What are the roles of the inspectors inside slaughter plants in Canada?
BE: First and foremost, food safety is a large part of the plants. So, they’re responsible for ante mortem and post mortem (before and after the animals are killed) to validate there are no disease processes in the animal. From a residue monitoring perspective, we have residue monitory programs that look to ensure that no drugs or therapeutants remain in the animals that would be contrary to Health Canada standards for food safety. So there’s a very directed food safety component. Under the Health of Animals Act, they carry out responsibilities for disease surveillance. When animals come together at these types of assembly points, at slaughter, it gives us a very clear indication if there are any new and emerging diseases in the animal population or that are breaking out in the animal population. Case in point, the foot and mouth outbreak in the UK in 2001 was actually detected in a slaughterhouse, even though it had been moving around the country for a period of time. So that is a very critical role as well. Obviously, under the Meat Inspection Act and the Health of Animals Acts there are responsibilities with respect to duty of care and humane treatment of animals. Both in terms of the offloading of animals from a humane transport perspective and the mustering and penning of animals in the plants. And subsequently, there is a humane aspect in the Meat Inspection Act to ensure that the animals are stunned properly to avoid any unnecessary pain.
MF: So is there a CFIA inspector, or veterinarian?
BE: There are both. There are veterinarians in charge, and they are supported by technicians, or trained inspectors as well.
MF: So there would be somebody on the kill floor, watching the stunning of animals?
BE: Not on a full-time basis. Given the nature of the work that they do they may have to move to watch the unloading of a van or a delivery vehicle to ensure that the animals that are coming off are ambulatory, and not unduly stressed. They have to also watch in the assembly area to make sure animals are appropriately sorted, to make sure that stallions are not penned to stallions that could get into a fight circumstance. And they do have the responsibility, as you say, also to provide observation on a cyclical basis to what happens in the stunning box. And they have post-stunning box responsibilities as well, as they follow the carcasses through the inspection system.
MF: So there isn’t an inspector, per se, on the kill floor the entire time?
BE: As I said, they do rotate their responsibilities to cover the full scope of responsibilities.
MF: What do they have to do if they see something that doesn’t meet the standard?
BE: The standards are set to achieve two things: obviously, they want to ensure that animals are quiet and that they’re able to express normal behaviour in that environment (which is often difficult to do, with animals coming together). With respect to the kill part of the plant, the stunning area, they have two responsibilities: first and foremost, we have a standard that says that when horses are stunned, or desensitized, whether it’s with a captive bolt or a firearm (which are the internationally recognized means of stunning or killing horses) in these environments, that a) it’s done appropriately, and b) that they have to achieve on an ongoing basis, 95%. 95 out of every 100 animals must be stunned appropriately on the first shot or the first bolt.
BE: Historically in Canada, both from an audit perspective and a documentation perspective, we achieve a high degree of compliance there. Most of the plants in Canada actually achieve a 96 or 98 percent first shot kill. There’s also a second standard which says that 100% of animals, unequivocally, no animal can be moved from the stun box and put onto the rail if it has sensibilities. And so 100% of animals must be desensitized or confirmed to be dead before they can be put on the rail. Those are the two standards that apply in that area.
MF: Have you seen the videos?
BD: I have yes, although the dates I understand might be somewhat questionable. Quite honestly I was shocked, angered, dismayed. I don’t – and I don’t think that we as an agency – accept the videos in terms of that type of activity to be acceptable within the standards that we attempt to deliver based on a the legislation. We do recognize as well, in looking at the videos, is that our challenge, in terms of investigating the videos – is to ensure that both those incidents, which are not acceptable and will not be tolerated, how do they fit within the other evidence that we have, and the other standards that we maintain, but certainly on a personal level, I found them very disturbing.
MF: Where there any reports filed by your inspectors on those days. And have you seen any reports?
BE: Inspectors do file reports on an ongoing basis. Part of our challenge again, is the videos as they’re presented appear to be segments of videos put together. They’re not continuous stream video, so validating when they took place and putting that against inspection records is part of our challenge in the investigation. We have had audits that were done in the plants before the period when the videos were reported to have been taken and there were audits taken subsequently to the release date in March, and in those circumstances, the companies were meeting the standards, as I’ve described them.
MF: So you’re saying that those days are aberrations.
BE: No, I’m not saying they’re aberrations. I’m saying the videos themselves are of a deep concern. They are troubling videos and we need to validate, in that circumstance, when you do run into those circumstances, what were the corrective actions that were taken immediately and we’re not able to discern that from the videos.
MF: But were there corrective actions taken on those days?
BE: There appears to have been corrective actions taken not on those specific days. We’re still trying to determine what are those specific days because the people who reportedly received the videos and published them have changed around the days. Our challenge is to look at the totality, every day, in any given day. Those are not acceptable outcomes.
MF: What about the Richelieu video?
BE: We’ve looked at the videos extensively. We cannot find presence of a CFIA inspector in any of the scenes where there are difficulties. There is one scene where we do recognize a CFIA inspector, but during that time the animals are moving quietly and there doesn’t appear to be any issue with the animal at the point the CFIA inspector is present.
MF: And the electric prod?
BE: I don’t think it was a one-day occurrence and certainly that falls outside our accepted parameters. We have banned them, and we have made sure that that equipment is no longer in the plant and there’s been signage that’s been posted around the plant to ensure that they cannot be brought into the plant or used. They are not acceptable for use with horses.
MF: Why wouldn’t the inspector have noticed this before?
BE: Again, that’s part of our investigation currently.
MF: How long have these inspectors worked at these plants?
BE: The inspectors that work at these plants vary in terms of their experience. People rotate through various establishments in the course of their duties, depending on workload, on the volume of animals that are moving, on shifts and so it’ s hard to say any one inspector is in that plant on a permanent basis. There is a veterinarian in charge who is assigned to that facility, but the inspection staff does rotate. There are retirements, there are new hires, and there is attrition. And we rotate people around plants, to provide mentoring and oversight.
MF: Any reports from any inspectors or veterinarians where electric prods were being used?
BE: I have not seen a report where that was noted in the report, no.
MF: Is that a shortcoming or problem in the inspection process?
BE: I think it does speak to the fact that we need to be constantly ensuring that training and follow up is being done appropriately with the inspectors and that they’re supported appropriately. It’s not just having someone in a plant on an individual day basis, but it’s also important that we have external experts coming in to monitor what the inspectors are seeing and what the inspectors are doing. We are certainly trying our best to make sure that not only is the inspector well prepared, but we’re increasing the frequency by which other people come into the place and provide mentoring and oversight to them.
MF: What is the time between horse in box and being stunned?
BE: There’s no time standard. It’s important to make sure that the horse is comfortable, that the horse is at ease, if the horse is not, then the horse should be removed from the stun box or be taken away until such a time as it can be presented appropriately. Again, in order to get the appropriate angle, in order to get a desensitizing captive bolt shot it’s really not based on time. Time is not the issue. It’s the presentation of the animal and being able to do it effectively.
MF: Dr. Grandin disagrees.
BE: And I would accept her judgement there.
MF: Why would a horse be left in there that long and why wouldn’t the inspector have said something?
BE: Again, that will be part of the investigation. That is part of our ongoing investigation that standards have not been met. I don’t have that answer at this time but it is an answer that we are pursuing.
MF: Talk a bit about your investigation.
BE: It’s equally about what happened on those days, but it’s equally also about making sure it doesn’t happen on a more regular basis. As I’ve said, I think our records, our use of third party assessors, has indicated that for the most part a high level of compliance is obtained in most of these circumstances. It’s the exceptions we have to make sure we address appropriately as well as maintaining ongoing vigilance.
BE: There are three levels of investigations that occur: The investigation in respect to the videos themselves, again, difficult from a video perspective, because video doesn’t appropriately cover if the horse itself is desensitized? Again, the best way to determine that is working through the head, checking corneal reflex making sure that there’s no sensitivity in the animal. The fact there may be paddling, or horse movement and limb movements can happen, that is often a consequence of any stunning that’s not unique to horses. So ability to determine whether a horse is fully desensitized is difficult, which again gets back to why we need to make sure the frequency of oversight for this – to make sure the inspectors have first-hand experience with this is very important.
BE: The second component of the investigation is about making sure that the staff in the plant understand their authorities, that they are supported in exercising their authorities, there are no means by which they would be reluctant to take an action or to document an issue if an issue is identified in the course of their inspections. And the inspections have a third level of investigation, in which we collaborate beyond our legal authorities, and so in that circumstance for example, animal cruelty legislation, we are also cooperating currently with the RCMP in Alberta, the Sororite de Quebec in the Quebec circumstance in respect of the humane organizations in those jurisdictions, who also have legal authorities.
BE: So our intent in this investigation is to make sure that every legal authority is actively pursued and appropriate follow up actions are done, and beyond that, the issues relative to performance both from a plant perspective and a CFIA perspective are meeting the standards for animal care that are absolutely essential.
MF: Inspectors? Are they still in the plants?
BE: They’re continuing their inspection activities. Since the video became public at the end of March and again, I would just point out that we’d certainly welcome anyone that has an interest in duty of animal care – to be providing issues to us as quickly as they possibly can. When there’s a time delay between something that’s reportedly being done and our ability to go back and validate it, it does become more problematic. We implore people to bring it to our attention immediately, because it both facilitates and gives us a much better outcome in terms of our ability to validate information. Again, this is a very important part in making sure all of those who can make a difference make a difference. We have a collective responsibility for duty of care.
BE: With respect to those inspectors themselves, as I’ve indicated, they are continuing their inspection duties, we have provided another level of support to our inspectors. We are providing our regional veterinary officers who provide veterinary inspection to all the plants to be focusing directly on horse slaughter plants, not just the two that are suspect in the video, but we’re making sure that the other two plants which operate in Canada – we want to make sure this is not an issue limited to two circumstances, we don’t want this to be an issue in any facility. We’re also providing the regional directors to be visiting the plants on a weekly basis, to be reviewing the documentation, supporting the staff in their assessments and we’re doing a national correlation team of experts in humane slaughter. They go into each of the plants, reviewing the training of each of the inspectors, reviewing the training of the industry staff, to make sure they can adequately identify and respond to unacceptable circumstances.
MF: Is there a cozy relationship between inspectors and workers
BE: I believe that our staff – they have a sense of professionalism. There’s no doubt in their mind what their obligations and duties are. Having said that, I think when you do work in those environments, we are providing oversight and verification of industry activities and so we need to make sure the industry is fully engaged and aware of not only the work we’re doing, but that they’re meeting their obligations. From that perspective, and one of the reason we do rotate workers is to make sure they don’t sort of become part of the wallpaper as to speak, that they don’t feel, at any time, their best interest is tied to that circumstance. We are a regulator. Our job is to regulate and ensure that our regulations are met and delivered and I don’t believe the fact that our inspectors have a relationship with plant staff necessarily is a bias or prevents them from exercising their duties appropriately. In fact, because industry ultimately is accountable for these actions as well, it is important that they are able to speak to individuals from the plant perspective, to bring issues to their attention.
MF: Did you go and see if your inspectors filed any reports on those two days?
BE: We had confusion around the dates initially. We have inspection reports that go back over the whole year. But I have not seen an inspection report relative to those two dates, which identified a specific issue. Now one of the areas that we have moved on to since the videos have become available is to ensure that not only have there been adjustments in the area of the stun boxes, in terms of construction and in terms of lighting, to make sure the construction standards are being respected; but, we’ve also ensured that both companies have installed ongoing video surveillance in these areas. That gives us a secondary tool we can inspect, in terms of what happens in real time. We have the ability now for the veterinarian in charge, when they’re examining the skulls, to examine the angle and penetration in the skull to make sure it was a clean and proper stunning procedure. The new ongoing video presence allows our staff to monitor on an ongoing basis whether they’re actually at the kill floor station or not. They will have the ability to go back and review the procedures to make sure they’re appropriate. It also provides the opportunity for plant management to monitor the performance of there staff on an ongoing basis. These are the enhancements that have been made, I think they’re important enhancements and I think it will also help us in the future. When events happen, we will be able to be able to validate with real time video as well what was actually happening.
MF: Where are these cameras installed?
BE: they are installed in proximity to the stun box, to give multiple angles of observations.
What were results of that review of the Natural Valley Plant done two years ago?
BE: We haven’t received final report yet.MF: Why?
BE: I can’t comment on that. But, I come back to the point - that we accept very much the reality of what you describe. Our view on this one is that horse slaughter is a very emotional issue for many people. It’s a difficult one for me, as a veterinarian, as someone who was raised with horses. Horses drove me; they were a critical part of my becoming a vet. We understand the emotive issues around this. Our regulatory obligation is to make sure humane standards are being delivered, that food safety standards are being delivered, and animal disease is being delivered.
BE: When we look at the full evidence the level of compliance that we see overall is quite commendable on all sides. Where we have difficulty, where we have issues, whether they’re one-off issues, of isolated, when things do happen, they can’t be tolerated, and we need to make sure they don’t happen again.
BE: 100% of animals cannot be put on the rail unless it is confirmed that they have been desensitized. Again, the most effective way to do that is through corneal reflex and in this circumstance that is part of our investigation, to determine whether or not the staff in the plant administering the kills and those responsible for executing the transition, are executing their duties appropriately. When we come through as part of our responsibilities we are validating that work is being done. To the most part and again, based on other documentation, it is documented that these corneal checks are being done. In these circumstances – the video is very clear they were not.
MF: So there’s a clear failure somewhere.
BE: There is an issue that needs to be addressed and will be addressed.
MF: Secondly a shooter at Richelieu was seen whipping a horse in the face.
BE: Not acceptable.MF: What’s happened to that person?
BE: That is part of the investigation. That is part of exercising the legal authorities between ourselves and the third party. I can’t comment at this point, until the final assessments are done.MF: Are they still working there?
BE: I don’t have information on that Mellissa. My understanding is they are not, but I can’t validate that.
MF: What are the penalties for violations?
BE: They range from obviously prosecution, if we can present the case to a prosecutor on the legal side who is prepared to go ahead with that. There are statutory penalties that range from 5000 to 250,000 dollars in these circumstances. We have other authorities as well. We can immediately suspend activities in the plant. If the inspector is able to witness and demonstrate non-compliant issues, they have the authority to stop production in the plant and seek remedial action immediately. At the end of the day, the highest level of authority we can exercise is the de-listing or removing the registration of the plant it they can’t demonstrate an ability to meet the standards.
Read more from Twyla Francois of the Canadian Horse Defence Coaltion
The following are selected responses about the transport of horses from the U.S. and the slaughter of horses in Canada from interviews between CBC News reporter Mellissa Fung and Twyla Francois (TF), Regional Director of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition.
ABOUT BREEDING HORSES AND THE MARKET FOR HORSE MEAT
TF: I think one of the big problems – what I was finding in the feedlots in the States and in Canada – we have a number of them here in Canada and there’s one just down the road from me in Manitoba – they’re breeding (horses) as well, and so there’s this indiscriminate breeding that’s going on. Even with the racehorse industry, they breed hoping for that one-in-a-million horse and all these others end up as surplus. So I think that if there was no more market, if horsemeat becomes illegal and you can’t slaughter them anymore or the market dries up in Europe, because that’s where most of it is going – is France, and Japan, actually, then the industry would have to react. If there’s no market, they’ll just stop all this indiscriminate breeding, because then suddenly there won’t be a dollar value to it.
THE WAY HORSES ARE KILLED
TF: There are only two ways to legally kill a horse in Canada - with a .22 or with a captive bolt pistol. A .22 is much more humane than a captive bolt pistol, because the problem with horses is that they’re very head shy. So when you try to put anything near their head, they’re going to flinch, they’re going to move around. Whereas a .22, it can be aimed at a bit of a distance and it’s a quick, penetrating bolt and they’re gone. But with a captive bolt, it seems that it requires more learning. A captive bolt pistol is a contraption that’s held against a head and a metal bolt comes out, and retracts. And it causes enough damage to the brain that an animal is rendered unconscious quickly. And I have seen it done and it does work, but the difficulty is with horses, they’re head shy. So if you try to put anything near their head, they’re going flinch, they’re going to move, they’re not like a cow. So what we’re wondering is – (when we see dead) horses who don’t have captive boltholes, could they be the ones where the bolt missed? Is it hitting them elsewhere in their face? Is there pressure to continue the line because they’re killing 200 horses a day, which is a massive number of such a large animal, and it takes a long time to process these bodies? So could there be so much pressure that even though they’re not being rendered unconscious, that they’re just pushing them through the line? Bleeding them out while they’re still conscious? We honestly don’t know and the implications are really, really frightening. There’s one method of slaughter that’s being done in Mexico that’s called puntilla, and this is where they use an ice pick and they jab it in the back of the spinal cord. And it doesn’t stop pain. It doesn’t render them unconscious. It just immobilizes them. And I hope this isn’t being used here, but we really have no idea what is being done with these horses.
WHEN THE HORSES SENT TO SLAUGHTER ARE EX-PETS
TF: One of the big issues with horses specifically is a lot of these horses have known human companionship. They seek comfort from us, and it is the ultimate betrayal, that after owning an animal for so long – and at the auctions I see a lot of 20+ year horses – they become injured or they require medical treatment and they’re close to death and the owner knows it’s going to cost quite a bit to bury them, then they’re brought to the auction and these animals are so frightened. You can see them in the ring, that they search the ring looking for a friendly face. We have been comfort for them, and then we take them to slaughter. We see this at the slaughterhouses too, where they’re still seeking out affection from even the slaughterhouse workers themselves. I went to some auctions in Colorado and New Mexico and Texas, and through the States and what we found was a lot of these horses are ex-pets. They’re 20 year-old horses that have been in somebody’s backyard, and then they get ill and it becomes expensive to care of them, expensive to bury them…and so they bring them to auction. But they’re not aware of what they’re inflicting on these horses. And one thing we saw that really broke my heart was, you would see the workers walking by the pens and the horses would rush the pens, looking for comfort from these men who were going to kill them. It just seems like such a betrayal. I think just because of the history of the horse and how they are treated, here in North America and what they’ve experienced in their own life, nothing can prepare them for the journey they have ahead of them after they’ve been given up.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COW AND HORSE SLAUGHTER
TF: There is a large difference because a horse is a flight animal and their immediate response to fear is to run. And this is what we’ve seen with the handling, because if you’re handling cattle, they follow. They just tend to follow one another. They’re quite calm, whereas what we saw with the handling of horses – electric prods are being used. They’re scared, they’re frightened, they’re frantically running one way, and if they come across any kind of barrier, they would all flee back the other way and then they would all whip back over. So it’s just this reaction they have of pure fright. They also are extremely head shy so trying to hit the captive bolt cleanly, to ensure a clean hit, is much more difficult. There’s a much higher risk of having to shoot them multiple times and just that their reaction is very different. They’re a flight animal. The problem is also with the transport issue, that because they’re such a tall animal and we’re still allowing transport on double-deckers – it’s such a grueling, grueling ride for them -15 to 25 hours of not being able to stand upright. It’s a much more difficult ride for a horse.
ABOUT THE REGULATIONS ON HORSE TRANSPORT
TF: The regulations need to be updated. They’re archaic. We’re worse than the United States. Monogastrics like horses and pigs can be transported up to 36 hours with no food or water, and keep in mind that these horses are often coming from the United States, and in the United States, they can be transported up to 28 hours. But the problem is when they hit the border, the clock doesn’t go back to zero - it continues on. So they can literally be doing 50, 60 hours with no food or water or a break.
ON THE ROLE OF THE CANADIAN FOOD INSPECTION AGENCY
TF: There is always the question of a conflict of interest, because part of their mandate is to encourage the consumption of Canadian foods. But yet they’re supposed to be providing this protective role as well, for our health and for the welfare of animals. But we question whether they can really give welfare what is required, because even if we call a CFIA inspector about an animal, they aren’t authorized to euthanize. So we can have this animal that’s suffering very badly, and we call in the federal authority and they can’t even do anything about it.
ON A HUMANE WAY TO SLAUGHTER A HORSE
TF: For horses in particular, the fear in them is really shocking when you see them in the slaughterplants. So (humane slaughter) would involve not actually being transported, because there are so many problems transporting horses. It would be slaughter on a farm, with a mobile slaughter unit, it would be the only way you could more humanely kill a horse. Our concern with the slaughter a horse is it can’t be done humanely. The only way to humanely kill a horse would be to put it down on the farm. And so we really don’t believe that slaughtering horses could ever be made humane.
THE RAISING OF AWARENESS
TF: Something I’ve been discovering is, I don’t think people who have horses really know what the slaughter process is about. If they knew that it wasn’t this very quick overnight – killed instantly – they wouldn’t be sending them. And I think this is something we have to do – is a large education campaign. As Canadians are becoming more aware of this issue, we’re getting rescue shelters popping up all over the place. People care about horses and they don’t like to see this happening to them, and if they hear of any case of suffering – and I get these calls every day. People just don’t want to see horses suffer. So people will respond - they’ll donate, shelters will come up.