Story by Terri Adams of the Prairie Star
EWA Prez Cites Facts on Horse Slaughter
With all the on-going talk about building a horse slaughter facility in Wyoming, John Holland is concerned that people understand the legal concerns of such a venture. Holland is president and CEO of Equine Welfare Alliance.
“We’ve been following slaughter plants here in the U.S. and Canada for years,” he said.
He and his volunteer team of lawyers, accountants, doctors and other professionals are up-to-date on legal issues surrounding horse slaughter plants.
The Texas plants were closed because of a long overlooked 1949 law that said it was illegal to sell or transport horsemeat anywhere in Texas.
The Illinois plant, a brand-new state-of-the-art facility, was closed by a new state law in Illinois banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
The Kaufman Texas plant and the Illinois plant were also in danger of being closed down because of repeated sanitation and pollution violations.
At almost the same time, Congress withdrew funding for required federal inspectors in horse meat plants.
Without them, the meat can not be exported out of the state for human consumption.
“In order to open a horse slaughter plant you have to be able to legally dispose of every product and byproduct that comes out of that plant; and you have to have adequate revenues to pay back the cost of the plant and its operation,” he said.
That includes disposing of more than just horsemeat. Plants must also be able to properly dispose of the bones, teeth, hooves, hides, blood, entrails and manure.
Drugs used to treat horses for a variety of ailments from worms and parasites, to injuries and infections, are having negative consequences even after the animal is slaughtered.
Because many of these drugs stay in the horse’s system, the meat and byproducts cannot be used., he said. Those that can be used often cannot be shipped.
Holland said in order to ship horsemeat out of Wyoming, the proposed plant must meet federal standards and maintain federal inspectors on the kill floor and out in the yard.
By law, these inspectors must be paid by the federal government, and that funding has been terminated. In 2007, the USDA temporarily allowed the plants to pay for their own inspections, but the courts ruled that was illegal.
Proponents of the Wyoming slaughter plant say they will simply use all the horsemeat produced by the plant inside state lines, either by selling it or donating the meat to foodbanks and prisons system.
“The entire population of Wyoming is only 540,000. That is their potential market. American’s don’t eat horsemeat. For people in Wyoming to use it all, I calculated every man, woman and child in Wyoming would have to consume 18 pounds of horsemeat a year.”
As for donating the meat, Holland expressed concerns about the legality and the ethics of that move.
“The European market is tightening down because U.S. horses are not raised for consumption,” he said.
In Europe, the final destination of a horse — be it consumption or pleasure —is designated at birth.
“You can’t just take a pleasure horse when you’re done with it and send it to slaughter,” he said.
That is because, in Europe, every drug given to the horse is recorded and if the horse has certain drugs, like Bute, they are automatically ineligible for slaughter, he explained.
Bute, short for phenylbutazone (PBZ), is the most commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in equine practice.
“Here they give it to horses like aspirin,” he said.
But bute remains in a horse’s system and is dangerous, even deadly, when consumed by humans. Because of that, the FDA does not allow any use of PBZ in animals destined for human consumption, regardless of withdrawal time. Neither does Europe.
“It is not only a carcinogen, but causes liver failure and bone marrow suppression leading to aplastic anemia and low platelet counts and it’s even been linked to leukemia.”
Currently, U.S. horses destined for slaughter are supposed to have paperwork stating their drug history, but Holland said sellers often don’t have those records, so meat buyers ask a few questions and fill out the papers.
In a 2010 report on Food and Chemical Toxicology by Nicholas Dodman, Nicolas Blondeau and Ann M. Marini, track records of 68 Thoroughbred horses headed for slaughter were requested.
The report was able to access drug history for 32 of the horses and discovered that all 32 horses had received bute, some only a short time before slaughter.
In their report, they wrote: “Sixty-seven million pounds of horsemeat derived from American horses were sent abroad for human consumption last year (2008). Horses are not raised as food animals in the United States and, mechanisms to ensure the removal of horses treated with banned substances from the food chain are inadequate at best.”
In the papers his group examined, they did not find a single document completely filled out with health records.
They also found errors in the paperwork, including certificates made out for mares being presented as geldings.
To avoid the problems with banned substances in horsemeat, Europe has announced “a tough, three-year program to bring our horsemeat requirements in line with theirs,” he said. If the U.S. cannot comply “we won’t have any horses going to slaughter.”
Banned substances are also causing problems with other industries. Many zoos and all major pet food companies are refusing to use horsemeat or horse by-products so they can avoid the risk to their animals.
“Dogs, collies especially, have a problem with tainted horsemeat. They can eat horsemeat but if there is (dewormer) in the meat, it collects in their brain until it eventually causes seizures and then death,” he said.
And the same residual drug problem exists with horse byproducts and blood.
“You can’t send their blood down the sewer. It clogs the sewer, infects the water supply, and grows bacteria. Plants are supposed to pretreat the blood and sell it off to a rendering plant but many rendering plants won’t take horse by-products anymore because they are contaminated with drugs. You can’t even sell horse manure to farms producing food for human consumption because of the drugs that are given to horses pass out into the manure and can be taken up into the vegetables.”
Despite the problems with horsemeat and byproducts, Holland said that just as many American horses are being slaughtered now as before the closures.
“The same kill buyers are at work, but instead of shipping the horses to Texas or Illinois they’re shipping them just a little bit further, to Mexico or Canada,” Holland said.
And now Canada is thinking of closing its horse slaughter facilities as well.
With all the legal problems of exportation, sanitation and residual drugs in the meat and byproducts, Holland said the issue of horse slaughter facilities may well be doomed.
“There are people who want to see slaughter plants return for horses. They see it as a way to employ people, feed the poor, and take care of extra, unwanted horses but they don’t really understand the big picture. At the same time, the animal welfare advocates the closed plants as a personal victory, and it’s all become part of this big cultural war. Everyone needs to take a look at the facts, at all the legal issues involved, and the numbers. They don’t lie,” he concluded.