Drugs Reflect Food-Safety Concerns in Horse Slaughter Debate

Source: By Josh Long as published at Food Product Design

“During the first part of their lives, nobody has any thought these horses are going to be steak,”
Phenylbutazone, a human carcinogen, is prevalent in U.S. horse meat, along with numerous other drugs banned by the FDA in food animals. (photo: Animal Rescue Unit)

Phenylbutazone, a human carcinogen, is prevalent in U.S. horse meat, along with numerous other drugs banned by the FDA in food animals. (photo: Animal Rescue Unit)

SANTA FE, N.M.—A letter from Zachary Shandler, a New Mexico Assistant Attorney General, highlights another challenge Valley Meat Co. faces in its controversial quest to lawfully slaughter horses.

It must ensure that horses destined for the slaughterhouse have not been treated with drugs that are considered harmful to human health and deemed “adulterated” in violation of federal and state laws. If horse meat was found to be adulterated, the New Mexico Food Act would prevent the meat from being manufactured, sold or delivered, Shandler wrote in a June 10 letter to Richard Martinez, a New Mexico state senator.

The New Mexico Food Act classifies a food as adulterated “if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health”. Although state law doesn’t define what constitutes a “poisonous or deleterious substance,” Shandler cited studies that show phenylbutazone (PBZ)—an anti-inflammatory drug that has been shown to have been administered to race horses who were later slaughtered—meets that definition.

“Accordingly, horse meat originating from U.S. horses that have been treated with PBZ and other deleterious substances would be deemed ‘adulterated’,” Shandler said.

Such an act would constitute a violation of the New Mexico Food Act, possibly resulting in a criminal misdemeanor charge, fines and seizure of the product, he noted.

The opinion by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King reflected “more of a political statement about his personal beliefs than a legal opinion,” said A. Blair Dunn, a lawyer representing Valley Meat Co., whose application to slaughter horses in Roswell, N.M. is pending before the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“He simply restated the obvious that if a product contains poison or deleterious substances that are injurious to human health that it is adulterated and can’t be sold,” Dunn told Food Product Design in an emailed statement.

Phil Sisneros, the AG’s communications director, said the opinion was not a matter of just stating the obvious.

“We don’t believe that very many New Mexicans knew we even had an adulterated food act and that horse meat would come under that,” he said in a phone interview.

Although the AG has the authority to enforce the New Mexico Food Act and other laws that might affect horse meat, Sisneros indicated the New Mexico Environment Department would take the lead on an enforcement action. He said the AG has let the agency know it will help them in such an action. A spokesman for the state Environment Department did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment on its role in the matter.

The AG’s letter “infers that all horses may contain [an adulterated] substance because they may have been administered painkillers, antibiotics or vaccines in the course of their lives. But ultimately this is all the stuff that falls under the regulatory authority of USDA to inspect for and keep out of the food chain,” said Dunn, Valley Meat Co.’s lawyer.

The problem is that it’s impossible to confirm what drugs horses have been administered during their early years because, unlike livestock, the animals weren’t raised with the purpose of being slaughtered to feed humans, said Bruce Wagman, a lawyer representing the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the animal rights group, and Front Range Equine Rescue, a Larkspur, Colo.-based non-profit organization seeking to defend horses from neglect and abuse.

“During the first part of their lives, nobody has any thought these horses are going to be steak,” said Wagman, a San Francisco-based partner with the law firm Schiff Hardin LLP.

HSUS and Front Range Equine Rescue have stated their intent to file lawsuits under the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act if USDA grants approval to Valley Meat Co. or other businesses to slaughter horses.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has been reviewing applications that have been filed by Valley Meat Co., Missouri-based Rains Natural Meats and Iowa-based Responsible Transportation LLC. According to a voicemail at Rains Natural Meats, the company is currently closed for business; Responsible Transportation, which states on its website that it will provide “a humane alternative” to the problem of unwanted horses, didn’t respond Thursday to a request for comment on the status of its application.

Documents that Front Range Equine Rescue and HSUS submitted to FSIS and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) list 50 drugs that are administered to horses and expressly prohibited by the Code of Federal Regulations from entering the human food supply, Wagman said. The substances are commonly given to horses that are later slaughtered, according to the list that the agencies received.

Some of those drugs include Ceftiofur Sodium (for treatment of respiratory infections in horses), Deslorelin (used to induce ovulation in ovulating mares)  and Diclofenac Sodium (administered to treat arthritis in humans and horses). With respect to these drugs, the regulations explicitly state, “Do not use for horses intended for human consumption.”

The letter from King’s office makes its position known that horse meat would be considered “adulterated” in violation of state law if it derived from horses that had been treated with the drugs listed above.

But Wagman said other drugs administered to horses also would be jeopardize food safety. In total, the documents submitted to the federal agencies listed 115 drugs and categories of drugs that have been approved for use in horses and have been known to cause problems for humans, he said. For instance, the list mentions Dimetridazole (generic), which reportedly has been withdrawn from Europe due to the hazards of gastrointestinal problems and potential for cancer.

Peggy Larson, a practitioner of veterinary medicine for more than 45 years and former veterinary medical officer for USDA, said in an affidavit filed with the agencies that many of the drugs on the list are commonly administered to horses.

“Based on longstanding medical and scientific principles, it is impossible to declare horse meat safe for human consumption when the horses who are slaughtered for that meat have been exposed to an unidentified (and unidentifiable) number of drugs, treatments and substances, in unknown (and unknowable) quantities, at various times during their life,” she stated.

Dunn said the New Mexico AG’s opinion doesn’t impact Valley Meat Co. because the company has an approved program to test drugs.

“Drug residue testing is not a new program and it is certainly not unique to horses. There is nothing that is administered to horses that is not detectable by the tests utilized by Valley and other processing facilities,” he said in the emailed statement.

Wagman countered that FSIS doesn’t have a drug testing program today for horses. More importantly, he contends it makes no difference whether Valley Meat Co. can test horses for drug residues.

“It doesn’t matter if there is any residue in the horse. Once they get that drug like PBZ it can’t be used for horse meat,” he said.

Cathy Cochran, a spokeswoman for FSIS, said the agency’s Office of Public Health Science will implement a protocol under its National Residue Program if it “grants inspection for a plant that slaughters horses.”

“More information on FSIS’ sampling methods would be made available in the FSIS Chemistry Laboratory Guidebook prior to any grant of inspection for equine slaughter being issued,” she said in an emailed statement.

Under FSIS’ current program for meat, poultry and egg products, the agency tests for chemicals such as antibiotics, sulfonamides, and other drugs, pesticides and environmental chemicals.  According to a July 2012 document on the program, “A violation occurs when an FSIS laboratory detects a chemical compound level in excess of an established tolerance or action level.”

But FSIS might be deprived of the resources to administer such a program for horses. The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted to eliminate funds for inspection of horse slaughter facilities. The amendment was introduced by Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat.

“Approval by the Appropriations Committee is the first important step in ending this inhumane practice once and for all. Today’s approval also sends a strong signal to businesses looking to make a profit off the slaughter and sale of these iconic creatures,” Moran said in a statement Thursday. “More than 80 percent of the American people oppose the practice of horse slaughter – our laws need to sync with our values.”

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7 comments on “Drugs Reflect Food-Safety Concerns in Horse Slaughter Debate

  1. I have taken a look at the warnings on several of the substances I use for cuts, bruises, or pain for my horses and burros. Many have wording like “Not to used on animals to be used for human consumption”.

    Most every horse person I know has at one time or another used Butte for pain or Furacin (there are several forms of this chemical) to treat open wounds. I am curious about wormers, DMSO, Banamine, and other drugs commonly used. Some of my burros are subject to Summer Sores and I use Evermectrin, DMSO, and Wonder Dust on these open sores daily during the hot months and worm them with same on a regular basis.

    Is it possible to get a copy of the documents submitted to the federal agencies listing the 115 drugs and categories of drugs that have been approved for use in horses and have been known to cause problems for humans?

    And I have to say that just talking about horses as steak or for human consumptions is abhorrent and makes me feel sick, but admittedly riles me up and turns me into a roaring activist. I suppose that is true for all of us horse lovers!

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  2. Mr Dunn (attorney for De Los Santos) is a flaming HOOT!

    The NM AG letter is a PERSONAL OPINION??????

    Good Gravy! This guy sounds like that idiot rep running for Senator in Missouri regarding “legitimate rape” whereby the female victim doesn’t get pregnant.

    Where do these people come from?!?!

    The bigger issue to me is:

    (1) some exported foods (including live animals) are not raised, reported, inspected or tested to a reasonable human consumption safety standard….because WE DON’T EAT IT HERE.

    (2) The FDA and USDA and Commerce Department don’t cooperate very well together for the consumer.

    (3) The times are a changin’ and idiots like Dunn, Wallis, Farm Bureau, AHC, NCBA don’t want to let go of control and the proverbial good ol’ days.

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  3. No there are NONE!!! I just wrote to Senator Pierce of NM on his facebook message page just read an article in the Journal about him and it is just shocking to me that there are STILL politician’s that honestly can’t SEE the real truth or they choose NOT to SEE I guess??? I still just don’t get any of it how corrupt and neglectful of others eating this meat in Foreign Countries, HOW have then turned a blinds eye to this for SO LONG, it’s scary to me it really is… AND some want to start it here oh my god so scary…. STUPID, IGNORANT and down right deceitful ……. I hope to god horse slaughter is DONE once and for all….. I pray it is ???

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  4. “Based on longstanding medical and scientific principles, it is impossible to declare horse meat safe for human consumption when the horses who are slaughtered for that meat have been exposed to an unidentified (and unidentifiable) number of drugs, treatments and substances, in unknown (and unknowable) quantities, at various times during their life,” Amen to that and we don’t have and don’t want a tracing system in place in the US for horse meat. We don’t eat horse meat in the US so why in the H— should I (we) have to fund USDA inspection for it. Oh I know we would not want to hurt the pocket books of the pro-slaughter people.

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  5. This is finally sinking in. Horse meat is bad for all…

    I just hear a rumor that BLM is not going to worm horses anymore after they take them off the range. I wish I had this in writing from BLM. Does not sound good.

    Like

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