On March 31st, 2017, Canada introduced a new rule that required all horses on feed lots to be held for a minimum of six months, and shippers importing horses from the United States had to provide documentation that the imported animals had not had medication for at least 60 days prior. Whether this rule would affect real change in the industry or simply lead to more falsified documents was a matter of debate. This law was intended to help assuage fears from European Union meat buyers, who were concerned about the quality and safety of horsemeat imported out of the country,
One concern on the human consumption of American horses focuses on a drug commonly known to horse people as “bute”. Phenylbutazone (Bute) is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for the short-term treatment of pain and fever in dogs and horses, generally. “The Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of phenylbutazone in food-producing animals; therefore, there are no established withdrawal times on product labeling for foodproducing species. Phenylbutazone is not permitted at any concentration (zero tolerance) in meat, milk, or eggs intended for human consumption.”
Bute is believed to remain in muscle tissue for the rest of a being’s life. It is a known carcinogen, as well as an agent for aplastic anemia in humans. It was discontinued for human use because of its harmful side effects. When taken by humans, “Phenylbutazone is readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract with peak plasma concentrations occurring about 2 hours after ingestion.
Phenylbutazone is widely distributed throughout body fluids and tissues; it diffuses into the synovial fluid, crosses the placenta, and small amounts enter the CNS and breast milk. […] The most serious adverse effects of phenylbutazone are related to bone-marrow depression and include agranulocytosis and aplastic anemia. Leucopenia, pancytopenia, hemolytic anemia, and thrombocytopenia may also occur.” Because it is believed that bute does not leave the tissue of animals, it is not safe for animals intended for consumption if they have ever received it.
A very high percent of American horses have had bute at least one time in their lives and likely multiple times. The odds are relatively low that an equine will be bute free (and whether it has been 60 days or not has no bearing safety, as if the horse ever has bute, it is no longer safe to consumer), the truth is there is no way a shipper can be sure that a horse purchased from someone or at auction has not had bute, and in all honestly, most have had it.
One reason America opted to cease slaughter and sale of horses here is that we recognize the danger the meat presents if consumed, and while the meat was exported, it meant America was responsible for selling a product to people to be eaten knowing we list a common drug in equines as toxic and illegal for use in our own country in food production.
Whatever your opinion is on horse slaughter, you need to be aware of the law and what it means to horses in longer term holding than ever before. By admitting American horses are not likely to be safe, as Canada has done with this law, but by not drawing a clear line and admitting they will never be safe for slaughter and consumption, horses will stand in small pens for many months without access to weather breaks, without enough room and in mud during wet conditions that will cause a plethora of issues.
Before you decide to send your equine off to auction or sell to a person who may not have the best intentions, recognize that these fairy tale stories of unsound, blind and unhandled horses going off to lovely retirement homes with a couple who showed up from a craigslist posting are usually only that – Fairy tales. Some little girl will not likely fall in love with your unhandled or unsound horse and take it home to baby it for 20 or 30 years until it dies, typically. While most horses that are slaughtered are young and relatively unhandled, your unsound, blind or aged horse can certainly head off there, too.
If your horse no longer useful to you and you let him go, he may very well wind up on a truck with a scary destination ahead.
Not only do you need to be aware your horse isn’t likely safe for human consumption and that if he heads to Canada, he will be in a holding pen many of us would find unsuitable for months and months, should your horse cause a ruckus (and I’ve seen them loaded many times, and gruesome things happen) while being transported, kill buyers have admitted on video that they will poke one of its eyes out or do other painful things to cause enough pain that the horse stands and hauls quietly. The horses often bite and kick each other and cause horrific wounds during transport, and in the holding pens, it is the same.
I wish all of those who have given away a horse or sold a horse for a low price that was unlikely to have a chance at a real home understood what it looks like when these horses are loaded en masse.
Here are some videos, shared in the effort to further make you informed, from the 2011 confession of a former kill buyer.
In Canada, live horses can also be sent overseas for human consumption in foreign countries. The law is that a horse cannot be deprived of food and water for more than 36 hours while being loaded or transported, or in holding on the plane. They are put into crates not much bigger than them and loaded onto an airplane to go overseas. Once they leave the Canadian airport, no other laws exist to regulate when they get fed or watered next.
In closing, this is not a slaughter debate. You are able to decide whatever you wish on the issue, but it is important we all make decisions with eyes VERY wide open to all information that relates to what we believe is right and acceptable. Be informed. Know the truth.
Heart of Phoenix seeks to give owners other options outside auction and an alternative to giving away horses to people without intentions of offering a kind home.
We know education is the way to created lasting, positive change.
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