New changes that came into effect at the end of July will put the onus on sellers to provide more details about horses and their physical appearance and condition, something Miles Wowk is hoping will mean a long-term benefit for the industry.
Many others he has met and talked to have expressed concerns about the changes, but the Beauvallon-area based livestock dealer and auctioneer does not have such fears. “These regulations, if you can meet the regulations, will help you market your horses, and not hurt,” he said, adding that the changes will add “accountability” for equine sales.
As of July 31, all Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspected facilities in Canada that slaughter horses for food must have complete records for all their animals, both domestic and imported. Owners must provide a description of each horse, take pictures of the horse or describe its markings in some detail. As part of the Equine Information Document, there should also be a comprehensive record of the horse's medical treatment for at least the six months prior to slaughter. The owner must also sign a declaration to verify the information's accuracy.
The driving force of the changes is the European Union, which is the biggest market for the equine industry, says Claude Boisonneault, CFIA's national specialist in red meat and non-ruminant species. The EU requested all of its trading partners which sell horses to enhance its inspection system, so that the identity of the animals are known and that six months prior to slaughtering, animals are through their withdrawal periods from any drugs. The CFIA also lists a number of medications and substances which equines slaughtered for human consumption must not be administered or fed. The list of these substances is available on the CFIA website.
“It's essentially a major shift in the industry,” Boisonneault acknowledged, adding some people might be wary of the new regulations and there will be a learning curve in adapting to the changes. But in the long-term, “it's just paperwork.” This will be a move to enhance Canadian food inspection and also meet the requirements from the EU, he notes.
“If we're not implementing (that) additional paperwork, there will essentially be no market for horse meat production,” says Boisonneault.
However, Karen Neate, an Ashmont resident whose history with horses goes back to raising and training horses from the age of 11, had some misgivings about the new regulations. At a recent horse sale she attended in Westlock, an auctioneer had urged people such as Neate to voice opposition to the changes. “He figured it would kill the auction mart,” she said.
Her feeling is that to keep such extensive records for a number of animals is a “hassle” and people might just stop bothering to try and sell their horses. “People can only take so much,” she said. At the same time, she acknowledged there are two sides to every story, and there could be some benefits.
As Wowk sees it, the benefit will be in stopping vast numbers of horses from the United States from flooding the Canadian market. Currently, in the United States there is a glut of horses but no slaughter houses; Canadian slaughter houses can purchase American horses at rock bottom prices that edge Canadian equine sellers out of the market, he says, adding that new restrictions will make it more difficult for this to happen.
“That will bring the slaughter market up in Canada and the entire horse industry in Canada up. That's my take on things,” he says.