Canada: Horse Meat Safe For Human Consumption? United States May Continue To Export Horses To Canada For Slaughter Following Defeat Of Bill C-571

A private member's bill to restrict slaughter of horses to animals raised for human consumption has been defeated following its second reading on May 14, 2014 in Canada's Parliament.  (Private member bills frequently do not become law in Canada.)

Bill C-571 would have amended the Meat Inspection Act and Safe Food for Canadians Act to prohibit the transport of horses and other equines between provinces, as well as import and export into and from Canada, for the purpose of slaughter for human consumption.  The bill included an exception for horses raised for the purpose of human consumption and accompanied by detailed medical records.  Similar restrictions would also have been created on horse meat products. 

Although the slaughter of horses has received criticism in equestrian circles and from animal welfare groups primarily for issues of humane (or inhumane) treatment of horses during transport and preparation for slaughter, Bill C-571's sponsor focused on food safety issues related to horse meat.  Some drugs commonly used in treating medical issues in performance horses are considered unsafe for human consumption in any dosage. 

Parliamentarians opposing Bill C-571 argued that the horse meat industry was important to Canada's economy and that existing controls for meat safety were adequate, and stated that the government was committed to verifying that all animals destined for slaughter are treated humanely.

Equine Canada, Canada's national governing body for equestrian sport and recreation in Canada, took the position that proposed Bill C-571 would not enhance or add value to the existing Safe Food for Canadians Act 's framework for ensuring food safety in Canada (without addressing the food safety issues relating to the administration to horses of drugs unsafe for human consumption).

Rather, Equine Canada raised concerns that the bill would place an onerous burden on the Canadian horse industry in connection with the movement of horses between provinces in Canada. Bill C-571 would arguably have created a responsibility to declare or establish why a horse was being moved within Canada or exported. Equine Canada pointed out that there is presently no national mechanism in place that would enable Canadian horse owners to qualify or report why they are moving horses between provinces in Canada.

Equine Canada also reiterated its commitment to developing a national equine traceability system, which would permit improved medical record-keeping.  A national equine traceability system has officially been in development since March 2010. 

In view of the food safety requirements relating to horse meat that presently exist in the European Union and some other jurisdictions, regulations may eventually be developed that would enable improved monitoring of the drugs and other medical treatments provided to horses and other equines.  However, it now appears likely that any such regulations would be developed within the existing framework for meat inspection and food safety, rather than through restrictions on animal movement.

Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP

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