Canada has taken a first step in developing a comprehensive food safety and traceability program for its equine industry, the effects of which will reverberate at home and abroad.
On Jan. 29, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued health requirements for all horses bound for slaughter in Canada; the new requirements come into effect July 31. Horse owners who intend to sell animals directly or indirectly to Canadian meat processors must record all vaccines and medications administered or fed to their animals and any occurrence of illness in their animals.
The CFIA has provided an Equine Information Document for this purpose; it can be found on the agency's Web site, www.inspection.gc.ca.
About 55 types of medications and substances, including phenylbutazone and certain antimicrobials, are prohibited from being given to a horse intended to be slaughtered for human consumption. A comprehensive list can be found on the CFIA site.
During the transition period, the EID will be reviewed to determine whether horses have been treated with prohibited drugs during the six months prior to their slaughter. A longer "certification period" will eventually be implemented.
A list of drugs that are safe to be given or fed to horses that may be used for food will be available in April. Withdrawal periods specific to horses slaughtered in Canada will be included with this list.
The collection of information is meant to prepare the equine industry for July 31, when it will be mandatory for all federally inspected Canadian equine facilities to have complete records dating back six months for all domestic and imported animals presented for slaughter.
This new measure is part of Canada's response to the European Commission's requirements on the importation of equine meat products, issued in April. The EC notified countries supplying horse meat to the European Union that they were now required to identify horses intended for food production, have in place a system of identity verification, prohibit the use of anabolic steroids and other prohibited drugs, and ensure that withdrawal periods are followed for veterinary medical products permitted to be used on horses that may be slaughtered for food.
Early this year, the CFIA, with assistance from the Veterinary Drug Directorate of Health Canada and equine industry partners, submitted an action plan outlining how Canada intends to meet these requirements. The Equine Information Document is just the first step, with more regulations to follow.
The European Union, Food and Drug Administration, and CFIA regulations have prohibited the slaughter of animals for human consumption that have ever received certain prohibited substances as established by legislation in their countries, but until now, there has been no serious attempt at enforcement.
Dr. Tom R. Lenz, chair of the American Horse Council's Unwanted Horse Coalition, said he wasn't sure how the regulations will affect the industry.
"The buyers may have to hold the horses in quarantine for six months before exporting them unless they have specific medical histories on them," Dr. Lenz said. "Most people in the U.S. don't provide treatment histories when they sell a horse."
Veterinarians, too, will be affected. Treatment records will need to be referenced by owners completing the EID to obtain information on drug withdrawal times and administration of drugs prohibited by the European Union or Canada.
Canada currently has six federally licensed horse slaughter facilities.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that U.S. exports of horses to Canada rose from 24,866 head in 2006 to 49,895 head in 2008, a 100 percent increase.
In 2009, Canada exported nearly 23,100 tons of horse meat products, according to the CFIA. Nearly 60 percent of that amount was sent to European Union markets.
Mexico, where horses are also slaughtered for human consumption, has yet to announce how it intends to comply with the EU six-month quarantine order regarding horses intended for slaughter.