Six things we learned from the Star’s investigation into the Canadian horsemeat industry

Six things we learned from the Star’s investigation into the Canadian horsemeat industry

A horse tartare sandwich from the Black Hoof (Image: Jen Chan from the Flickr pool)

Any time an investigation takes place at a “kill auction,” you know its findings will be grim. This weekend’s report from the Toronto Star’s Robert Cribb on Canada’s central role in the horsemeat industry is no exception. Horsemeat, which predominantly comes from animals not bred for food, has come under fire in Canada before (notably during Top Chef Canada) over complaints of poor sourcing and inhumane practices, and recently many countries—including the U.S.—have banned the stuff. Six things we learned from the Star’s investigation, after the jump.

1. This is no mom-and-pop cottage industry.
The industry in Canada rakes in $70 million annually, and Canadian slaughterhouses ship out 20,000 tons a year (300 tons of which are consumed within our borders, mainly in Quebec). Between 90,000 and 113,000 horses are killed in Canada for consumption per year.

2. The true North, strong and…opportunistic?
In 2007, when horsemeat was officially banned in the United States, horse sellers immediately turned to Canada, where they were promptly embraced. The total number of horses slaughtered for horsemeat in Canada has risen by nearly 120 per cent since then.

3. If Canadian officials won’t police the safety of horsemeat, the EU might.
European Union inspectors will be coming to Canada for an audit of horsemeat facilities in September. They will be primarily concerned with dangerous levels of phenylbutazone (PBZ), an anti-inflammatory commonly used for pain relief on horses, which has shown up in a series of tests over a five-year period. PBZ is banned from use in animals intended for human consumption in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and the EU.

4. The waiting is the hardest part.
Horses, unlike most livestock, do not travel well. So, suffice it to say, they don’t always respond well when being transported from kill auctions in the U.S. to federally licensed slaughterhouses in Quebec. In what is easily the most disturbing part of the article, we learn that more than 30 horses at a time are forced travel together in cramped trailers for 22 or more consecutive hours, standing upright without water or hay—with tragic results.

5. The debate may not be as cut and dry as many think.
The article quotes horse buyer Jeron Gold arguing: “There is an end life for everything. I’d like to know what people want to do with all these horses that nobody wants. I’d like somebody to answer that. [Every day] I see…horses mistreated, skinny, didn’t have proper care and there’s nobody to take care of them. Who’s going to take care of them?”

6. Toronto restaurants are engaged in the horsemeat trade.
La Palette on Queen Street West serves horsemeat on its menu and sources it from the same slaughterhouse in Quebec that Cribb visits. And while owner Shamez Amlani is quoted defending the treatment of those horses, Cribb also points out that some customers simply leave the restaurant when they see “viande chevaline” on the menu.

• Dirty little secret: Canada’s slaughter industry under fire [Toronto Star]