Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Horse slaughter traceability rules worry food exporters

From Western Producer

By Barbara Duckworth
Calgary bureau

European demands for more detailed health information on Canadian horses processed for meat have some Canadians worried while others say it is not a bad thing.

The requirement is expected to be in place next April and will require that horses have complete health records on medications they received or that they be put into a 180 day quarantine to ensure the meat is safe for human consumption.

Claude Boissonneault, head of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's red meat programs, said Canada will likely choose to go with a six month period where horses are isolated in a feedlot.

"Europe wants an action plan from its suppliers detailing how this will be accomplished to identify and trace horses," said Boissonneault.

That has Werner Siegrist of Canadian Premium Meats at Lacombe, Alta., worried. He said the quarantine period will be expensive at $2 per horse per day and he worries companies like his, which ship beef, bison and horse meat to the EU, could lose business.

Other countries use producer affidavits declaring horses are medication free. The owner's declaration goes with the horse to slaughter.

"That seems like a straightforward procedure where Canada seems to be the only country leading to a system where they want to quarantine those horses for 180 days in the feedlot," said Siegrist.

The Lacombe plant receives unwanted horses and in many cases, records of the animal's history are not available.

"There is no system in place. It took 10 years to develop the system with ear tags in cattle and right now we don't have anything in horses," said Siegrist.

Boissonneault said the new requirements are coming in a year on an interim basis with full implementation expected within three years.

Bill des Barres sees the new traceability requirements as a way to ensure Canada upholds its reputation for clean food.

Responsible horse owners should maintain good records, said des Barres, chair of the Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada.

" It may not be an option to send the horse for processing if the animal has been prescribed pharmaceuticals that have adverse effects on a consumer, whether it be a human animal or a zoo animal or a pet," he said.

A problems exists with abandoned animals from the United States where horse slaughter is banned. No one knows the history of these animals, which could have come from states under quarantine because of diseases like vesicular stomatitis.

"To find out where the horse came from is a very small part of the situation. What we really need to know is what is the health of the horse and what pharmaceuticals have been administered," des Barres said.

Canadian meat is tested for drug residue in the European Union and if it is found, the meat is destroyed and the processor could lose the business.

Boissonneault said Canada and the EU are working to develop ways to encourage further documentation of horses and traceability. He said drug residue in meat has not been a problem in the past.

He said in future, horses will be inspected more closely at plants.

More detailed samples from livers and kidneys, which filter drugs, will be taken. Carcasses found with residue will be condemned.

Visual inspections for injection sites or disease that may have required medicine will also increase.

Part of the problem with horse medication is that information on withdrawal times is not generally available for horses in North America because they are not considered food animals.

Les Burwash of the horse industry branch at Alberta Agriculture said the province plans a study on residues from worming products because that is one of the most common drugs used.

If Canada fails to comply with withdrawal times and health records, Europe may import its horse meat from South America or Mexico, he said.

CFIA statistics report about 60 percent of the world's population consumes horse meat and Canada is one of the top two suppliers of horse meat to the EU.

There are about one million horses in Canada and in 2008, 111,000 were slaughtered in six federally inspected plants. The meat went to Europe, as well as Japan.

In 2008, 15,294 tonnes of horse meat were exported and about 300 tonnes were eaten in Canada, mainly in Quebec.

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