Protestors outside the Aerospace Museum along McCall Avenue (Calgary) on Thursday April 16, 2015. Photo by Pam Asheton

Protestors outside the Aerospace Museum along McCall Avenue (Calgary) on Thursday April 16, 2015. Photo by Pam Asheton

Animal rights organizations joined forces at the Calgary Airport Authority’s annual general meeting on Thursday April 16, 2015, with 14 protesters waving signs and posters in front of the Aerospace Museum, and along McCall Road nearby.

The rally was jointly organized by Lethbridge Animal Rights Effort and Calgary Animal Rights Effort, represented by spokeswoman Maureen Hurly, who was questioning officials representing Calgary Airport (YYC) about live horse exports to Japan for human consumption – and the conditions under which they travel.

Live horse export at this facility is a weekly event, with 6,635 horses flown to Japan last year, compared to 1,185 in 2012, according to Statistics Canada. Horses are trucked in from purpose-driven breeding operation feedlots in southern Alberta, Montana and Saskatchewan.

Horses exported to Japan are often Belgian draft-style crosses – strong and stout and, after specialized feedlot rations, right up to maximum weight in order to produce marbling in the meat.

According to the 2008 Alberta Horse Welfare Report, “Once in Japan…no more horses are killed than can be consumed in three days, as the meat is eaten raw and thus highly perishable. By the time horses reach the dinner plate in Japan they are worth close to $20,000 per horse.”

Akinori Ando, consulate general of Japan in Calgary, clarified that when horses arrive in Japan, “…the duration of quarantine is about 10 days. After importing is permitted, horses are not slaughtered immediately, but are fed to increase weight for the time being. The duration depends on the weight of the horse at the time of importation.”

The Alberta Horse Welfare Report further states that “in Japanese cuisine…raw horse meat is called sakura orsakuraniku, (sakura means cherry blossom and niku means meat) because of its pink colour. It can be served raw as very chewy sashimi in thin slices dipped in soy sauce, often with ginger and onions added. In this case, it is called basashi. Fat, typically from the neck, is also found as basashi, though it is white, not pink. Horse meat is also sometimes found on menus for yakiniku (a type of barbecue), where it is called baniku or bagushi (skewered horse); thin slices of raw horse meat are sometimes served wrapped in a shiso leaf. The Japanese market demands that horse meat be fresh and less than three days old from processing to plate.”

Protestors remark that there are frequently two to three horses per shipping crate, and that natural standing is not possible in these crates. Horses arrive via stock trailers, usually early to mid-evening and are unloaded into a corral structure located the far end of cargo facilities, then moved inside to another handling area into open-slat wooden-style crates. Transporting cargo aircraft can arrive within one to eight hours, after which the horses are loaded up, flying to Japan, sometimes via Anchorage.

Horses in transport while on Canadian soil come under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) – once airborne liability usually transfers to the shipper, in this case the charter cargo airlines (often Atlas). Regulations state horses in transit cannot be without food or water for 36 hours then must have a five-hour stipulated rest period. They must have proper ventilation, non-slip surfaces, and adequate headroom. Protestors allege that these conditions are routinely broken, and that horses have died during transport.

Calgary Airport (YYC) CEO Garth Atkinson said “These societies can say what they please, but I would say to you that the question [posed at the AGM by Maureen Hurly] was loaded with all kinds of purported facts, and none of which we are aware, quite frankly.

“If we had any suggestion of knowledge that the law was being broken, we would be the first ones to call the regulalator, the first ones. As I stand here today, we have no knowledge that any regulations are being broken. These are closely monitored veterinarians operating according to the law, a Federal agency and that’s their job. We’re not government, we just provide runways and terminals,” he said, explaining the airport’s responsibilities.

~ Pam Asheton