It’s one of Canada’s dirty little secrets, but one that several animal welfare groups as well as music and comedy legend Jann Arden are trying to shine a light on: the export of live horses for slaughter.

For horse people, the idea of slaughtering our beloved animals for meat is gut-churning and unthinkable. But we need to open the discussion and think about it in order to stop the practice of live export to East Asia, where horses, some bred for the purpose, mostly draft breeds, are crammed into small containers and shipped on long overseas flights without adequate water and feed, frightened and exhausted, with no idea of the horrific fate that awaits.

Jann Arden recently wrote an opinion piece  that ran in The Globe and Mail. In her op-ed she makes a clear case for the Federal Government to do something, now. And it’s not wishful thinking on horse lover’s parts; Justin Trudeau and his Liberals vowed on the campaign trail to ban this cruel practice. “Most Canadians love horses and the thought of ending the heinous practice of loading these sensitive, skittish animals onto gruelling long-haul flights only to be slaughtered in a foreign country was enough to inspire many Canadians to vote red,” Arden wrote. “We did.”

The Liberals won, but live horses are still being exported to be “cut up for sashimi in Japan and leaving many of us who voted with great hope feeling duped,” the singer and actor writes. “Many Canadians may be surprised to learn that this country breeds and farms horses on barren feedlots in Alberta for the sole purpose of meat production.”

South of the border the United States has all but outlawed horse slaughter since 2006, when Congress passed the Horse Slaughter Prohibition Bill. This past month, several horse welfare groups including Animal Wellness Action, Center for a Humane Economy, and Animals’ Angels held a press conference outlining several key findings in the current horse slaughter trade both in the US and worldwide.

“Our investigation finds that there can be no worse option for a horse than to be obtained by a ruthless set of commercially linked actors who disreputably obtain horses and then terrorize, injure, and butcher them for meat that nobody needs and very few want,” says Wayne Pacelle, president of the Center for a Humane Economy. The report also found that the moment a horse is consigned as a “kill horse,” the animal’s “handling and treatment deteriorate from horses previously treated as companions or working animals. The kill horses have limited value while alive, and inputs in the form of feeding, watering, and care only diminish.”

The 34-page report can be found here and notes that while the United States has banned the practice of butchering horses for human consumption, there are no regulations for Canada or Mexico, and no single group that represents the horse slaughter trade. The good news for American horses, is that the number of them headed to slaughter has fallen from 350,000 in 1990 to 140,000 in 2007, to 20,000 in 2022.

But Canadian horses aren’t so lucky.

In 2021, according to Canadian producers, approximately $23 million worth of fresh, chilled or frozen horse, donkey and mule meat, mainly to Japan, Switzerland, France, Italy and the United States. This makes our country one of the largest producers of horse meat in the world.

According to another Globe and Mail story, more than 14,500 horses worth almost $93 million have been flown from Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg to Japan.

Jann with a ‘gentle giant.’ (photo courtesy Jann Arden)

In Arden’s open letter she points out that since the federal election, Agricultural Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has been mandated by the Prime Minister to enact the ban on exporting live horses from Canada for slaughter. But nothing has been done.
In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Ms. Bibeau department said it was “in the early stages of analyzing the commitment and is engaging with key stakeholders.”

And yet in the same article, the paper states that the “number of live horses transported from Canada has risen since the mandate letter, with 2,302 horses flown to Japan between January and October this year.”

Arden points out that the “stakeholders” are horse meat farmers, not animal advocates. “The assignment was to end these exports, full stop. Since the Prime Minister sent his mandate letter to Ms. Bibeau, more than 2,300 more horses have been exported to Japan.”

The Globe and Mail story ran in December 2022, and Arden’s opinion column ran in January. What, if anything has been done?

“Not very much has changed since the letter was written. A few months ago I, along with two other reps from animal advocacy groups, attended a meeting with a team from Agriculture Canada,” says Sinikka Crosland, president of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition. “I addressed the issue of who is a stakeholder, and they did agree that the animal welfare sector is. As to why the government is stalling, I believe that they do not see this issue as being a big priority; it was the very last item on the PM’s list of mandates. Also, Ag Canada is closely entwined with the meat industry, and Canadian Meat Council reps have voiced their opposition to a ban on the shipments.”

Crosland’s group, who is closely aligned with Arden, says that now, more than ever, supporters are encouraged to contact their Members of Parliament and Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. “We are so close, and we need to push this over the finish line,” she says. “People need to make it clear that stalling any more is not an option ‒ a mandate is a mandate and it must be fulfilled. No more consulting with stakeholders, as that does not address the marching orders issued by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.”

To learn how to contact your MP and the Agriculture Minister use this link.

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