An Act to amend the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act (slaughter of equines for human consumption)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Alex Atamanenko  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of May 14, 2014
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act to prohibit the sending or conveying from one province to another — or the importing or exporting — of horses or other equines for slaughter for human consumption or the production of meat products for human consumption. It also provides for an exception to that prohibition.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • May 14, 2014 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

Meat Inspection Act
Private Members' Business

May 13th, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-571, An Act to amend the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act.

I will begin by stating that the Liberal Party supports this bill. I would also like to recognize and thank all those who have written letters and shared their thoughts and concerns with me about this piece of legislation. I have heard from many of our American neighbours who also want to see this bill enacted.

Bill C-571 amends the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act to ensure that any horse slaughtered for human consumption has a medical record containing all treatments over the course of its lifetime.

There are serious health concerns regarding horsemeat that may contain harmful substances if that horse was not raised primarily for human consumption. Horses sent for slaughter come from various backgrounds, and because they are not raised as food animals, they often receive medications that are banned from the food chain.

Currently, record keeping for horses bred and raised in Canada or the United States is not mandatory. The transfer of information regarding the substances a horse has received is not required when that animal is sold. This bill seeks to provide a reliable system for recording medications given to horses throughout their entire lifespans to prevent forbidden substances often found in horsemeat from entering our food chain.

Before we came here to vote tonight, I spoke to the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, who introduced a similar piece of legislation last year, Bill C-322, which did not have the parliamentary support needed to withstand a vote at second reading. Bill C-322 would have prohibited the transportation, import, or export of horses or horsemeat for human consumption altogether.

This new draft, Bill C-571, is an extension of the previous bill, which now provides for an exemption to that prohibition. Only horses raised primarily for human consumption that are accompanied by a complete medical history will be transported for slaughter for meat. This expansion of Bill C-322 better confirms the trade regulations and would fulfill Canada's food safety requirements.

Most Canadians do not realize how much horsemeat we sell all over the world. In 2013, more than 72,000 horses were slaughtered in Canada. That is nearly 1,400 killed each week. It is important to reiterate that Canada has a horsemeat industry worth $19 million, 85% of which is for export, and employs 500 Canadians. We do not want to take any livelihoods away from the people who make a living from it.

The U.S. eradication of its horsemeat industry in 2007 now leaves only two countries in North America that use horses for slaughter, Mexico and us. There are only five processing plants across Canada. Two are in Quebec, two are in Alberta, and one is in British Columbia.

While the consumption of horsemeat is not very popular with Canadians, there is a growing interest in Quebec, where it is often sold in supermarkets. Horsemeat is also eaten in many other countries around the world, over 15 that we export to, including France, Russia, all the “stans” in the Russian orbit, China, and Italy.

I believe that this bill achieves the necessary boundaries to sustain the horsemeat processing sector while respecting those who choose to incorporate this type of meat into their diets.

Bill C-571 proposes that we continue with this industry and that we breed horses the way we breed other livestock, such as cows and pigs, to ensure that these animals are not injected with chemicals that might hurt the food chain, because the rest of the animals in our livestock industry are not. These animals would not be injected or fed anything that would render the meat unsafe. All the bill is saying is that there needs to be some sort of assurance so that we do not endanger human health.

Some argue that this is an overly emotional debate. It is not, actually. There is a lot of evidence showing that horses not bred for slaughter carry medications that could harm people. A couple of years ago, Belgium authorities notified the European Commission about the reported presence of two forbidden substances in horsemeat imported from Canada.

The whole issue of the humane treatment of horses sent to slaughterhouses is another issue, but it is important to address it here.

I am a horse owner. My parents were from the Netherlands in Europe, and horsemeat was a staple of their diet. Sometimes it can be emotional for me also, but it is an industry, and it is very important.

We also have to address how we treat these animals before they are slaughtered. There have been many documented cases of cruelty and neglect in Canadian slaughterhouses. The larger issue is that when these great creatures are with us, they should be treated in an humane manner, which is not currently the case in many instances. The reality is that our current transportation regulations for horses are poor, allowing for horses to be transported for up to 36 hours, without food, water, or rest, in confined trailers.

Bill C-571 would impose certain limits on the horse slaughter industry that did not exist before. The main objective is to have safer horsemeat to export around the world. The legislation will help modernize regulations in the horsemeat processing sector in terms of food safety. It may also pave the way to adjusting the transportation of these animals when they are sent to slaughter for human consumption.

In conclusion, as the agriculture critic, I believe that Bill C-571 is a step in the right direction. The question today is not whether we should we be using horsemeat or disposing of horses in this way. The question today is whether horsemeat is safe. We have to make sure that it is safe and that there are no chemicals or medications in the meat when we sell it or consume it ourselves in this country.

The bill is a step in the right direction for maintaining and improving the horsemeat processing sector in Canada, which is still a big industry. We support the bill.

Meat Inspection Act
Private Members' Business

May 13th, 2014 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, whom I have known for many years as a very great member of Parliament in the House, for bringing forward this bill. I know that the member is very diligent in his work. He is a member who has a long history in the agricultural industry. He was the agriculture critic in the NDP for many years, and I know the riding he represents has a number of agricultural producers, so it is an issue he is very familiar with.

I also know he is a member who is very diligent in the research he does and the issues he brings to the House. I was very interested when he first brought forward Bill C-571, an act to amend the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act concerning the slaughter of horses for human consumption. I know he brought forward this bill because of the research he has done, the people he has spoken to, and the concern he has that the status quo in Canada is very unsatisfactory. Indeed it is not safe and is something that needs to be debated in the House and looked at. It is very meritorious that this bill has been brought forward and we are having the debate in the House. We will vote on it, I believe, tomorrow.

I would like to agree with my hon. colleague from the Liberal Party who spoke before me that for many people it is an emotional issue. He articulated very well the fact that he himself is a horse owner, his family comes from a community where horsemeat is eaten, and yet there are issues that we have to sort out. For parliamentarians, the primary issue is to ensure that the safety of Canadians is paramount, that it is our first priority, and that the food chain is safe in this country.

Due to some of the quite shocking cases of contamination in various plants across the country, we know this is something the federal government must not only have oversight of; but strict laws, regulations, and inspections must be in place to guarantee safety. It is not a chance thing; there has to be a guarantee that our food supply system, the production system, food processing, from beginning to end, is something Canadians can rely on. Our faith in that system has been shaken on a number of occasions, which is all the more reason that, with this bill, we need to look at this issue in the cold light of day and examine whether the provisions we have in Canada that supposedly provide the required protections are actually working.

Having read the material that has been sent to us from many different perspectives, certainly by the member for British Columbia Southern Interior but also by others, I would say this bill is needed. It is a bill worthy of being sent to committee for further examination. We have to recognize that the system in Canada in terms of horses going to slaughterhouses is not foolproof. There are many loopholes. We have an industry where horses, particularly those used in racing but in other activities as well, contain all kinds of medications and drugs that are unfit for human consumption. For those medications to be in our food chain is very serious.

I agree with the underlying and fundamental premise of the bill that it is critical that we ensure there is a separation of streams. If horses are being raised primarily for the food chain, accompanied by a lifetime record such as we see in the European Union, in chronological order with all the medical treatments, that is fine. The issue is not about whether there is consumption of horsemeat and if it is good or bad. That is a matter of choice, and it is a consumer choice, as it is globally. The issue here is whether or not there is a separation and a prohibition to absolutely guarantee that horses being conveyed to slaughter that do not have that full medical record are not then being used for human consumption.

On this issue, we do have to err on the side of caution. We have to take the precautionary principle and ensure that the measures that are in place are foolproof and transparent, not just random sampling, and that there are proper inspections that take place. We have to ensure that these lifetime records, such as those we have seen in the European Union, are valid documents that can be counted on.

I am the health critic for the NDP, and I am very proud to do work as the health critic. I can tell the House that every day, when I speak with constituents, stakeholders, and organizations, the issues of food safety, labelling, transparency and ensuring that our food industry is working in a way that puts Canadians' safety first are things that I hear about very frequently. There is a lot of concern in the country about the fact that the federal government has retreated and we do not have the kinds of inspections, for example, under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

In fact, we know that there are no laws or restrictions in place that exclude racehorses from entering the slaughter system. There is no law that prevents that. Supposedly, we have something called an equine ID document that requires the medications that the horse has been on within the previous six months to be shown. However, that is something that has been so easy to get around.

I know that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has information from horse owners that shows that the documentation that they get is sometimes non-existent. It certainly does not contain the kind of information that is required to give someone a sense of the record of that particular animal's life. I know this because I just talked to the member a few minutes ago before the debate here tonight.

I am glad that we are debating this bill. There are different perspectives, but it comes down to the need to make sure that there is a clear separation when it comes to horses that are raised specifically for meat. There should be very clear rules around that. For other horses that have been used for other activities, we have to make absolutely sure that they do not end up being part of our food chain and our food system.

I would like to thank the member for British Columbia Southern Interior for having the courage to bring forward this private member's bill to allow us to have this debate. I hope that members will consider the principle on the bill and, on that basis, agree that it should be supported to go to committee. I am sure that there will be all kinds of interesting witnesses who will want to come forward. There will be questions. There will be amendments. That is what our process is about here. That is why we have it.

At this point, we are here debating this bill in principle. On that basis, I support the bill, and I congratulate the member for the work he has done in bringing forward this important issue.

Meat Inspection Act
Private Members' Business

May 13th, 2014 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking all of my colleagues who will be supporting my bill, especially those who have taken time today to speak out in favour of it, and also especially the official party support from the leader of the Green Party and the health and agriculture critics of the Liberal Party.

Bill C-571 is about the safety of our food supply. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture in his speech on March 31 said, “While this bill is being presented as such, in fact it is not.” This is false. He also stated, “This bill includes preventing horses from moving from one province to another within Canada”. This is also false.

Annex E: Equine Information Document of the CFIA, on page 20, clearly states that phenylbutazone is one of the long list of veterinary drugs not permitted for use in equine slaughter for food, meaning that no safe limits have been established. On page 21, there is a list of drugs permitted with a six-month withdrawal period; bute is not on this list. Therefore, we can conclude that the parliamentary secretary was incorrect in his comments regarding the Equine Information Document when he said, “The six-month period exceeds the recommended withdrawal period for a number of veterinary drugs, including bute”. This is more false information.

Let me turn to the speech from my hon. colleague from Welland, the agriculture critic for our party. He stated that the CFIA takes concerns about bute seriously and has ensured it is not allowed. A couple of years ago, The New York Times printed an explosive exposé on the problem of doping in the horse-racing industry, which prompted the U.S. government to conduct a committee study. The transcript of testimonies by veterinarians, breeders, trainers, and owners at all these committee hearings were shocking to me in their revelations regarding the overuse and abuse of a wide variety of legal and illegal medications on American racetracks. The CFIA has no laws or restrictions in place excluding racehorses from entering the slaughter system. In fact, Canada's horsemeat industry is deriving a significant portion of its product from racehorses, which should alarm us.

It has been shown time and again that our EID system is fraught with loopholes. In fact, the European Commission's veterinary office has deemed these documents to be frequently fraudulent.

I received an email today from a woman who recently purchased three horses at a horse auction. She did not receive any information about previous owners, nor were there any EIDs accompanying the animals. She also found out that the previous owner was not required to fill out an EID. She said:

If I were a kill buyer this casual transaction would please me greatly. I could then obtain fresh EIDs and fill them out as I pleased, while stating with complete honesty that “to my knowledge” the horses had not been given any substances banned for human consumption.

Henry Skjerven, former director of Natural Valley Farms in Saskatchewan, said:

The system as it stood when we were killing horses was in no way, shape or form, safe, in my opinion.

He went on to say:

We did not know where those horses were coming from, what might be in them or what they were treated with.

Equine Canada has upset many of its members over its lack of consultation before taking a position against Bill C-571 and issuing a lobby letter to me and my hon. colleagues. Many members of this organization are strongly opposed to horse slaughter.

Furthermore, the position Equine Canada has taken seems to be based on a few misconceptions. It states in its letter, quite incorrectly, that record-keeping such as would be required by Bill C-571 does not take place for horses in other countries, whereas in fact in the EU, Canada's main market for horsemeat, it is required that all horses, not just slaughter horses, have a passport within six months of the horse's birth or by December 31 of the year of its birth, and with this passport the horse's comprehensive lifetime medical record must be maintained.

I find it striking that by presenting arguments based on food safety, science, and legal accountability, renowned international equestrian Victoria McCullough and Florida state senator Joseph Abruzzo recently effected a nearly unanimous and non-partisan decision in the U.S. Congress to keep American slaughterhouses closed to horses.

Should we not be holding ourselves at least as accountable to food safety as the U.S. when it comes to slaughtering horses for human consumption? Should the same high standards that we require for all animals not also apply to equines?

Let us get Bill C-571 to the committee and to the debate it deserves and Canadians are expecting.

Meat Inspection Act
Private Members' Business

March 31st, 2014 / 11 a.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

moved that Bill C-571, An Act to amend the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act (slaughter of equines for human consumption), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to my Bill C-571 today. I will begin by recognizing and thanking all those Canadians who have written letters, signed petitions, and shared information about the horse slaughter industry with me.

Bill C-571 seeks to recognize that horses are ordinarily kept as domestic animals for recreational and sporting purposes, not to produce meat for human consumption, and may contain substances that are prohibited in food animals.

The bill would prohibit horses from being conveyed to slaughter and horsemeat from being sold for human consumption. The only exception to the prohibition would be for horses that are raised primarily for the food chain and are accompanied by a complete lifetime record, in chronological order, of all medical treatments ever administered.

To understand why such a distinction needs to be made, it is necessary to examine the nature of the equine industry, the medications that are administered to horses, the purposes for which these medications are commonly used, the implications that are posed to human health from ingesting equine drugs that may be present in horsemeat, and the adequacy of the regulations that currently govern the Canadian horse slaughter industry.

The question that needs to be answered is: Without the enactment of Bill C-571, is it possible to guarantee a safe horsemeat product if it is produced from horses that were not raised or regulated within an agricultural industry and were never intended to enter the human food chain until the day of being purchased by a kill buyer under contract to a Canadian horse processor.

Last year, 71,961 horses were slaughtered in Canada. Some 85% of the meat derived from these horses was exported to the EU and the remaining 15% sold domestically. Over half of these horses were imported from the U.S., a country, I will note, that is not permitted to export horsemeat to the EU, and where a 2007 ban on horse slaughter remains in place today. It bears keeping in mind that out of a population of some ten million Canadian and U.S. horses, little more than 1% is slaughtered to produce meat, meaning nearly 99% are not.

Whether bred for show, racing, jumping, breeding, pleasure, rodeo, dressage, companionship as pets, or for work, horses enter the slaughter supply chain to Canada for processing from a multitude of owners and a myriad of directions.

Throughout their lives, a wide variety of medications are administered to keep horses healthy and able to perform in their racing or sporting career and any other capacity required by their owners.

“WARNING: Do not use in horses intended for human consumption”, reads the label found on an extensive array of common horse drugs and includes, among others, wormers, vaccines, painkillers, tranquilizers, bronchodilators, anabolic steroids, ulcer mediations, diuretics, antibiotics, and fertility drugs. Most of these drugs are listed in Chapter 17, Annex E.5 of Canada's Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures, under the heading List of Veterinary Drugs Not Permitted for Use in Equine Slaughtered for Food. When something is not permitted, any administration of these drugs renders their meat unfit and unapproved whether or not it can be detected in tests.

In his detailed letter of notice to European Commissioner Tony Borg, Bruce Wagman of the legal firm Schiff Hardin, representing Front Range Equine Rescue and the U.S. Humane Society, includes as Exhibit 1, a list of 115 banned and dangerous substances commonly administered to U.S. horses that are slaughtered for horsemeat exports to the EU, in contravention of numerous food safety and transparency laws.

Also included in Mr. Wagman's letter are 13 signed declarations representing the sworn testimonies of a broad spectrum of American veterinarians, breeders, trainers, and owners attesting to the administration of these drugs to horses they have raised or cared for. In one example, Dr. Holly Colella, a veterinarian who attends to more than 1,200 horses annually in her practice, testifies that a majority of the substances on Exhibit 1 is regularly and routinely administered to the horses she works with.

In her article for Newsweek entitled “What's In Your Horse Burger? Chemicals That Pose Serious Health Risks”, Vickery Eckoff writes, “Horses—and particularly racehorses—are walking pharmacies”.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, one of the authors of the study entitled, “Association of Phenylbutazone Usage with Horses Bought for Slaughter: A Public-Health Risk” that was published in the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, has stated in interviews that “Eating them [that is horses] is about as healthful as eating food contaminated with DDT”.

Dodman's study had clearly shown that mechanisms to ensure the removal from the food chain of horses treated with the drug phenylbutazone, or “bute”, as it is commonly called, are inadequate at best. By matching the registered name to their racetrack drug record over a five-year period, the Dodman study revealed that 18 thoroughbred racehorses sent for slaughter had been given “bute” on race day, a drug that is banned for use in any animal intended for human consumption because it causes serious and lethal idiosyncratic adverse effects in humans.

Mindy Lovell, a Canadian, has owned horses for over 35 years. She has competed extensively and trained professionally for many years. Currently, she operates a boarding stable in conjunction with a thoroughbred aftercare program. In her experience, the one thing she notes that all horses have in common is the way in which they are cared for with respect to veterinary care and medications. As she writes in her letter to me:

One can simply walk into ANY boarding/training/schooling facility and open the medicine cabinet to clearly see the array of drugs and medications easily available and commonly used on these horses. The majority of these are clearly labelled—not to be used on horses intended for human consumption.

In testimony before a 2012 congressional committee that was struck on the heels of The New York Times exposé on the use of drugs in the racing industry and its relationship to an increased number of horse breakdowns leading to jockey deaths on American racetracks, Arthur B. Hancock III, a fourth-generation horse breeder, declares that:

Today, only 5% of all horses are bleeders and yet almost 100 percent receive Lasix on race day. There is only one reason for this. Lasix is a powerful diuretic that allows a racehorse to shed 20 to 30 pounds at race time, thus making it a performance-enhancing drug.

Further down in his testimony he states, “In addition to Lasix, nearly 100 percent of all racehorses run with Butazolidin, Ketofen, or Banamine along with other ‘therapeutic drugs’ in their systems”.

At the same Congressional hearing, Kathryn Papp, a veterinary practitioner at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pennsylvania, states:

The overuse and abuse of medication is rampant at our Thoroughbred racetracks and training centers. The abuse is not limited to just performance enhancing drugs, it encompasses all substances that our trainers think may improve their horse’s performance, from valid treatments to hokey and possibly dangerous therapies. Medications that are currently being overused at our racetracks include but are not limited to antibiotics, corticosteroids, NSAIDs, hormones and their analogues, calmative agents, hyper sensitizing agents, and respiratory aids, amongst many others. These substances are not just being used inappropriately around race time, more commonly they are employed during training and the time leading up to races. I cannot tell you how many barns I know that train every one of their horses on phenylbutazone daily whether they need it or not. And bute alone has many adverse effects to consider, ranging from GI issues to renal issues.

Also at this committee meeting, Congress heard from Glenn Thompson, a thoroughbred trainer for 30 years and author of the book, The Tradition of Cheating in the Sport of Kings, who stated:

From the time you start your first hot walking job until you take out your trainer's license you were taught, if a horse has a problem, you do whatever it takes to get them healthy to race. If there is an ankle problem, you give the horse bute…, if a horse has a bleeding problem, you give him Lasix…, if a filly is in season, you give her a drug to take her out of season.

Clearly, everyone involved in the horse slaughter industry, including Canadian, American and European regulators, know perfectly well that they simply cannot guarantee the safety of horse meat.

Lastly, given that the United States has no program in place to monitor the drugs given to horses and has no intention of creating one, the U.S. cannot export its horse meat directly to Europe. A report produced by the European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office very clearly outlines the inadequacies of our regulatory regime when it comes to horse slaughter. Here are some examples from the 2010 audit.

First of all, the oversight regime in place in Canada to verify the use of drugs in horses intended for slaughter, as set out in Council Directive 96/23/EC, is inadequate because it does not provide official verification of the identification, movement and medical records of a limited number of horses destined for slaughter.

Imported horses were accompanied by an affidavit signed by the last owner—often a horse dealer—indicating any medical treatments administered over the previous six months. Nevertheless, no official guarantee was requested from the United States authorities that affidavits were verified and could be considered as reliable.

Supervision and certification are not enough to correct the problems noted.

In addition, in such areas as the export of horse meat, standards did not fully provide adequate guarantees.

The affidavit regarding any medical treatments administered is required for all horses slaughtered, regardless of their origin. However, there are no official controls to verify the authenticity or reliability of the affidavit.

Imported animals are accompanied by an affidavit indicating all medical treatments administered. However, the USDA assumes no responsibility regarding the origin of the animals, the controls in American institutions or the authenticity of the affidavit.

One might expect that, given the damning results of the audit and the serious risk to human health posed by horse medications, the slaughter industry would have been forced to significantly curtail its activities until a reliable medication oversight system could be developed and implemented. That did not happen. On the contrary, the European Union asked Canada to come up with a new plan to address the problem of medications in horse meat. While Canadian and European authorities look for ways to amend their regulations in accordance with trade agreements, the slaughter of Canadian and American horses continues as though nothing happened.

A Star investigation has found that Canada's food inspection system has serious flaws when dealing with the steady stream of racehorses sent to slaughter every year. Throughout his life, like many competitive horses, Backstreet Bully was given powerful performance-enhancing drugs that are potentially deadly in meat eaten by humans.

Two of these, nitrofurazone and phenylbutazone, had been administered to Backstreet Bully dozens of times, but the shoddy paperwork and poor oversight allowed by Canada's food watchdog cleared him for human consumption in a market that includes Quebec, Europe and some Toronto restaurants.

“You can’t kill that horse”, Stacie Clark, who works for the Stronach farm, recalled pleading with an abattoir official. It was not just small amounts of these drugs that had once been given to the horse: 21 doses of nitrofurazone, which has been linked to cancer in humans, and at least 23 doses of bute, a drug linked to bone marrow disease.

We have an industry where the primary consideration of owners in the care and treatment of horses is to ensure that they perform their career as required, not whether they will end up on someone's dinner plate.

We see a wide variety of substances that are commonly, and in many cases routinely, administered to horses that are prohibited for use even once if intended for the human food supply. We have exceedingly lax enforcement of a highly inadequate regulatory system, and whereas governments in the EU and the U.S. have conducted various studies and considered at length the issues of horse medication and food supply, Canada's Parliament has not yet seen it fit to do the same.

I am asking my hon. colleagues to support Bill C-571 at second reading.

I will close with the following statement by Dr. Peggy Larson, a former USDA veterinarian medical officer . She said:

Based on longstanding medical and scientific principles, it is impossible to declare horse meat safe for human consumption when the horses who are slaughtered for that meat have been exposed to an unidentified (and unidentifiable) number of drugs, treatments and substances, in unknown (and unknowable) quantities, at various times during their life.

Meat Inspection Act
Private Members' Business

March 31st, 2014 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure members that our government takes animal welfare concerns very seriously. Horses, or equines, have played an important role in Canada's history, and I think we all agree that horses and indeed all animals need to be treated humanely.

Where Conservatives disagree is whether the subject before us today is one of food safety. While this bill is being presented as such, in fact it is not. To remind members, this bill proposes to amend the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act. It would prohibit the import or export of equines for slaughter along with equine meat products for human consumption, unless the equine was raised primarily for human consumption and unless a complete lifetime medical record was provided.

I want to point that it is not just about restricting the movement of horses across the border. This bill includes preventing horses from moving from one province to another within Canada. This is not a food safety issue, and it is certainly not an import-export issue, so I appreciate the opportunity to present clear facts to the House.

Here are the facts of the matter. Horse slaughter is a legitimate business activity in Canada. There are indeed Canadians who eat equine meat. Our government is committed to the humane treatment of animals.

With regard to my first point, equine meat production is a major and legitimate industry in Canada. I would like to provide some additional facts. Over a billion people throughout the world eat approximately one million tonnes of equine meat per year. China alone consumes some 400,000 tonnes. In 2012, the estimated value of the Canadian horse slaughter industry was $122 million. This industry produced approximately 24 million kilograms of equine meat. That same year, 17.7 million kilograms of equine products were exported, which contributed approximately $90 million to the Canadian processing industry.

This industry is important to the economy. It is also a matter of individual choice. Right now, each horse owner in Canada has the right to choose the best end-of-life option for their animals. Canadians care about their horses, and while I appreciate that some people have difficulty with the idea of horse slaughter, the fact is that this is a humane end-of-life option. Let me be clear. Our government does not support taking away rights from horse owners, and this is a matter of principle.

Canada's equine herd grows by approximately 34,000 foals each year. Canadians use end-of-life slaughter for 85% of the annual increase in the domestic horse population. As we can see, this is an important population management tool. The decision to choose slaughter as an end-of-life option should therefore remain a decision for each horse owner to make. As well, the equine slaughter industry employs well over 600 people directly in rural Canada, jobs that will be in danger with the passage of this bill. I would encourage the NDP to stand up for hard-working Canadians instead of trying to ban this industry through the back door.

With regard to my second point, there are in fact Canadians who eat equine meat. They eat approximately 2,000 tonnes per year. The consumption of equine meat is commonplace in Quebec and in the other provinces of Canada. In Quebec, equine meat can be found in supermarkets right next to the beef, chicken and pork.

It is not up to the government to tell Canadians what they can or cannot eat. However, we are responsible for making sure that the food they choose to eat is safe. That is why there are already strict food safety regulations in place.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency performs daily inspections in all federally registered meat establishments to verify that all products are manufactured in accordance with food safety regulations.

Let me further clarify the facts about veterinary drugs such as phenylbutazone, also known as bute.

Bute is an anti-inflammatory commonly used to treat lameness in horses. It is approved by Health Canada for this use as an anti-inflammatory, but it is not approved for use in food-producing animals, and that includes equines destined for human consumption.

For this reason, the CFIA regularly tests equine meat for veterinary drugs, including phenylbutazone. The overwhelming majority of tests reveal freedom from drug residues. In fact, compliance rates are very high, at over 98%.

In addition to testing, other precautions are taken. Since July 2011, the CFIA has required that equines presented for slaughter be accompanied by a complete treatment history for the six months prior to slaughter. The European Union, our largest export market for equine products, accepts this requirement as an appropriate assurance that non-permitted residues are not present.

Under Canada's Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures, all equines presented for slaughter must be accompanied by an equine information document, or EID. The EID links the identity of the animal to a six-month medical history. The six-month period exceeds the recommended withdrawal period for a number of veterinary drugs, including bute. EIDs are just one part of a larger integrated system designed to prevent trace residues in all meat products.

It is important to note that no case of human illness has been attributed to the consumption of horsemeat or veterinary residues therein in North America or in countries of any of our trading partners, so as members can see, Canada already has firm protocols in place to verify that meat products are safe to eat.

To my third point, our government is committed to verifying that all animals destined for slaughter are treated humanely. Here are facts about what we are doing.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's slaughter improvement program has made up to $60 million available to improve federally regulated slaughter facilities. This includes specific investments aimed at improving animal welfare practices. We have committed up to $3.4 million for the development and updating of codes of practices for farm animal care.

Animal welfare assurance systems continue to be eligible for funding under Growing Forward 2. For example, up to $100,000 has been committed to the National Cattle Feeders' Association to help develop and implement a national feedlot animal care assessment program.

As I said earlier, we all agree that animals must be treated humanely. That is why CFIA inspectors are present on site in all federally registered slaughter facilities each day to verify that animal welfare requirements are met. However, if something unfortunate should occur, the CFIA has the authority to investigate animal welfare concerns in instances of non-compliance. The CFIA also has the authority to respond to findings with a full suite of enforcement tools, including criminal prosecution. This is the reality right now, but I cannot speak to the consequences if the current end-of-life option was no longer available.

According to Equine Canada, Bill C-571 would not enhance or add value to existing food safety legislation in Canada, it would not improve the humane welfare of horses in Canada, and it would cause serious implications for Canadian horse owners moving horses interprovincially within Canada.

For all these reasons, our government opposes Bill C-571.

Meat Inspection Act
Private Members' Business

March 31st, 2014 / 11:55 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I also would like to take this opportunity to speak to Bill C-571 and would like to begin with a statement from Equine Canada, the dedicated national voice working to serve, promote, and protect the interests of horses and Canada's equestrian community. Equine Canada has stated:

Equine Canada believes that Bill C-571, if enacted: Will not enhance or add value to existing legislation for food safety in Canada; Will not improve the humane welfare of horses in Canada; and Will cause serious implications for Canadian horse owners for moving horses inter-provincially within Canada.

These are real concerns. Also, despite the way the bill was written, it appears that it is not really about food safety and not about imports and exports at all. It really is about the humane treatment of animals. On both sides of the House, we agree that all animals should be treated humanely and I know that our government takes the issue of animal welfare very seriously. In Canada, we have strict laws and regulations in place right now to verify that effective welfare standards are in place in all establishments. Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors work hard to enforce these regulations and operational policies under the Meat Inspection Act, which sets the standards for the humane treatment and slaughter of animals in federally registered abattoirs. Horses or equines are included in these protections.

The CFIA inspectors are present on-site in federally registered slaughter facilities each day to verify that animal welfare requirements are met. I take it that most people would not know there are on-site inspectors who inspect the facilities daily. Under the authority of the Meat Inspection Act and the meat inspection regulations, CFIA inspectors are empowered to intervene when they observe non-compliance concerning human handling of horses at slaughterhouses. This is an important job because, as I said earlier, we all agree that animals should be treated humanely.

The CFIA is also providing additional training to veterinarians and inspectors who oversee human handling of animals every day on the front lines. In addition to being on the floor to verify that humane handling is taking place, CFIA authorities want to hear about problems, concerns, and incidents of alleged non-compliance with the Health of Animals Act and the Meat Inspection Act. If anyone is aware of any non-compliance, of course the CFIA want to hear about it because then it can be dealt with. That is not to say that from time to time there may be violations, but that said, there is an enforcement mechanism and there is a toolbox to deal with that issue. I want to say here that it is important for anyone with concerns to raise them as soon as possible so that if there is a problem, it can be investigated immediately. The CFIA also has the authority to respond to findings with a full suite of enforcement tools, including criminal prosecutions.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this bill.

Meat Inspection Act
Routine Proceedings

January 29th, 2014 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-571, An Act to amend the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act (slaughter of equines for human consumption).

Mr. Speaker, the bill I am proposing would prohibit the sending or conveying from one province to another, or the importing or exporting of horses or other equines for slaughter for human consumption, or the production of meat products for human consumption.

However, it also provides for an exception to that prohibition. That exception is that if the horses or other equines are raised primarily for human consumption and if the horse is accompanied by a medical record that contains its standardized description and a complete lifetime record in chronological order of medical treatment then this meat would then be acceptable.

We do not have a system that has stringent regulations right now, and in the name of food safety, the bill fits in with the new Safe Food for Canadians Act. It is an expansion of Bill C-322. It conforms with trade regulations and it tightens up the whole aspect of food safety.

I would urge all members of the House to support the bill, especially all of those hundreds of thousands of people who supported Bill C-322.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)