Behind the barn door


Note to my readers: As you may have already noticed, I’ve put my regular blog format aside today to bring you a feature piece about the Canadian horsemeat business. The impetus to write this article arose after I posted about the culinary aspects of horsemeat last month. I received many comments and questions that left me with no ready response;  it became obvious that I needed to learn more about this topic. The result is about 3,000 words of interviews, stats and opinions. I know you might not have time to read all of this piece when you click through today, but I hope you’ll bookmark this post and come back to it when you have more time.


Behind the Barn Door: The Hidden Facts about Canada’s Horsemeat Industry

By Dana McCauley

[Toronto, August 17, 2009] Early last autumn, on a breezy, bright Sunday afternoon, more than four dozen of Toronto’s top chefs set up tables under a high-roofed barn near the Don River. They were volunteering their day off to participate in the second annual Picnic at Brickworks, a fundraising event hosted by the Evergreen Foundation and Slow Food Toronto. Acclaimed chef and co-owner of Pangaea Restaurant, Martin Kouprie was among the volunteers and knew he was being provocative when he decided to serve glistening spoonfuls of horsemeat tartar, cradled on leaves of tender Cookstown Greens kale. While a handful of guests acquiesced and moved on to the next chef’s table after they heard what Kouprie was serving, most people were inquisitive and tried the horsemeat; and, according to Kouprie, almost everyone who sampled the tartar proclaimed it delicious.

“During my apprenticeship as a cook at Café Henry Burger in Hull, Quebec, I learned how to prepare horsemeat many ways. Its lean, close, compact texture and underlying sweet flavour are very satisfying and make a terrific tartar,” notes Kouprie. “Unfortunately, what I didn’t know when I put horsemeat on the menu at Pangaea and then served it at the Brickworks Picnic is that most of the product now for sale in Canada isn’t raised as food. That means that the quality varies widely and there’s no assurance that the meat being served was raised naturally. I’m very cautious about the meat I purchase and 12-year-old ex racehorses just don’t match my quality criteria.”

Kouprie’s suppliers, whether intentionally or not, had led him to believe that the horsemeat they offer is produced like the pork, duck and venison they also sell: raised with care and respect for eventual culinary use. “I was shocked when I learned that pedigree information on horsemeat is not readily available,” confesses Kouprie.

Canada is the only Western country still producing horsemeat. Although we supply a domestic market in Quebec, most Canadian horsemeat is exported to Japan, Mexico, and European Union (EU) countries such as France, Italy and Switzerland. Although not verified by personal research, one European consumer informed me that Canadian horsemeat is at least occasionally sold in their markets as a grass fed, free-range product. Whether this misinformation is the fault of Canadian suppliers or a liberty taken by over zealous European retailers is unknown. Regardless, spreading such untruths serves only to make people everywhere more wary about the industry. Unlike pork, beef and chicken, a marketing board that can educate retailers, consumers and foodservice professionals about this commodity doesn’t represent horsemeat producers. Instead, this $60 million a year business is characterized by mystery that does more to provoke suspicion than it does to develop an industry where Canadians can show international leadership. In this way, the horsemeat industry does itself an immense disservice and perpetuates many of its own troubles.

Consider the comments made on my blog several weeks ago when I wrote about the culinary aspects of horsemeat and encouraged my readers to choose it as an alternative to game meats such as venison or duck. To be honest, I wrote that piece while under the same assumptions as Kouprie (who is, for those who don’t know, my spouse). Readers, many of whom got to that post from links posted on horse advocacy forums, raised numerous alarming concerns about horsemeat.  From charges of animal abuse to worries about the health of the animals entering our food chain, the comments were passionate and disturbing and inspired me to learn more. Finding a vacuum where I expected to find facts about the Canadian horsemeat business, I began scheduling interviews to discover the truth about how horses are channeled through the system.

One of the first things I discovered is that chefs and food writers aren’t the only ones craving more info about this meat choice. One of my first calls was placed to Tim Chapcuk who has spent his entire career in the meat supply business. Currently he’s a meat and seafood specialist at MacGregor’s Meats and Seafoods in Toronto where his team participates in the Ocean Wise program that traces fish and seafood back to its origins to ensure it’s harvested from sources employing sustainable methods. He and his colleagues scrutinize the pedigree of all the other foods they sell, too. Due to lack of reliable information, his company doesn’t stock horsemeat although Chapchuk often gets requests for it from chefs – especially those with European training.

“It’s not that I don’t like it. I’ve had horsemeat dried like prosciutto, cured in a salami, in sausage form and even in pasta. Every time I’ve had horsemeat the experience has been a positive one. But, I shy away from selling horsemeat since there isn’t enough information about the supply chain for me to carry it,” divulges Chapchuk.

Claude Boissoneau, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) National Specialist on Red Meat Non-Ruminant Species, walked me through the government’s role in the horsemeat business in a telephone interview. According to Boissoneau, 90% of all horsemeat is slaughtered at one of the six federally-inspected horse-slaughtering facilities in Canada. At these facilities, the same regulations are followed that apply to other federally-inspected meats. Likewise, the holding pens and equipment used at these facilities is designed specifically for horses to ensure that the end of each animal’s life is handled as humanely and safely as possible. In fact, independent consultant and internationally recognized animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin has audited these facilities and their practices.

As horses enter the system, the packer screens the animals for health. If there is any suspicion about the animal’s well being or if there is physical evidence that the animal has been given veterinary drugs recently, the horse is put into a special group to be blood tested. Each facility also has a CFIA-employed inspector on staff who also evaluates each beast. Animals with dubious health can be detained and tested, condemned as non-food appropriate or identified as requiring more detailed inspection after slaughter. Likewise, the CFIA inspector inspects every carcass before it’s stamped with an inspection mark and deemed suitable for human consumption by Canadians and for export to other countries. In 2008, inspectors condemned 1.6% of the total number of horses sent for slaughter for reasons such as melanoma, pneumonia and septicemia. While these inspections and procedures answer concerns about whether the meat is safe to eat according to current regulations, they don’t assure home cooks and chefs that the horsemeat sold in Canada is good tasting or of a particular quality or grade. Boissoneau concedes that one can “assume that a high percentage of the horses eaten had a working life before becoming a meat source.”

While this fact discourages people like chefs who want gourmet eating experiences, it doesn’t upset industry insiders like Bill deBarres, chairman of the Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada. He points out that without Canada’s horse slaughtering industry, there would be nowhere for working and recreational horses to go once they reached the end of their useful lives. Instead, he predicts that there would be thousands of neglected and abandoned horses suffering until they died of natural causes. To put the scale of the potential problem into perspective, USDA statistics indicate that in 2008 the US exported 77,073 horses to Canada for slaughter.

As Boissoneau points out, it’s a business decision for meat packers to decide whether to raise horses specifically for culinary sale or use what is already available to them from US and Canadian farms that have aging or injured horses. While the CFIA diligently screens animals according to current regulations, it’s also true that many of the horses making it into the food stream were treated in their lifetimes with veterinary medicines such as phenylbutazone (Bute), dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and worming drugs that are labeled to be harmful to human beings. The good news for all horsemeat consumers is that thanks to the EU, there will be more medical history disclosure in the future. The EU, one of the main markets for Canadian processed horsemeat, has requested that all equine origin meats entering the EU be accompanied with documentation that catalogues the health record of each individual animal.

During the 3-year transitional period allowed for Canada to become compliant to this request, the CFIA is working on interim measures to ensure that European customers are satisfied. Likewise, the CFIA will work with producers to finalize the details that will eventually be included on this equine information document. While Bill deBarres worries that the new rules may entail a 180-day quarantine period which would be a “heavy hit in the face” for cost-conscious farmers, access to this information will likely reassure many Canadian and international horsemeat consumers.

Also of concern to many horse lovers (including those in the culinary, recreational and workhorse categories) is the border crossing facilities that US horses and other livestock use when entering Canada. Since these facilities are used for many different kinds of animals, experts like Bill desBarres assert that they are not as safe as the holding facilities at Canadian slaughterhouses and he’d like to see the border crossing barns re-designed to house specific species. The CFIA is currently studying this situation and desBarres is hopeful that the current system of clearing foreign animals will be revised; however, he also believes that pressure needs to be exerted continually on the federal government to upgrade animal safety standards.

Given the calls for border reform and increased animal health and pedigree documentation, one wonders why anyone eats horsemeat at all. Tradition plays a large part in the choice for many European and Quebec diners. Horses came to North America with the Spanish conquistadors and flourished on our wide-open plains. Although likely eaten by native Indians and early settlers, horsemeat didn’t become a common protein choice here until French citizens settled in what is now Quebec. They brought their taste for horsemeat with them and, to this day, horsemeat can be found often on menus as well as at select grocery stores in that province.

Although eating horsemeat was often controversial in France, the practice was widespread and supported publicly. In fact, when horsemeat was challenged as an appropriate food choice in France in the 19th Century, a group of horse butchers hosted what became a very famous banquet at Paris’ Grand Hotel. Every course of the menu featured horse: on offer was a range of horse-based charcuterie (today bresola, a cured sausage made from horsemeat, remains popular in Italy), horse soup, horse stew and horse steak with potatoes sautéed in horse fat; likewise, the salad was tossed in a horse “oil” based dressing and the meal concluded with a rum gateau enriched with horse marrow. The illustrious guest list included famous French writers Gustav Flaubert and Alexandre Dumas who toasted the meal with glasses of Chateau Cheval-Blanc, a celebrated premier grand cru wine from the Bordeaux region of France whose name translates to White Horse.

I interviewed one person who speculated that European interest in horsemeat is waning as their population ages and horsemeat lovers die off but desBarres disagrees. He predicts horsemeat consumption will rise in Europe since it is perceived to be a healthy and inexpensive meat choice. Culinary nutrition expert Amy Snider, P. H. Ec, confirms that horsemeat is a better nutrition choice when compared to beef. “Horsemeat is slightly lower in calories but still higher in protein than beef. Although horse is only marginally lower in total fat than beef, it contains almost 30 % less saturated fat. It’s also significantly richer in Vitamin B12 and iron,” she states.

Given his belief that these nutrition facts will appeal to health conscious consumers, desBarres anticipates an optimistic future for the Canadian horsemeat exports. “Canada is in a very good position to do well in the animal agriculture industry moving forward,” he observes. “We have plenty of space, good regulations and the know-how to be world leaders.”

A factor fuelling domestic interest in horsemeat is the regional food movement that has many chefs re-examining their local and traditional menu options. “Horses are abundant in Canada and they play a big role in our national identity and history,” says Kouprie. “They’re also part of the culinary heritage of our French settlers. If I could ensure that my sources were supplying naturally-raised animals, I’d consider horsemeat as valid a choice for Pangaea’s menu as the aboriginal hunted Caribou and farmed venison that we feature when they’re in season.”  Although horsemeat is currently off the menu at Pangaea, at least two other trendy Toronto restaurants, the Black Hoof and La Palette, are offering this meat. Seeing such interest by volume customers, it’s easy to imagine ranchers clamouring to supply artisan-raised horsemeat to these chefs; but, if these farmers exist at all, they’re very elusive.

As a journalist with basic research skills, it’s usually easy to find information on the internet. With just a few well-placed keystrokes, listings for illicit entrepreneurs such as hookers and ticket scalpers pop up on my screen. Also easy to find are legal but controversial establishments such as abortion clinics and furriers. But, when I try to find a Canadian horsemeat rancher, I’m frustrated and unsuccessful. It took a lengthy interview with an industry insider for me to earn enough trust to be given the name and number of a Western Canadian horse rancher, one of apparently only four producers in the world who raises horsemeat specifically for the Japanese market. To protect his privacy; this producer asked me to withhold not only his name but also any reference to the specific province he lives in; so, for the purposes of this article we’ll call him John Smith.

Smith has an interesting story. He raises draft horses that he exports live to Japan. John Smith got into this business after being approached by Japanese business people who were seeking an artisan source of horsemeat. They were so enthusiastic about this Canadian farmer’s ability to supply the product they needed to satisfy their very particular Japanese culinary consumers, that they advanced him hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase essentials like stock and feed and to build dry pens to contain the horses. Instead of slaughtering the horses here in Canada and shipping frozen meat, these customers prefer to have the live horses flown to Japan where they can process the meat in the morning and chefs can prepare it that night. (One popular restaurant dish features fresh, raw horsemeat, shaved so thinly that it’s almost translucent, seasoned with fresh ginger and green onions.)

Selling this specialty meat to Japan is lucrative for Smith but not without risks. He confided during our interview that a counterpart of his, who operated in the US before laws there made his business illegal, had to post armed guards at the gates to his property. To say that Smith is careful to avoid attention would be an understatement. “It’s a precarious business,” he notes. “I have to be very cautious since I don’t want 500 animal activists camping out on my doorstep.” This necessary secrecy frustrates Smith and desBarres who both defend everyone’s democratic right to eat or not eat whatever livestock they choose.

Although he doesn’t want to be a public advocate for horsemeat, my undercover rancher was happy to teach me all about the culinary benchmarks for horsemeat. According to Smith, the ideal horses for culinary use are big muscled draft horses (the food encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique, states that Europeans have specific preferences for Ardennes – pictured above – and Postier Breton draft horse breeds). Once weaned from their mother’s milk, the horses are fed an all-grain diet so that they develop a generous amount of the marbled fat that contributes to tenderness and flavour. Two-year-old beasts are the ideal age to slaughter. And, like beef where steers reign supreme on the plate, geldings are considered the most premium sources of horsemeat.

After spending literally hours on the phone, I now have a well-informed perspective and feel much better equipped to answer the comments raised on my original blog post. I’ve developed a strong opinion about what’s wrong with the Canadian horsemeat business, too. It isn’t how it’s regulated or that it’s cruel to kill and eat such pretty animals, but that the rules currently allow packers to put poor quality meat with a Canadian stamp on it into the international food system.

If we’re going to continue to send horsemeat to other countries I would like to see us not only adopt the EU’s documentation guidelines but develop a grading system that sorts horsemeat categories in a manner similar to how beef is graded. We also need to encourage culinary, purpose-bred horsemeat farms that operate similarly to the ones we have for not only traditional meats such as beef, pork and chicken but also for game meats such as venison and duck. Moreover, we need a horsemeat marketing board that educates chefs, retailers, consumers and even those opposed to the consumption of horsemeat about the true facts surrounding how this meat gets from farm to table. In this scenario, a transparent and profitable horsemeat processing industry would make cold cuts like bressola and salami out of less tender, medically verified advanced age horses and ensure a well-monitored supply of young, culinary-quality draft geldings for customers who want to cook fresh horsemeat.

But that’s just my opinion. Smith disagrees. While he’d gladly increase his operation to satisfy a well-paying domestic market, he thinks a marketing board would be a waste. “You might be able to encourage people in Vancouver and Toronto to try horsemeat, but in the Prairie Provinces the romantic tradition of cowboys riding horses across the plains is just too strong. None of the cowboys who work for me would ever eat horsemeat.”

121 Responses to Behind the barn door

  1. Rosa says:

    An interesting and in depth article! I have always been aware of the controversy behind that meat. It is for that reason I very seldom eat horse meat 8once every blue moon)…. I’ll have to check what our supermarket offer and under which label it is sold.



  2. Beth says:

    I can’t believe that we are exporting meat that is such low quality. What is this going to do for the reputation of Canadian food products if Europeans, who obviously have a developed palate for the stuff, buy our horsemeat and find it shoddy?

    Look what selling crap has done for China’s manufacturing reputation? We need to clean up our act and get a grading system established pronto!

  3. Sheryl Kirby says:

    “Likewise, the holding pens and equipment used at these facilities is designed specifically for horses to ensure that the end of each animal’s life is handled as humanely and safely as possible.”

    Dana, can you speak to the modifications that have been made to make facilities to accommodate horses? The undercover footage shown on CBC clearly shows horses being processed in a facility designed for cattle, which in no way properly dealt with issues specific to horses.

    • danamccauley says:

      Sheryl, I didn’t specifically ask how the equipment has been modified but Claude Boissoneau said it absolutely had. I’m sure he or Temple Gradin could elaborate on that point. I didn’t ask him if such equipment had been used in the past so perhaps that plant has changed their ways since the CBC showed the video?

      CB did point out to me when I asked about the equipment that the different body styles of horses and cattle make it necessary to have different equipment, pens and facilities. Bill desBarres also said that the facilities were all horse appropriate as long as we don’t count the border facilities which he is quite concerned about.

  4. Interesting article, Dana. Personal thoughts aside, I do think that anything edible should have some good quality standards on it. Particularly a meat product.

    An additional question I have is whether John Smith or other ranchers eat their own horses? Lots of cattle or sheep guys will eat less than desirable product, as will dairy farmers even, but what about those with horses?

  5. danamccauley says:

    Yes, ‘John Smith’ and Bill desBarres are both horsemeat eaters. In fact, I’ve been invited to go for a bbq if I’m ever in Smith’s neck of the woods. Smith’s meat is, of course, super premium being raised for the Japanese market to very select specifications.

  6. Shelley says:

    Dana, While your article may have been researched well from a food consumer perspective, there is another dark side to the horse slaughter industry in Canada. There are reports from the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition and Animals Angels that document the horrible conditions that horses must endure while at the auctions, during transportation on double deckers, and in the slaughterhouses. Most are shipped for several days over thousands of miles without food or water. Many are injured terribly on arrival – there is no segregation. So besides the questionable source of the horses (ie. racetracks where horses are commonly heavily medicated) there are very serious animal welfare concerns surrounding this whole industry. By speaking with the CFIA and Bill DesBarres, you are getting a one-sided perspective. I urge you to research even deeper and write back on your blog whether you support a Canadian horse meat industry. Thank you.

    • danamccauley says:

      Shelley, Claude Boissoneau assured me that all horses coming into Canada (and all animals in general) must be transported according to CFIA rules and regulations. Here’s the link to those regs. If you have proof of these rules being broken you should report them immediately.

      • RB says:

        Rules and regulations are fine if they are enforced! Sad to say in this horrible trade of horse flesh many of these rules are not enforced.

        Animals Angels and many others have exposed the brutal treatment these horses can endure.

      • Shelley says:

        Like I mentioned in my first message, please visit the CHDC website at and see the report from June 2008 called “Black Beauty Betrayed”. The CBC also had their expose “No Country for Horses.” The evidence is all there and the CFIA received it and is well aware. It is a dirty business, protected by industry. I suggest you to read the reports please!

    • B Haney says:

      its sad that Animals Angels only tell you want they want you to hear or show you pictures of what they want you to see.. and most if not all the pictures are from years ago. And I know for a fact that they will LIE LIE LIE, PETA has nothing on AA… I think Canada is doing a very good job with the horse slaughter. I have seen the videos and they are doing it right. IF YOU DO NOT WANT YOUR horse sold for slaughter then dont sale it. but dont tell other people what they can do. MY LIFE. MY HORSE. Not you or anyone will tell me what i can or cant do with it. as long as I do not starve or injurer my horses or break the law then LAY OFF … you do NOT HAVE THE RIGHT.

  7. Judy says:

    I don’t advocate eating horsemeat….while I try to keep an open mind….I would ask you to go to a holding pen….and watch…then come back and right another article…..useful lives????? Many horses are pets…..would you eat your cat or dog? It is a moral decision for me….and I dare say….eating horse goes against my morals….no matter what.

    • danamccauley says:

      Lots of people have rabbits as pets and I know of many people who eat them as well. And, although, I wouldn’t personally eat a dog or a cat, i know Chinese people who have eaten them in their homeland and as far as I’m concerned, that’s their choice.

  8. gabrielle says:

    after a horse dies,does it know if it is being eaten by maggots in its grave or by humans appreciating its gift of good meat???!!!

    i have several grass fed horses,very healthy happy animals on nice pasture with shade,room to roam and friendly of my favorite mares is developing ringbone and slowly getting lame.when the lameness will get too far we would like to put her down ourselves by shooting her between the eyes while she’s eating her favorite grain.she has not had any medicines the past year and is fat and healthy and,yes,23 years old.she has always had a good life.should we bury her on the farm or: should we dare to butcher her and enjoy the meat?we asked our vet and i asked several ranchers who do a lot of that romantic cowboying,and all agreed that it would make perfect sense to eat the mare’s our opinion it shows more respect for the animal than burying or cremating it..
    however,living in the usa and being surrounded by horse loving neighbours and friends,we’d be scared to have a horse carcass hanging from the rafters like the elk or deer we occasionally butcher.most people we talk to are totally grossed out by the idea,as if we would also eat our cats,dogs and… well where would we draw the line.!
    it is truly a sad situation that the usa does not allow for humane slaughter of horses.every week i get offers for free horses that nobody wants anymore or that people just cannot afford to feed any longer.the amount of starving and abused horses is staggering as a result.
    it is a shame that we can butcher our own hand raised beef,pig,lamb,turkey or chicken,but a horse butchering should be done in secret ,away from prying eyes.
    thank goodness,we live at the end of a dirt road far away from town,but still, word will get out and i am sure we will lose friends over this.


    • danamccauley says:

      Gabrielle, thanks for sharing your perspective. It echoes what I heard from the Horse Welfare Alliance.

    • Chris says:

      Gabrielle, I was just wondering if any of your cows, pigs or other livestock are 23 years old and if you raised them for anything other than meat? We had our cattle slaughtered young as they were bred as meat animals, not recreational. As for butchering your own horse, once the head, tail and legs have been removed, someone would probably have to look pretty close to tell that’s its horse hanging from your rafters as opposed to another animal. So go ahead, and bon apetit!

    • gabrielle: That a beautiful comment. Wonderful perspective.

      Picking and choosing which animals to eat is very much a cultural and psychological thing.

    • Erin says:

      Danielle, I would like to see some statistics (not to mention punctuation and capitalization) about the link between neglect/abuse/lack of horse slaughter facilities in the US, and the rise in numbers of so-called unwanted horses.

      Your statement is anecdotal, strictly. I will add MY anecdotal evidence, as a longtime horse owner and horsewoman who has been a responsible equine rescuer as well.

      Animal abusers and hoarders have EVERY opportunity to sell their horses at the low-end horse auctions that meatbuyers frequent, in the US (and there are many). The fact is, they often don’t. Thus, their horses are seized by governmental animal control agencies and frequently turned over to equine rescues.

      I have no objection to purpose-bred horsemeat, so long as the animals are humanely raised and slaughtered, and have some documentation about the drugs that are used for them during the lifetime of the horse.

      Danielle has every option to slaughter her own old horse for meat – with a bullet through its head, rather than the pink juice that veterinarians use to put a horse down – and butcher it herself and eat it.

    • Food safety should be taken seriously, if not by governments then certainly by the consumer. Food safety requires that certain protocols are followed with food animals from birth, quite unlike what happens with most privately owned horses. It’s immoral to promote an industry that conceals drug contamination and doesn’t make any effort to determine whether any horses are stolen. Since it seems apparent that no pro-slaughter has ever taken a biology course, I’ll distill it down for them here. Just because you can’t eat it and poop it out does not mean that you have wasted something! All biotic matter ultimately must be broken down into biochemical cycles – this includes all plant and animal life. The breakdown of biological matter is essential for perpetuation of the carbon/phosphorus/sulphur/oxygen/nitrogen cycles, without which life on earth would cease.

      There is nothing whatsoever unnatural or wasteful about microbes acting upon dead animal flesh – breaking it down into its constituent components; ultimately this is how soil is created and regenerated and our air is oxygenated. Everything alive is made from chemicals that are only borrowed from the earth. If you aren’t aware of this process then you really aren’t that connected to nature after all.

  9. Loni says:

    Ms. Mccauley, you are one naive woman. Boissonneau says that horses are transported to slaughter according to CFIA rules. BULL!!! They are transported, sometimes thousands of miles in DOUBLE DECKER transport trucks that were designed for cattle who hold their heads very low. The injuries and death in these trucks is staggering.
    The shippers bring the horses across the Canadian border at night when they know inspectors are not on duty.
    It is a shady, cruel, heartless business. Horses ARE a companion animal and should be in the stable not on the table.

    • B Haney says:

      transport to slaughter in the USA is outlawed.. can not be done.. nope.. never…. but and that is a very big BUT… (kinda like you)…. as we do not have slaughter for horses in the USA any more then a horse can be loaded into a DOUBLE DECKER and taken to a holding pen or a feed lot until it crosses the border to ANOTHER COUNTRY and of course then it is that other country’s laws that take hold….. GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT.

      • danamccauley says:

        B Haney, I love that you’re here contributing to the discussion but please don’t call other commenter’s names. I am happy to have all points of view presented but we have to keep it civil.

      • Shelley says:

        There is photo and video evidence of double deckers at horse slaughter plants that arrive from the US at night. In Canada, the CFIA recommends they not be used for horses, however they are. I have many pictures from the Lindsay horse kill buyer who picks up horses every Tuesday night at OLEX. These facts are correct.

    • B Haney says:

      “Horses ARE a companion animal”


      horses are LIVESTOCK.. I PAY LIVESTOCK TAX ON MY HORSES EVERY YEAR… i do not pay COMPANION tax on my horses…..

      • Shelley says:

        I pay over $500 per month for boarding fees for my companion horse, who has a name and personality, similar to anybody’s cat or dog.

    • Joe Cunningham says:

      it has been illegal to ship horses in a double deck trailer in most states for a very long time and doing so has been virtually eliminated for years

      The videos proclaiming this practice for the biggest part are many years old as well, similar to the sale barn abuse videos made in the 80’s that are still being touted as evidence

      • danamccauley says:

        Out of curiosity Joe, can you tell us how you know this information? I’ve heard it from others and want to believe it very much. That said, I hear a lot of the opposite kind of info here, too. So, if you can back up your statement with some insight that validates this info, I’d be appreciative.

  10. Alex says:

    some interesting stuff here. sadly i think you have had some of your views determined by talking to people who have a vested interest in the horse slaughter business. that being said a key argument we can agree upon, current horsemeat is tainted because most horses slaughtered were work / pleasure / sports horses which had drugs administered to them.

    assuming you are in the toronto area, if you are interested in coming to a kill auction to see the horses that are bought for horse meat, let me know. i’ll take you and we can discuss the types of horses being slaughtered.

  11. Jen says:

    In response to Loni–if the horses are being transported from the US, they are not being shipped in double deckers any more because it’s ILLEGAL. If you *know* that is happening 9as in have actual proof, not hearsay), you need to report the hauler doing it to the USDA and DOT. There are injuries, which is where I call BS–horses are injured in the lots prior to shipment and definitely not treated before arrival. Though for all I know, those are shunted of to be slaughtered for rendering instead.

    Horses aren’t companion animals (and those who love them should pray they are always classified as livestock) but they are definitely working animals, not feeder animals. They get treated medicinally as such. The Japanese are right to be very, very picky about what they import. Not to mention I would think you would make a lot more money off breeding heavy horses for a couple years, rather like beef cattle.

    • Susan in Saratoga NY says:

      Jen, Whoa! You are misinformed. Double deck trailering of horses from the US – and all the cruelty that entails – is the name of the game. All the kill buyer has to do is offload them for 10 minutes a few miles from the slaughterhouse, thousands of miles of anguish from the kill pen he bought them from, and reload them to a single deck trailer for their last ride.

      Horse slaughter is all about the money. Violations of transport regulations happen all the time. Why? The US taxpayers don’t have the money to clean up the dirty transport business. What the American people want is an end to this predatory business. Horse slaughter is the moral equivalent of eating dogs, cats and each other.

      If the Europeans or Canadians want to eat horse, they ought to respect the wishes of the American people and go local. Hang their little girl’s pony by the leg, cut him up awake, – which happens to an unfortunate number of American horses in Canadian slaughter houses each year – tell her to be quiet and clean her plate.

      In the US, the FDA classifies horses as companion animals. Companion animals are given drugs for comfort. Whoever eats horse meat from the US needs to understand it contains drugs that, among other things, will cause miscarriage in humans.

      As for the cobra venom, EPOs, Lasix, steroids and amphetamines given to US race horses – if you want to violate the trust of those animals, violate the American cultural taboo against eating horse meat, you are on your own as far as the damage it will do to your health and the health of your family. Don’t say we in the US didn’t warn you.

  12. You’ve done an amazing amount of research on this. I’m extremely impressed with your digging.

    I’m surprised at the numbers. A $60 million industry I didn’t know existed until you blogged about it? I thought horse meat was made into dog food. And a 1.6% condemnation rate? I don’t know what it is for beef but that seems very low given many of these horse aren’t raised as food but are work horses.

    If we do raise / export horses for human consumption we should be doing everything to ensure the meat is food quality and the animals are humanely treated. I’m never going to eat horse meat (for irrationally emotional reasons) but it seems something worth doing is worth doing right.

    • danamccauley says:

      Charmian, the 1.6% that were condemned does sound low to me as well given the comments that other folks have made about the industry; however, that is just the number of horses that were not considered food worthy in the end result. Many more were set aside for testing and scrutiny that includes blood tests and organ analysis. The CFIA couldn’t supply the numbers for how many horses fit into those categories although I did ask for them.

  13. Chris says:

    There is just so much more to horse slaughter than the end result… the death and consumption, in the most cases, of a trusting, former recreational animal. Keep investigating Dana… you’ve barely touched on the industry. It appears that you only talked to people who agree with horse slaughter, there is another side. Go to the auctions and feedlots. Check out investigations by Animals Angels. Go to Howling Ridge Radio on the web and click on the July 30th show where they interview the former director of Natural Valley Farms in Saskatchewan and hear what he has to say. And take up Alex’s offer to go to a local kill auction and see who is actually being served up. I say ‘who’ as most of these horses do have names, unlike the beef cattle our family raised. Whether you call them pets, companion animals or livestock… the majority were not raised and treated as meat animals and in my opinion, it is nothing more than a betrayal of animals who do what we ask of them, then dispose of when they need us most.

  14. Vicky says:

    The EU regulations, including passports and the eventual recording fees along with the loss of medications will apply to the entire Canadian horse population and the U.S. horse population if they are still importing into Canada for slaughter. It is absurd that we will all pay so some can profit in the inhumane slaughter system. Those passports allow the owners to identify if their horse can be slaughtered for human consumption – how many will designate that?
    Next time you interview someone from the slaughter facilities ask them how many are tested for ‘bute’ (horse aspirin) which has no withdrawal and can never be given to food animals. Some years in the U.S. – None! Yes, they are required to ‘look’ at the meat, but they don’t test hardly any and since horse owners have no clue what food animal regulations are, they should be required to test each and every one.
    Eat that healthy horsemeat, and perhaps you can join in the lawsuit once you sustain ‘injury’.

  15. […] record straight, Cuisine Canada’s intrepid Dana McCauley did a lot of digging. In her article Behind the Barn Door: The Hidden Facts about Canada’s Horsemeat Industry, McCauley logs dozens of hours talking to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, meat specialists, […]

  16. Onafixedincome says:

    Dana, thank you. It is abominable that those who raise horses specifically for use as meat must live in fear and hiding. 😦

    Horses are valued companions by many, yes. But when their usefulness has ended, or they are no longer wanted, they should be humanely euthanized. Yes, there are and were problems with the slaughter process, but rather than condemning thousands of horses to starve, or to overload every known rescue and shelter, FIX THE PROCESS.

    Find a way (hey, we’re geniuses, right?) to make horse slaughter truly humane. Don’t anthropomorphise them, but there are ways in which slaughter of horses can be made humane.

    Run the horses into chutes, line ’em up ten, twenty at a time. Go down the line, check and shoot. If the horses are removed from the chute prior to bleeding, there should be no problem with reusing the chute.

    There has to be a way…let’s find it, and then only the very most loved horses will find their way to shelters for rehoming; those unsuited to use or ‘companion animal’ status could then be humanely utilized.

    Don’t add horses to the wasted carcass piles which accumulate behind every shelter. Waste is a verb…stop now!

    • danamccauley says:

      Well said! I was just getting ready to write something similar in response to the folks who commented that horses should always be live out their natural lives.

      Another point I wanted to make is that while I think our system could be improved and want to see it improved for many reasons (I’m personally not going to eat horsemeat until it is graded and comes with a pedigree that ensures it was raised for food – I agree that older horses who were given drugs of any kind to help them perform as athletes aren’t my kind of food), that the system can’t be as bad as some portray it. The reason I trust Claude Boissoneau’s words is that he is also in charge of the swine business in Canada for CFIA. I’ve seen that business up close and I know that it is well run. He and his department have absolutely no vested interest in making the horse slaughter process anything but proper. He and his inspectors are government employees who are trapped in a bad system.

      As I mentioned above, Claude admits that many of the animals in the food chain were working animals. That isn’t his fault. The fault lies with the laws that allow that to happen. I for one am happy to contribute tax dollars to adding more grading and regulations to the system if it gives Canada’s food and agriculture exports a better reputation. It’s really not my place to tell people what is and isn’t a good food choice. It’s only my place to make sure people know what and how their food gets to their plates if they choose to put it there.

      With respect to charges of cruelty, I am not naive. I have investigated the articles written by CBC and other outlets and read the literature that horse advocacy groups produce. I’m just not willing to paint an entire industry with a broad brush. I do believe that hurt and damaged horses make it to the auction – that’s why their owners want to get rid of them. And I do believe that some slaughter houses need improvement. I’d even go so far as to say that I think that having full time, dedicated CFIA agents in slaughtering facilities needs to be reviewed. While there should, of course, always be a CFIA inspector on site, perhaps it should be a new person every month or so to ensure that personal relationships don’t get in the way of doing good work. It deserves to be studied.

      All this aside, I do want to thank everyone who is commenting here. I respect your right to your opinions and I ask you to continue sharing them. It was seeing other people’s comments that led me to do this research and I’m not going to be so naive as to assume that there isn’t more to learn.

  17. Thank you for posting this, Dana. It’s thought provoking. I’m trying to imagine flying a horse to Japan (or anywhere, really). I guess they’ be tranquilized first but what kind of airplanes do they fly in? How are they contained?

    When I recently saw horse on the menu at La Palette I was curious to return to try it. Now I don’t know. If I’m there again and I remember to, I’ll ask Shamez where he gets his horse meat (unless anyone here knows?).

    • carrotplease says:

      Flying isn’t really that stressful for the animals – not much more than travelling in a trailer. They’re loaded into special planes with compartments like stalls, maybe slightly smaller than normal. I’d doubt any would need to be tranquilized.

    • Shamez gets the pharamceutical grade of horse (as done everyone except the EU IMO). Read about the ongoing protest at La Palette –

  18. danamccauley says:

    My guess is that La Palette will be buying it from La Ferme, a generally very reputable foodservice supplier. They buy it as a commodity though and can’t provide pedigree info as far as I know, There may be other suppliers selling it but that is the only one I know of right now in this area.

  19. carrotplease says:

    Very interesting blog entry, Dana. I am a horse lover and work in horse welfare circles, rehoming retired racehorses. From the sole standpoint of food safety, I’d be very hesitant to try horsemeat coming out of the USA (moral/ethical/emotional issues aside). While only a small percentage are racehorses, having watched racehorses come off the track, I can tell you they often show signs of drug withdrawals for MONTHS after they are removed from racing. Yet it is typical for them to enter a sale on a Monday, and be in a Canadian slaughterhouse only days later. I don’t understand how they could possibly be testing all these animals (injuries, health, and age issues aside).

    Especially considering that some of the drugs such horses are on (like EPO, aka procrit) are nearly impossible to test for (yet has the lovely effect of turning a horse’s blood to near sludge).

    Like I said, that’s a minority – most horses in the system are quarterhorse types that were owned as pets and such. In those cases the drug problem may not be as bad – the dewormers and basic medications horses use are pretty much identical to what’s used in the cattle industry, except that appropriate withdrawl times in horses haven’t really been studied.

    • Susan in Saratoga NY says:

      carrotplease, the monthly wormers used in US horses have zero tolerance, no established withdrawal period for use in food animals, if you read the FDA (US food and drug administration) labeling.

      regimate, a multi level hormone dosing to bring on estrus in mares – that can cause miscarriage in women in minute amounts.

      As to the cobra venom used in US race horses, I doubt anybody has – or will – study the impact of snake venom on folks who eat it. Caveat emptor.

      The US horse slaughter industry is a by product of the times, but it does not serve the American people in its disrespect for our basic values, It also does not serve the people who want to eat the horse meat it produces.

      I keep coming back to, we don’t eat cats here, and so on. Why do we have to argue with people in foreign countries who want to ride roughod over our cultural values? Why shoudn’t our wishes be respected?

      • carrotplease says:

        ivermectin, along with various other deworming products, are indeed used in cattle. I’m not saying it’s “ok” for horses to be given these and put in the food chain, I’m just saying shrieks of “TOXICC!!!” may be overblown- many substances are labelled not for use in food animals, but only because those specific formulations don’t have withdrawal guidelines. Many of the ingredients are indeed used in food animals frequently (or the meat in our stores would be much lower quality).

        for instance:

        That is injectable ivermectin dewormer. The same ingredient as what’s in lots of horse dewormers, just a different formulation and delivery method.

        The horse dewormers don’t have withdrawal guidelines and residue rates haven’t been studied, which is why they have those labels.

        That does not necessarily mean that it would be dangerous to consume an animal who had received it – after all it’s used in food animals all the time

        (in the link above, if you bring up the labelling, at the bottom it does give the timeline for withdrawal – 8 weeks or so).

        the “problem” here (from a food safety standpoint **only**) is that there’s no controls – a horse might have been dewormed only a few days before ending up in the pipeline, and that equine formulations don’t have guidelines for withdrawal times.

        As for moral and cultural issues… I’m too logical, I suppose, and have trouble with the idea that horses are inherently more worthy of life than other animals are (same goes for dogs and cats too, honestly). I may not want to eat them, but if others do? Who am I to judge? I think if many of the issues surrounding slaughter could be improved (transport, equipment, and quarantine issues), I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with it.

  20. Barb says:

    One thought that I haven’t heard mentioned yet: (and I could be completely out in left field on this) A farming family I knew years ago used to take animals that had died but the family wasn’t going to use themselves (perhaps a dog or horse for instance) out to a corner of the field for the coyotes, badgers, crows, etc to feast on. They, too, need to survive. Finding another source for human consumption takes away yet again from nature and the system that Mother Nature provided.

    • danamccauley says:

      Interesting thought. I wonder what a farmer would say about this idea? Any reading who would care to comment?

      They might not want to invite coyotes onto their property but otherwise I see nothing wrong with the ‘dust to dust’ approach.

  21. carrotplease says:

    There are options like that available to horse owners now. Traditionally hunt horses are often fed to the hounds, and some large cat sanctuaries will take donations of horses (they would have to be fit to travel to get there, and are put down on the premesis with a gunshot).

    Unfortunately many horse owners in the US do not live on large farms, and instead board their horses in semi-suburban areas where leaving a carcass out would be illegal at best. Not to mention if the horse was euthanized via solution (the method most horse owners prefer), it would be unfit to feed animals and could contaminate groundwater, etc.

  22. danamccauley says:

    I guess all I had to do was ask! Thanks for chiming in carrotplease.

  23. LMatte says:

    Dana, thank you for doing some research on this subject. I would like for you to take into consideration when being so assured by the CFIA (and the HWA) that regulations are being followed that these are the same people who would tell you the meat is safe and have been putting their little stamp of approval on horsemeat for years. When in fact they have no idea where the horse has been or what drugs the horse was given. As long as the system of killer buyers going from auction to auction purchasing horses not intended for human consumption exist they will never know. These are the people you are putting your trust with.

    Also can someone tell me how to tell if a horse has received bute in the past with a visual inspection? That is simply ludicrous.

    • carrotplease says:

      LMatte, the drug testing is really an issue.

      Even IF the inspectors do basic blood tests, they are highly unlikely to catch performance enhancers and such. If racetrack testing designed to catch cheaters can’t detect something like EPO with much degree of accuracy, how do food inspectors? The cost of testing to actually find many of these substances would be too high to even be realistic.

      What’s amazing is that in the EU for a long time they seemed to think US horse meat was free range grass fed mustang or something, there were even articles saying such in health magazines only a few years ago.

      The FEI’s drug testing for competition is the only set of tests I’d trust to really be able to tell what’s in a horse, but the cost of that would be more than the meat is worth.

  24. Claudette says:

    Did “John Smith” also mention that when he ships his draft horses to Japan, they’re usually given only beer to drink on the plane? (that’s right, no food or water, because the beer tenderizes the meat) I know a “John Smith” in my area as well, who is now out of the business of shipping live drafts across the ocean, and his detailed account of the shipping and slaughtering tactics of these animals is not the lollipop and rainbow, one-sided interview that you got. And if one more person deems that slaughter is necessary because these animals have no where to go at the end of their useful life, I’ll scream. Since when did the phrase “the end of a horse’s useful life” become a 4 year old off the track standardbred that just isn’t fast enough on the racetrack, but can still have another career? Go to an auction and watch what goes through the ring, they’re not old and lame……BIG misconception!

  25. Loni says:

    Jen, who can you report these violations to?? The local humane society? The UDSA, DOT, CFIA and every other organziation are complicit in allowing this to go on.
    Having said that, horses being transported in double deckers in the States is not illegal in every State, so that’s why it still goes on. Plus these guys move at night and stay off main roads where they’re less likely to be seen by anyone who could do something about it. Most law enforcement personnel are not aware of the suffering of horses in these things and so, would look at one of these trailers and not realize what’s going on. They just don’t know as it’s not their area of expertise.

  26. LMatte says:

    Excellent information for disposal options (US) provided by the HSUS.

  27. MJWilson says:

    Grandin sucks, and I’d sure like to know that ranchers name. We’ll find out. A happy vegan!

    • Erin says:

      Are you an agent provocateur, MJWilson, or a troll?

      You do no favors to the anti side (which is also my side); most anti-slaughter people I know are thoughtful insightful horsemen/women concerned about animal welfare, who would never issue veiled threats, and who know that Temple Grandin has done more for animal welfare than probably any single individual in the world.

      Shame on you.

      • danamccauley says:

        Erin, thanks for calling MJWilson out on his/her comment.

        I am happy to entertain all perspectives here in my comments section but it must stay civil. If anyone wants to name call or sink to threatening anyone in the article, on the comment board or me, they will be banned from the discussion.

        Please take this as a firm and one time warning.

  28. LMatte says:

    While we are on the subject of Grandin the first thing that comes to mind is the captive bolt gun. Which was designed for cattle and is not adequate for use in equines.

    Use of Captive-Bolt in Horse Slaughter Wholly Unacceptable

    The use of the captive-bolt gun, which is commonly used in the slaughter of livestock (including horses), has been a point of great contention in the debate on horse slaughter. Because it can theoretically be used by a veterinarian – in specific circumstances – to euthanize horses, the AVMA has tried to equate its use in the slaughterhouse with humane euthanasia. To clarify, the captive-bolt gun is a mechanical method by which, in ideal circumstances, animals can be rendered immediately unconscious (not killed) through a quick blow to the brain by a metal bolt prior to actual slaughter. However, in order for the method to work as intended, the captive bolt must be administered properly. According to the AVMA’s own guidelines, the head of the animal to which the captive bolt is being applied must be restrained[2] or still and a highly skilled individual. In the slaughterhouse none of these best case scenarios are in place: the horse is most likely panicked, its head is unrestrained, and the person administering the captive bolt is a low-paid worker who is expected to move horses through the kill line at high speed. Herein lays the controversy surrounding the use of the captive bolt in horse slaughter.

    In its 2007 AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia, the AVMA rates the use of the captive bolt to euthanize horses as “acceptable”. However, it is the opinion of VEW professionals that this categorization was based on studies conducted on species other than equine. No studies are cited in the 2007 AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia that any scientific research has ever been conducted to determine the humaneness or efficacy of the captive bolt gun for use specifically on horses.

    Further review finds that within the 2007 AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia denoted reference #112– Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), Guidelines for Humane Slaughter and Euthanasia. Australian Veterinary Journal 1987:64:4-7 is contradictory to the opinion of the AVA reference itself.

    The Australian Veterinary Association clearly states the following:


    Abattoirs— “An adequate caliber firearm or a humane killer may be used to render the horse unconscious for bleeding. The captive bolt pistol is not satisfactory for horses since firm pressure on the forehead is essential for its effective use and this tends to be resisted by the horse. This problem applies to a lesser extent with the humane killer”.

    Therefore, it is the united conclusion of VEW professionals that the captive bolt should be deemed “conditionally acceptable” and used only in emergency (non-slaughter) situations where no other option exists to humanely end a horse’s suffering or when advanced circulatory dysfunction might diminish the efficiency of chemical euthanasia. Even then it must be administered properly. When used in the slaughter context it is not equitable with humane euthanasia.

  29. Diva says:

    Dana, I didn’t have time to read this yesterday but came back to read today. While I have nothing useful to add to the discussion – what with being a city girl and all – I want to congratulate you for taking on a touchy subject and presenting such a well researched article. I learned so much and I’m thoroughly impressed by your willingness to dive in and dig through all the layers.

    As Charmian said above, for emotional (and likely illogical) reasons, I’m unlikely to be a consumer – but I do agree that as an industry it needs to be regulated. Hopefully the forum you’ve offered for debate here will help to move things in a positive direction.

  30. danamccauley says:

    FYI – I’m not sure if the topic was inspired by this article and our discussions here, but a friend just told me that today at 4 pm CFRB 1010 radio here in Toronto will be having a call-in show about horsemeat on restaurant menus.

    You can find out about how to listen here:

  31. danamccauley says:

    Breaking news: CFRB 1010 just invited me to be a guest on their horsemeat call in show tonight. I’ll be on right after the 6 pm news.

    Link to listen in all over the world is:

  32. LMatte says:

    Dana, so the horsemeat call in show is on at 4 or is it on after the 6 pm news?

  33. danamccauley says:

    They may be talking about horsemeat earlier but my segment is after the 6 pm news.

  34. Erin says:

    Glad to hear it. You will bring an interesting perspective – a fresh perspective – to an argument that has been hashed out over and over again by the two sides.

    One more comment: in the US, the lack of slaughterhouses is not causing the overpopulation of horses (after all, anyone can sell their horse to meat buyers at low end auctions who then ship horses to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses): *indiscriminate breeding* is causing overpopulation.

    There are tax benefits in many states – ag exemptions and so forth – that also encourage irresponsible breeding.

    There are also many uneducated people (we call them backyard owners) who think that breeding any mare with a uterus is going to produce a valuable horse, which is a foolhardy and irresponsible position to take, particularly in this economy. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

  35. […] record straight, Cuisine Canada’s intrepid Dana McCauley did a lot of digging. In her article Behind the Barn Door: The Hidden Facts about Canada’s Horsemeat Industry, McCauley logs dozens of hours talking to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, meat specialists, […]

  36. LMatte says:

    Good luck Dana serving companion animals, pets, racehorses, tortured and abused horses barbarically slaughtered alive horses, to your customers to eat.

    I’m done with your one sided view points and not mentioning the obvious and factual abuse that horses suffer in the slaughter pipeline.

    I won’t be reading your blog and I will never tune in to hear you speak again.

    • danamccauley says:

      Just to clarify, I don’t have customers to serve horsemeat to. I am a food writer and a consultant to food companies.

      My husband has a restaurant where he would like to serve horsemeat. At present it is off the menu until he can find a pedigreed source for horsemeat that is purpose bred for food. He has no interest in serving animals that have been given drugs of any kind at any time in their lives. (This is the same for all the meat he serves).

  37. Laura Houston says:

    Still to me, you are eating a loved companion animal. If you want to serve a pet on a plate, you’re going to have to expect incoming questions and concerns your entire life. You have to realize you are upsetting a large percent of humans and showing no compassion to the hurt people feel at all. Over some food you want to cook! just food for Gods sake, how SMALL of you to brush aside the hurt you cause to people.

    Canada has been slaughtering horses for over 50 years. Horses covered in muck, crammed into shipping containers where they spend days suffering. Many can’t walk after that kind of no-care and are dragged in to kill.

    Remember how upset and sick people got over the ONE downer cow dragged into slaughter? well its been like that a million fold for horses. Horses do NOT act like cows in a slaughter house.
    Your telephone interview falls VERY short of the truth, pro-slaughter people just lied to you. You need to go to that horse slaughterhouse. Spend a day there and watch 200 horses die, then write about that! Go ahead and try to touch untrained horses on the spot on their head where the bolt is supposed to STUN them! you will NOT be able to touch that spot, a horse will NOT allow this. go watch the trailer doors open and watch the horses come out of that trailor..then write about that. take a look inside that truck at the aborted fetuses, the horses that fell and broke legs, the foals who had to lay down after 2 days in that truck and got crushed, smashed into the floor. write about that.

    See for your self how horses panic and try to flee from the smell of blood. see for yourself, the horses wearing halters with names, looking at you,they will winnie to YOU for help.

    you want to know where your FOOD comes from right? go ahead, go to the slaughter houses, be SURE to spend a full day or two on the entire grounds.

    • carrotplease says:


      have you been in a horse slaughterhouse?

      I ask because although there are many videos online, I know several people who have been in them and watched as a days’ worth of horses go through, and they said it’s really not nearly as bad as the videos online would suggest.

      You want Dana to go watch for a day, but have you (in real life)?

      One of the things we HAVE to remember, regardless of our point of view, is that it’s VERY easy to manipulate people with photos and video. One “expose” video I watched really didn’t show anything, and you had to rely on the narrator to really know what was going on. Descriptions of “panicked” horses did not match what I was actually seeing, knowing a lot about horses and their behavior.

      I’m not saying slaughter is fine, I think there are a lot of problems with the slaughter of horses. I don’t like it and frankly wish it didn’t exist, and I do my best to keep horses out of that pipeline. But we have to be rational, and if you think someone like Dana should spend a day in a slaughterhouse, maybe you should too – I’ve been in other types of slaughterhouses, and it’s not nearly the same as what you see in PETA videos and the like.

      Just food for thought, I guess.

  38. Laura Houston says:

    I do want to thank you for being the first to understand that canada has fed people meat with medications in it, for a LONG time.

    Hope you never serve horsemeat again.

    One thing that does change from now on for Canada. Any trips to canada, any conventions I set-up. One of the first questions will be is if their resterant serves horse meat. If they do, I will NOT give them my business (or money) at all.

    • danamccauley says:

      Laura, I absolutely respect your stance on not frequenting establishments that serve a food you oppose. I boycott any restaurant that serves shark fin soup (or any other shark fin preparation) for the same reason. I have no issue with eating sharks per se; however, I don’t like the way the animals are inhumnely left to die in the water. If they were caught ina sustainable and humane way and more than just their fins were used for food or other purposes, I’d be okay with it.

      That’s why I’m comfortable with people eating horses. Although I think the industry could use many, many improvements, I do think it’s moving in the right direction and that the federally inspected slaughter houses are run in a careful manner. That’s not to say that individuals don’t occasionally bugger up the system, but from speaking with Claude Boissoneau, I know that the intentions to make the horse slaughter business in Canada humane are in place and that issues with horses being hurt at the border is being studied so that it can be improved.

      Thanks again for commenting on my blog. I do value your perspectives and respect your choices.

  39. Laura Houston says:

    Here is a 30 month report 2006-2009, on what slaughter is like for the horses. page 29 may interest you, its about your horse slaughter plant in Canada. They can tell you anything on a phone interview, surprised you would go visit your veggie farms, geese and cattle…yet are not concerned when you are excluded from visiting your horse meat suppliers livestock.

    Click to access fileport.php

  40. Laura Houston says:

    you’ll have to type in the last part of the url, in order for the PDF to open.

  41. chris says:

    I have nothing to add; so much as been said. Thank you for the article, and bringing so much information and dialogue to the topic of horse meat. Horse meat was readily available during my time living in Central America, and I think it could be a viable option. I’ve been looking for horse meat ever since returning to Canada.

  42. Chris says:

    I have to say I listened to the radio interview last night and was very disappointed Dana in your one sided view.
    Have you taken the time to interview people from the other side of the debate yet? One thing that no one can deny is that the horses going through the slaughter pipeline are medicated and are NOT bred for meat. I would walk out of any restaurant that had horse meat on it’s menu. Many years ago we sent two of our horses to auction. They were not suitable for us and we didn’t want to spend any more time or money on them, and had no desire to find them another home as sending them to auction was the easiest and frankly, the most financially lucrative solution. We were guaranteed a sale as the meat man was there bidding on horses. We had the means to dispose of them humanely on the farm, but chose to take the easy way out. At the time I thought they’d have a short trip to a local slaughter house and be made into dog food. I didn’t think any more of the process or what they may have been put through. When I found out just last year that they went for human consumption and the cruelty they may have been subjected to, I felt deceived and nauseated. There are lots of alternatives to slaughter for human consumption… rehoming, donation, shooting, euthanasia by vet, then burial, composting, rendering, etc. How many horses (and cattle, etc) die every year from natural causes, injury, disease, etc. There is no crisis on carcass disposal. When one of our cows died on the farm, we either dragged it out behind the barn and let the carcass be scavenged or buried it. There are companies that will actually come to your farm and pick up dead animals… they are called rendering companies. The difference is you have to pay for it as opposed to getting paid. Saying all that, if the horse meat listed on menus were purposely bred for meat and they were shipped short distances to slaughter, by-passing the auction, feedlot and long haul transportation process, I would still not eat it (the thought turns my stomach), but I would not be vocally opposed to it either. The difference is that you will not be eating a mini, new york carriage horse, off the track thoroughbred or standard bred, worn out Mennonite horse, pregnant, rodeo, injured, diseased, dressage, trail, old, young, pet, labour, or recreational horse. I still feel it’s a betrayal. There has to be a clear distinction between the recreational horse and the horse bred for meat. From what I understand, starting in April 2010, some of the EU standards will be kicking in, at which time horses will have to have been in quarantine for 180 days (6 months) before they can be slaughtered. There will be stallions, geldings, mares, foals, sick,injured horses in every size and shape, stuck in feedlots, for 6 months! There will be mares getting pregnant and then slaughtered while pregnant. There will be foals being born on the feedlots. There will be fights, injuries and death. A couple things missing however will be vet care and regular maintenance, like hoof trims.

    As for ‘John Smith’ and his drama… it’s been mentioned on multiple sites that horses are flown out of the Calgary airport to Japan. There was even a show on TV about it a couple of months ago on a series called Cowboy Country (I think that was the name). They interviewed a rancher and he mentioned that he was breeding horses for the Japanese market. They were draft type horses and I didn’t see the whole show, but I saw where they were trimming their hooves using a trimming chute.

    As an aside, on our farm we also had pet rabbits and rabbits in the barn raised for meat. We didn’t eat our pet rabbits and we didn’t treat the meat rabbits as pets.

    Another aside. Other than a few PETA types, I have not run across anyone who believes that people should be forced to care for domestic horses their entire natural lives. If someone no longer wants their horse they can sell, donate, lease, or euthanize their horse. You mentioned on one of your replies and I quote “I was just getting ready to write something similar in response to the folks who commented that horses should always be live out their natural lives.” but when I looked through all the comments not one of them stated that. The only place it was mentioned was when you quoted Bill DeBarres.

    • Alex says:

      chris, great comments.

    • Great comment. Well balanced. I enjoyed reading that.

      Dana: Is the interview available online for those of us who missed it?

      • danamccauley says:

        Hmmm – I’m not sure. I know it streamed live on CFRB online when I was on air. If it is, it would be somewhere here but I couldn’t find it so I don’t think so.

        Chris: As for being disappointed in my interview, I’m frankly surprised. If you read my article, you should have had appropriate expectations. I didn’t say anything that wasn’t already posted here.

        And, yes, I did consider all sides of this argument and it’s my belief that if a grading system were in place and if purpose bred meat were available and marketed, that the cheap and easy source for horse meat that leads to the issues you catalogue above would evaporate much the same way you describe that they have for cattle that die and are disposed of.

        As a last point, both here and on this blog in the comments section, I’ve heard from many people who have been burdened with animals that they couldn’t look after any longer who were glad to have a place to send them. Farmers don’t make a lot of money in this day and age and even the cost of veterinary euthanasia was a worry for them. In the current scenario where horsemeat is ungraded and easy to sell, they find sending their old horses to auction for meat use a revenue stream that can help them to run their businesses. You can judge them as you will but the fact as that the current system, without grading and a marketing board, makes it easy for these working and recreational horses to make it into the food stream.

  43. Byrd says:

    mercury in fish
    bute, wormers, etc. in horsemeat
    Attended a veggie fest last weekend. One of the hottest, most humid days ALL summer and the event was absolutely PACKED. Lots of falafel fans! While I do not yet consider myself a vegetarian, when I read about what is really in the meat and fish we eat, how can one not be?

  44. Chris says:

    I was disappointed Dana because you only brought up pro-slaughter points, nothing about any of the medication or welfare issues. I can’t remember the exact words but you mentioned how there was no where for all these horses to go if they couldn’t go to slaughter. I even recall, though I may have been mistaken, a quote of 500,000 unwanted horses? Where did that come from? The majority of horses that die each year are not being killed at the slaughter house. The number of horses being killed at slaughter houses matches the number of horses to meet the demand for meat. Nothing more, nothing less. Just like with cattle, pork or any other meat animal. I’m sure you’re aware of the crisis in the pork market right now with pork not selling. The demand is not there. What happens if the demand for horse meat falls off? Slaughter is not a service to ease the burden of some unwilling horse owner, so they better have a plan B in place. Starvation and neglect are against the law, so that is not an option. And you are correct, it is very hard to make a living in agriculture. My dad did construction on the side as well as having beef. Yet somehow we managed to scrape up the money to buy horses. Why is it different to dispose of it? Bullets are cheap. It’s priorities…why spend the money when you can get money! A lot of these horses made people money as well whether they were broodmares and money was made from the sale of their foals, or race horses, etc. If the horse never made you money to begin with, then you won’t even come close to recouping what you put into it. It’s not a revenue stream, it’s just a smaller loss. And if you count on that to survive, better start looking at your business sense.

    You state that if a grading system came in and horse meat was only available from purpose bred horses, that all the current issues would evaporate. If that happened, then what would happen to all the unwanted horses? If slaughtering them prevents neglect, abuse and starvation, then wouldn’t we have an epedemic of neglect and abuse? According to the pro-slaughter folks, we NEED slaughter to prevent that and give people an option of where to dispose of their old, injured horses? What do you propose people would do then? (By the way, we sold young, healthy horses to slaughter. My old horse is buried on a farm). And here I’m just surmising, but I don’t think we’ll ever have only horse meat farms supplying the meat market. If that happens, then the pro-slaughter will have no where to dump their horses when they’re done using them. All horse owners regardless if they plan on selling their horses for meat or not, will have to abide by passport rules and bear the burden of the extra costs, just so a minority can abandon their horses at auctions. And as long as that is available, there will always be welfare issues. It’s human nature to take short cuts and get away with whatever we can. It’s only wrong if you get caught. I have been unable to attend a horse race, and no longer want to attend a rodeo since I started looking into horse slaughter. Not because I believe using horses this way is wrong and not because animals sometimes get hurt and have to be put down, but because when they are done using them, when they get old or hurt or are too slow or don’t buck hard enough, they throw them away. The director of Natural Valley Farms said the bucking stock were some of the hardest to kill in the chute as they wouldn’t put their heads up. They were getting ready to put on a show. I just found that so sad.

    Just like you Dana, I’m no expert. So again I ask, have you talked to the experts on the other side of the debate? The people who have been to the auctions, the feedlots, seen the transporation issues, and the slaughter houses. Did you listen to the Howling Ridge blog radio interview with the former director of Natural Valley Farms in Saskatchewan? It was the experts on the anti-slaughter side who have been raising the medication flag.

    One last thing Dana, I am glad that you and your husband took a stand against the medicated horse meat that is currently being offered for human consumption. I have lost a lot of faith in the people responsible for the saftey of our food products however. How could this have been allowed to happen, and not just for a short period of time, but for years! Even now this horse meat is entering the food chain as the EU regulations are not yet in force. What else is happening that we are not yet aware of?

  45. Change Is Near says:

    One well worn excuse pro-slaughter folks like the American Horse Council uses is that the horse is not historically native to America but brought by the Spanish. You reported that same error. That was the horse’s second American experience. The bones of horses have been on North American soil for thousands of years before the Spanish ever considered coming here.
    You never mentioned why there is such a furor now about slaughter. How about the BLM excuses for slaughter i.e. lack of herd management, secret plans and lies, staff buying Mustangs and selling them for slaughter, or the removal of Mustang pasture land, all because of the cattle leases. Check the money exchanging hands for these leases and how cattle destroy range land!
    2005 found the highest number of American horses slaughtered – and guess what? All three foreign owned American slaughter plants were open! And what about the new bogus Unwanted Horse Council? Pro cattlemen all of them! Offer the rescues shots so they think they won’t be wise it is a sick count those ” unwanted horses”. And Dana, you make no mention at all of the economy in America right now.
    Please take heed when several people tell you they feel the pro-slaughter rhetoric you have repeated is certainly one sided reporting and not just my opinion.

    • danamccauley says:

      This point was made to me on Twitter that horses were in fact native to North America. I did a bit of research and it turns out that the horses who roamed our plains 8,000 to 10,000 years ago were similar genetically to the horses we now breed here but not, in fact, the same animals. There were cousins, though to be sure.

  46. Change Is Near says:

    SORRY – this statement was mistyped – Offer the rescues shots so they think they won’t be wise it is a sick count those ” unwanted horses”
    The Unwanted Horse Coalition offered rescues FREE immunizations – why? It was a sick underhanded way to attempt to count their “unwanted horses” to publish their slanted report. It’s every where – and pro slaughter. there
    The TB industry claims there will be less foals for 2010 than there has been since 1977. Thank you! They tattoo their horses so the breeder can be traced. Some of them are taking their horses back for retirement. Many racetracks are making a change in their acceptance of slaughter. Too bad the AQHA or the Paint Associations won’t regulate the breeding. No one throws more horses away when they are through at 5 like the Quarter horse industry, the number one breed sent to slaughter. Please do all yours homework. This is just the tip of the truth.

    • danamccauley says:

      I did in fact do my ‘homework’ and if you read my article closely, you’ll see that I would like to see the industry changed. It’s my opinion that they kind of changes I recommend (grading of meat, a marketing board to be established, etc) will discourage the kind of practices you describe and help to remove the incentives that currently encourage owners of horses to stream them into the food chain. In a nutshell, my argument is that if they make hardly anything on selling horses to slaughter since they are graded low due to age, breed and exposure to drugs, then they’ll rethink their business model in general.

  47. Chris says:

    Dana, I’m pasting a recent release by an anti-slaughter group. Just some more info to digest. Contact information is at the bottom of the comment.

    Horse Groups Call on CFIA for Answers on EU Equine Food Safety Requirements
    WESTBANK, BC, Aug. 25 /CNW/

    Today, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) and Equine Welfare Alliance
    (EWA) are asking the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to respond
    regarding a European Commission requirements letter dated 17 April, 2009 from
    Paola Testori Coggi, deputy director-general of the Directorate-General for
    Health and Consumer Protection.
    The letter notified affected “third” countries of requirements for
    equines (horses, donkeys and cross-breds) intended for food production,
    including the identification of horses intended for food production, a system
    of identity verification, a prohibition on the use of anabolic steroids and
    other prohibited drugs, and a minimum 6-month withdrawal period for veterinary
    medicinal products. The letter stipulates immediate steps required to implement
    a food safety program for countries supplying horse meat to the European Union.

    To date, the CHDC and the EWA have not received a response to their inquiry
    letter previously sent to Dr. Claude Boissonneault of the CFIA’s Red Meat
    Species Program. Also, the CFIA has yet to make public the news of this pivotal
    mandate that affects the entire multi-billion dollar horse industry, including
    horse racing, performance show horses, breeders, rodeo, and all horse owners.
    In addition, countries affected must have submitted an Action Plan by this date,
    yet there has been no indication this has been done. “It is incredible that
    the CFIA has yet to inform Canadians and Americans alike, about this
    far-reaching program that will impact the entire horse industry”, says
    Sinikka Crosland of the CHDC. “There are thousands of horses going to
    slaughter every week in Canada, from both Canada and the U.S. There is
    presently no tracking or passport system for horses, and many are routinely
    given a wide range of performance enhancing drugs throughout their lives”,
    added John Holland of EWA. “We see a huge potential for horse welfare
    concerns, as horses will be held for more than 6 months at transfer stations,
    without basic care provided and they will not be allowed to administer worming
    or pain medications to these horses”, explained Ms. Crosland.
    Due to the immediate obligations affecting the entire horse community, the CHDC,
    the EWA and their affiliates request that the CFIA respond without delay, and
    communicate to all horse groups and people affected. Citizens are urged to
    write to the CFIA, asking for details about this critically important program.

    The CHDC is a collective of people and groups working to protect equines from
    slaughter for human consumption, as well as the export of live horses to other
    countries for the same purpose.
    The EWA is an umbrella organization representing equine welfare organizations,
    equine rescues and individuals involved in a grass roots effort dedicated to
    ending the slaughter of American horses.
    For further information: Sinikka Crosland, Canadian Horse Defence Coalition,, (250) 768-4803; John Holland, Equine Welfare
    Alliance, (540) 268-5693,

    • danamccauley says:

      Chris, Claude Boissoneau discussed this issue with me during early August – week of the 10th I think – and he said that the plans haven’t been finalized because studies and discussions with the EU and producers are still taking place.

      From my article above “During the 3-year transitional period allowed for Canada to become compliant to this request, the CFIA is working on interim measures to ensure that European customers are satisfied. Likewise, the CFIA will work with producers to finalize the details that will eventually be included on this equine information document. While Bill deBarres worries that the new rules may entail a 180-day quarantine period which would be a “heavy hit in the face” for cost-conscious farmers, access to this information will likely reassure many Canadian and international horsemeat consumers.”

  48. I find it amazing that all this conversation is about the QUALITY of the MEAT.
    Have none of you people care or concern for the HORSE!!!!!!!!

    RESPECT your animal brothers & sisters…
    The SLAUGHTER is INHUMANE, the TRANSPORT and the lack of care before is TORTURE.

    Please visit my website and go to the page “ALL ABOUT HORSE SLAUGHTER”
    Enough with this Bull – sh@t type of discussion!!!!

    • danamccauley says:

      Candi Cane Cooper, out of curiosity, do you extend the same feelings to all livestock or do horses fall into a special category for you that doesn’t include cows, pigs, chicken, rabbits, etc?

  49. Martin says:

    You do realize that sending a horse to slaughter is just the same as sending your pet dog or cat to slaughter?

    Horses are not like any other livestock and I know because I have several kinds of “livestock.”

    You are sending a companion and friend to a terrifying experience, dangerous transport and an agonizing death.

    For shame.

    • danamccauley says:

      Janet and Martin: You and I disagree. My father used to own a cattle ranch and I have an uncle who is a rancher and another who raises and trains quarterhorses. I have a dog and a gecko and I’ve been to pig farms, duck farms and sheep farms many times. I have been to cattle sales and chosen a pig that was to be sent to the abboitor and then cooked and ate that same pig. I get how the food chain works and I am comfortable with being a carnivore. If you want to be a vegetarian and make choices about not eating certain foods, that’s your perogative but don’t call me uninformed.

  50. Janet says:

    What a load of tripe Dana. You should go to a slaughterhouse – you may well end up being a vegetarian advocate.

    I hate it when people who know absolutely nothing about animals think that they are experts after a few phone calls to someone as unrespected nationally in the horse industry by horse owners as Bill Desbarres for example. He reprsents slaughter now because he failed at everything else and alienated everyone.

    Maybe next time you should talk to some little girls in Pony Club or do interviews at a horse show. At least you’d get honest answers.

  51. Louise says:

    I for one am amazed at the total lack of knowledge of Canada’s history, including French Canada. French Canadian people did not eat their horses and when they were ordered to do so by a corrupt government -they refused. They loved and valued their horses.

    In 1755, a French army officer took a herd of French Canadian horses to near Crown Point in what is now New York to save them from being butchered by government orders from France. Montcalm’s men were ordered to eat horsemeat.

    The French Canadian horse did not become recognized by law as a national symbol and the National Horse of Canada because it ended up on plates -they were recognized for their contribution to the development of our country. They didn’t end up on our stamps in May 2009 because they tasted good.

    It wasn’t even legal to sell horsemeat in grocery stores in Quebec until 1994 at the pressure of the French (as in France) slaughter barons.

    Wake up people. French Canadians are no more like European French people than Western Canadians are like Britain. We have our own cultures and identities and horses were our great social leveler , a necessity of life and the major contributor to the development of democracy and independence that North America has ever seen. Not like Europe where the nobility slaughtered horses just so the average peasant couldn’t get one and become upwardly mobile and challenge the feudal system and supporting the rich minority.

    Shame on you Dana and others for not knowing who you are and your country’s own history.

    • danamccauley says:

      Louise, I’ll check your facts. I do know that my husband worked in Hull at a French restaurant that served horse in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was frequented by the Prime Minister and other prominent politicians so I can’t believe they were serving an illegal meat at that time.

  52. Louise says:

    Please read what I wrote. I said GROCERY STORES. I’ll save you the trouble and provide you with a link to Viande Richelieu

    Prior to that, it as sold in the occasional restaurant that must have thought that made them look cosmopolitan.

    There is no chance in regulating the horsemeat industry in terms of humane treatment or food safety. Surely you must also know that the horse slaughter industry has a history of Mafia control9lookup Chicago in the 1950s or Expo 67 in Montreal) then go look up who owns the Belgium cartel -one of the three largest horsemeat cartels from slaughterhouses in the Americas to controlling the distribution in Europe.

    • danamccauley says:

      Interesting re the dates of Quebec grocery distribution of horsemeat. Here in Ontario I recall seeing it sold at the local supermarket (Ferlisi Bros. in Downsview) when I was a kid. It was a big deal when they had it in with old Italian ladiesin black skirts and sweaters lining up to buy it at the meat counter.

  53. Louise says:

    Some more for you.

    “It was perhaps not a decisive factor in the English conquest of Quebec, but morale was surely diminished in the French ranks when they were ordered, under threat of hanging, to compensate for a meat shortage while the colony was under siege by eating horses. Their commanders tried to set an example by preparing a meal based entirely on horse meat, including such delights as horsemeat pies à l’espagnole, horse scallops and horse hoofs au gratin. “They soon learned that you can put horse meat on the table, but you cannot make the soldiers and the people eat it.”

  54. Martin Kouprie says:

    Wow, so many petty, mean spirited armchair experts spewing negativity around like manure. I applaud Dana for writing such a well-researched and balanced article.Talk about flogging a dead horse.

  55. Louise says:

    And what is your direct experience with horse slaughter Martin?

  56. […] also tweeted a story, written by a food critic, that highlighted the food safety concerns of horsemeat. And there are significant food safety issues with respect to horses slaughtered in […]

  57. hh says:

    Dana, as many others have said, you’ve got a biased, one sided view of the story, from people with an agenda. You need to do more research before publishing this sort of tripe. I’m angry at the lack of true information in this, or the twisted-to-look-true skewed ‘facts’.

  58. […] raised reg flags for Kouprie and lead to a highly-controversial article that touched an emotional nerve and left some readers debating the ethics of eating horse flesh. […]

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