Thursday, January 20, 2011

Horse Slaughter and the European Markets

Thought the below was interesting and post-worthy:

Blow to European Horse Meat Market Expected to Hit the US

From the blog:
GAIA video on SA horse slaughter

Interesting. I would like to know if the blog above, by Animals' Angels, really is accurate as it pertains to how Europeans feel about imported horse meat?

Not to trivialise the video as it showed some very pertinent footage of situations that need to seriously be addressed. However, a few thoughts came to mind as I watched it:

The video itself seems to focus on SA. What about Canada? We ship thousands of tonnes of meat to Europe every year. We slaughter just as much (domestic + exports) as Mexico, on average, and a larger percentage of ours goes to Europe as compared to Mexico (where horse meat is consumed domestically on a larger scale than Canada). And what about live meat shipped over? Canadian meat obviously represents a large percentage of horse meat in European markets. So is it not a bit misleading to lead consumers to believe ALL their meat is treated as was shown on the video, from South America? That said, obviously our own procedures leave MUCH to be desired however they hardly seem to compare to the conditions shown on the video for the most part (at most plants).

As for the horses without shelter and dying in feedlots...shelter, in the form of a 3-sided building with a roof, is not usually provided to cattle either, yet is widely accepted. Hence (very effective) windbreaks in lieu of 3-sided shelters with roofs (which would be impractical for large herds). Windbreaks set up correctly ARE shelter. As for horses dying in feedlots, well, newsflash: horses die sometimes. When you run a feedlot of hundreds or thousands (or tens of thousands) of animals, it is guaranteed that a certain percentage will become sick or injured and will die. As in any population anywhere. Just because our non-feedlot horses are more spread out over greater areas does not mean we do not have similar percentages of sickness and death among our own horses. The percentage would be higher in a feedlot to a degree however, because you have a greater concentration of animals. Increased ability for sickness and disease to spread quickly and increased potential for injury. However housing horses individually or in smaller groups would be impractical, much as could be said for cattle. As such, they are housed in larger groups and you experience perhaps a slightly higher incidence of death or illness. The feedlot's job is to bring this incidence down as much as possible, to a rate that is "normal" and/or acceptable. This is done by checking animals daily and pulling, treating, and isolating any sick or injured animals. Same as on any other feedlot or heck, any other farm.

The slaughter plant worker says that 48 horses died in the last week. Okay...48 out of...? How many horses were run through the plant?? 48 of say 100, so a rate of 48%, is rather an extreme number of horses to lose. However 48 of say 5,000 horses run through that week, or of all the horses on the property that week, is a rate of 0.96%, which is more acceptable due to conditions, incidences, situations above one's control. We are missing some facts.

As far as the one horse being prodded to move off the downfallen horse, then the fallen horse prodded so it gets up and is not you have another solution in that situation? They can't be individually stalled, that would be impractical and given the situation, would it not be best to encourage the fallen horse up and the horses standing on top of him to get off? That said, the horses would not be down in the trailer as often as is indicated if they were in correct condition and hauled in the interest of their health and safety. Otherwise, the trailers shown did not appear over-crowded to me (not as per the shots shown anyways) and of course they are going to be combined in groups. The idea however, just as with cattle, is to separate particularly ornery animals or intact males and small animals such as calves or foals from the rest. Separate into appropriate groups; animals in transport are usually too busy maintaining their balance to squabble if separated appropriately in the first place. I saw no squabbles occur on camera, either. On the other hand, transportation needs to be MUCH more stringently regulated. Of course. No one disputes that fact. No double-deckers, rest breaks including unloading to feed and water, etc all need to be included. My dad often hauled cattle and always spoke of the importance of caring for the animals so carefully. He was careful in how he sorted and loaded, how he drove, when he stopped, etc. There are currently insufficient regulations however to ensure everyone else drives as carefully as he does though, which needs to be rectified.

Lastly, there is mention that the thin horses have so little meat that they may not be used for human consumption - they are used in pet foods, etc. So why all the focus on them? Animals' Angels seemed to pass off the emaciated horses as those being used for human consumption in Europe, when that is not the case, as per their own video. Why not show the REAL horses that are slaughtered for human consumption??

The video above broke my heart. Seeing some of the horses shown, I imagined another life for those horses, and seeing that one horse being loaded was heart-wrenching (on the other hand, how many average horse owners would have been beating that horse with a whip at that point??? Quite a few, in my experiences). Creating and broadcasting such videos is crucial - Europeans need to know where their meat comes from and therefore have the power to effect pressure for change. Pressure needs to come from the consumer, because we obviously have thus far been unable to change things. BUT, it really rubbed me the wrong way to notice so many discrepancies in the video where the goal seemed to be to mislead. If we're going to push for a change and improvement in the process and educate our consumers, let's do it truthfully.

In the mean time, read the study below. I at least found it enlightening.
Study of Equine Slaughter

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