Humane Slaughter of Horses in Canada

The role of the Government of Canada is to verify whether horse slaughter operators are handling horses with care.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) veterinarians conduct daily inspections in horse slaughter establishments. They take appropriate enforcement action when they identify non-compliance with humane slaughter regulations.

In addition, investigations and enhanced verifications have been undertaken in response to video releases and public concerns.

Operators of horse slaughter establishments are responsible for ensuring that horses are treated humanely and are slaughtered without unnecessary suffering, as required by federal law.

Which laws govern the humane slaughter of horses?

Federally registered slaughter establishments must comply with the Meat Inspection Act and the Meat Inspection Regulations.

Sections 61 to 80 of the Meat Inspection Regulations define the conditions for the humane slaughter of all species of food animals in federally registered establishments. Some of the provisions contained in the regulations include

  • requirements for properly unloading, holding and moving of animals in slaughter facilities;
  • requirements for segregating and handling sick or injured animals; and
  • requirements for the humane slaughter of food animals.

The CFIA provides guidance on procedures for handling and slaughter through the Meat Inspection Manual of Procedures.

What role does industry play in the humane slaughter of food animals?

Horse slaughter establishments are responsible for the well-being of the animals under their care.

Humane slaughter is a licensing requirement for all federally registered establishments. In order to obtain a licence, an establishment is required to do the following:

  • implement an effective animal welfare program
  • provide adequate training for its staff
  • maintain its equipment and its handling facilities
  • monitor for problems and take corrective action when required

Do horses need to be treated differently from other animals during slaughter?

Each species has unique behavioural and physical characteristics, which have to be taken into account during slaughter.

For example, horses vary a great deal in size, so handling and restraint facilities must be adaptable to the size of individual horses.

In addition, non-slip flooring is particularly important in facilities where horses are slaughtered because horses tend to become distressed if their footing is not sure.

How does the CFIA verify that the specific needs of horses are being met during slaughter?

CFIA veterinarians inspect all federally registered horse slaughter establishments whenever they are in operation in order to verify that companies are complying with federal regulations and policies.

The goal of these daily inspections is to verify that animals are being handled and slaughtered humanely and are not subjected to avoidable pain or distress.

In addition to these routine inspections, CFIA animal welfare specialists also periodically conduct audits to verify that federally resigistered horse slaughter establishments are meeting the specific needs of horses.

How do these animal welfare audits provide additional assurance that horses are being humanely slaughtered?

The CFIA continually reviews new science and regularly consults with animal health and welfare experts. The CFIA's audits of horse slaughter establishments are based on criteria developed for the American Meat Institute by world-renowned expert in animal behaviour and livestock facility design, Dr. Temple Grandin.

The CFIA's audit criteria provide detailed guidance on how inspectors can determine whether a horse is being handled and slaughtered humanely.

For example, the criteria outline what to look for when assessing stunning. A horse that has been stunned effectively is desensitized so that it does not feel pain during slaughter. In order to assess the effectiveness of stunning, the horse must be observed from the front. Certain signs indicate that the stun has been effective, including the following:

  • complete loss of awareness of external environment
  • lack of eye movement
  • lack of muscle tone in tongue and lips
  • lack of rhythmic breathing

Other signs may be observed, such as involuntary muscle tremors, but these are not reliable in determining the effectiveness of the stun.

How can concerned Canadians help?

In order for the CFIA to take appropriate action in response to violations of federal humane slaughter regulations, it is important that alleged cases of mistreatment be reported to the closest CFIA office immediately.

If you believe you have witnessed someone who is not following the regulations regarding humane slaughter, do the following:

  • Gather as many details as possible (such as the date, time, and location).
  • Report this information to the CFIA as soon as possible by contacting your local CFIA office
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