Safety of Horse Meat

What is the role of industry in ensuring the safety of horse meat?

Industry is responsible for making sure that all meat sold in Canada is safe, as required by the Food and Drugs Act and Meat Inspection Act.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) works closely with the meat industry to ensure they understand federal food safety requirements.

Is phenylbutazone (“bute”) permitted for use in horses?

Phenylbutazone is a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory commonly used to treat lameness in horses. It belongs to the class of drugs called “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.”

Health Canada regulates the use of veterinary drugs in Canada. Phenylbutazone is approved by Health Canada to be used in horses but is not approved for use in food-producing animals (including horses slaughtered for human consumption).

The CFIA has zero tolerance for phenylbutazone in food and monitors for residues of this and other veterinary drugs in food.

If the CFIA determines that there may be a food safety concern related to chemical residues in a particular product, the Agency investigates and takes appropriate action based on the human health risk. The decision to conduct a recall for a product containing an unapproved veterinary drug is based on Health Canada’s health risk assessment.

What does the CFIA do to verify that there are no phenylbutazone residues in horse meat?

The CFIA performs daily inspections in all federally registered meat establishments. This is done to verify that the operator is producing meat products that are manufactured in accordance with federal food safety rules.

The Agency also has a monitoring program to randomly test meat for the presence of pesticides, environmental contaminants and drug residues. This monitoring program is based on international scientific standards as outlined by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. The testing is conducted at a frequency to detect trends in drug use violations. When the CFIA detects results that are of concern, sampling frequency can be increased.

In addition to randomly sampling horse meat for chemical residues, the CFIA conducts targetted testing based on clinical observation of animals, before stunning and slaughter.

The CFIA employs veterinarians and supervised, trained inspectors in each horse slaughter plant to identify any animal that, based on its appearance or history, may have been treated with phenylbutazone. The meat from these animals may be held until testing is performed and no residues are found.

Animals are also examined post-slaughter for signs of conditions such as arthritis, which can indicate they may have been treated with phenylbutazone.

What does the CFIA’s testing show?

Since 2002, the CFIA has been regularly testing horse meat for phenylbutazone. Results show a very high compliance rate for phenylbutazone residues.

Do other countries test horse meat imported from Canada?

Other countries, including Japan and European Union countries, do their own testing of horse meat imported from Canada. Canada would be informed if any food safety issues were identified by these importing countries.

What other safeguards are in place to verify that there are no phenylbutazone residues in horse meat?

In July 2010, the CFIA made it mandatory for every horse (domestic or imported) presented for slaughter in Canadian federally registered equine facilities to have a record of all vaccinations and medications given in the previous six months. This is referred to as the Equine Information Document.

The Equine Information Document is required under the Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures. Each document must be reviewed and signed by a CFIA veterinarian.

Horses presented for slaughter in Canada with incomplete Equine Information Documents are prevented from being slaughtered for human consumption.

What happens if the CFIA detects phenylbutazone in horse meat?

Industry is responsible for taking corrective action if phenylbutazone is detected in horse meat. The CFIA has a range of enforcement options -- including product destruction, recall and licence suspension -- to ensure that industry takes effective action in response to the residue findings.