Embryo Transfer – A Shadowy Market Ripe for Exploitation

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mare-services

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

We’ve known for many years that farm animals have been exploited to produce more meat, milk, wool etc.  Embryo transfer in horses is another technology that is unrivalled for its inefficiency and costliness.  There’s also some evidence that embryo transfer (ET) is exploitative because it can be painful, requiring analgesics.  We recently read about the cast-off recipient mares (the “gestational” carriers that give birth to foals of a different mare/stallion) from the Arnold Reproduction Center  who were consigned to the Kaufman kill pen/kill buyer Mike McBarron for eventual slaughter.   Once exposed on social media platforms, veterinarian Leea Arnold responded:

“I recently sent some mares to the Cleburne Horse Sale.  I certainly never intended for them to end up in the slaughter pen. Many of these mares came to me through the sale barn system, were sick, completely unbroken and certainly destined for slaughter at that time (15 or so years ago). As long as these mares are reproductively sound, they stay in my herd – many probably longer than they are useful. My staff and I have taken the time, money, and resources we have to help these mares become useful and give them a viable purpose.

“I will use another avenue to re-home these mares in the future. If you are a non-profit organization and have your 501(c)3 at hand, I would be more than happy to donate any older or reproductively unsound recipients to your facilities as they become available.”

Dr. Arnold did not otherwise offer to help the animals that were scheduled to be sent for slaughter.

gypsyIn addition to horses, mules are also being used in at least one euphemistically named “mule mom” program  using embryo transfers from gypsy vanner mares.  The Gypsy Gold breeding program  in Ocala Florida charges up to $14,000 for a purebred gypsy vanner foal carried by a mule, who is often shipped to and from the Gypsy Gold Horse Farm and the contractor of their service.  They also helpfully offer a service for purchasers of the gypsy foal who are not satisfied with the quality of their new purchase – they will connect you with an “appropriate buyer” – quite possibly the same buyer who will purchase the mule moms once their fertility wanes.  At the moment, this farm offers 11 mares for breeding, so one can only imagine how many times they are being flushed out and the number of “mule moms” that are being used as gestational carriers.

Currently, most equine breed associations permit embryo transfer. Notable exceptions include the Jockey Club (thoroughbreds), the United States Trotting Association, and the American Miniature Horse Association. Brazil and Argentina are currently the leaders in equine ET, although it’s believed that about 10,000 embryos were collected and transferred in the USA in 2014. The practice seems to have become more widespread in 2015, with more countries reporting embryo transfer activities, including Canada, South Africa, France, Poland, Switzerland, the USA, and Mexico.

Why is Equine Embryo Transfer Also A Welfare Issue?

Because veterinarians can only flush fertilized eggs (embryos) from the uterus of a donor mares at specific times the cycles of one or more recipient mares must be synchronized with the donor mare. This is why reproductive vet clinics tend to have a wide selection of recipient mares from which to choose. The number of mares that some vet clinics keep on hand for this purpose varies from dozens of mares to hundreds.   In many cases the donor mare is synchronized with two or more recipient mares in the event that multiple embryos are recovered from the donor mare.  Obviously,  these mares’ “jobs” come with no guarantee of a home placement after their careers are over and may easily fall into the wrong hands.

There are potential welfare issues for a donor mare, including those associated with the flushing procedure and with repeat injections to attempt to induce ovulation when used. Because more than two mares may be involved, the number of invasive rectal and ultrasound examinations is increased. Where recipient mare numbers are limited, greater pharmacological manipulation (often involving repeated injections) may also be used to achieve ovulatory synchronization between donor and recipient mares.

While there are apparently no studies on whether ET is painful in mares, it is known to be painful in other species, especially those in which embryo flushing is a surgical procedure. Perhaps because of this it is common practice to sedate mares both during flushing and ET.

Transvaginal ultrasound-guided follicular aspiration in women is known to be associated with pain, the severity of which is dependent upon needle design. In sheep and goats, repeated surgical egg retrieval has been associated with the development of adhesions. In a study of pony mares who were the subject of invasive follicular procedures, it was observed that heart rates and cortisol levels increased considerably as soon as a needle was introduced into the procedure.

Lastly, the development of the “super ovulation” protocol and the resulting production of more oocytes (cells that develop into an ovum/egg) will heighten the possibility of more foals using larger herds of recipient mares, greater numbers of horses born that aren’t needed,  and more slaughter after the recip mares are no longer required.

Drugs/Hormones  Commonly Used in Equine Reproduction Practices and Their Withdrawal Times

Sources for withdrawal times were the Meat Hygiene Manual of the CFIA or drug datasheets.  It is important to note that withdrawal times are often extended when drug

Most donor mares are sport horses, Arabians or Quarter Horses. It’s an appealing option for those who can afford it, since it allows the option of the owner taking their mare out of competition for only about a week in order to produce a foal.

Most donor mares are sport horses, Arabians or Quarter Horses. It’s an appealing option for those who can afford it, since it allows the option of the owner taking their mare out of competition for only about a week in order to produce a foal.

combinations are used. Drugs used off-label in unapproved species may have differing withdrawal times even though appropriate dosage is given and whether used in combination with other drugs. The dose itself along with the frequency of use (repeated oral administrations can greatly extend withdrawal times) are two of the most important factors.  Compounded drugs (as opposed to generic or branded drugs sold OTC or through veterinarians) can vary widely in potency as well.  The amount of body fat, the breed, gender and health of the horse are also factors that affect kinetic decay of drugs.  Lastly, the amount of stress that the horse is subject to may also affect withdrawal times.  And even though a pharmacological effect on the animal may be over, the drug and its metabolites may still be detectable, and those metabolites may also be prohibited. The CFIA manual doesn’t tell anyone this, nor could they expect the lay horse person to understand any of the factors that also affect withdrawal times and drug tests,

Altrenogest/Progesterone/ Medroxyprogesterone (synthetic variant of hormone progesterone)

  • Trade name: Regumate®, Depo-Provera® (medroxyprogesterone)
  • Class of Drug: Hormone
  • Use:   Clinical uses include synchronizing the ovulations of a donor mare with a specific recipient mare. It may also be used to alter or manipulate the estrous cycle of a mare for a scheduled breeding due to stallion availability.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition:  42 days withdrawal

Flunixin meglumine

  • Trade Name: Banamine®
  • Class of Drug: non-narcotic, nonsteroidal, analgesic agent with anti-inflammatory and antipyretic activity
  • Use: Reduces moderate inflammation by stopping the formation of prostaglandins, which are mediators of inflammation.  They also reduce the formation of certain pain-causing products of inflammation.  Embryo recipients may receive flunixin meglumine i.v. at the time of transfer.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: IV – 10 days/IM 30 days

Vedaprofen

  • Trade Name:  Quadrisol, VETRANAL
  • Class of Drug: Analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory agent, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, NSAID
  • Use: For the control of inflammation and relief of pain associated with musculo-skeletal disorders and soft tissue injuries in horses
  • CFIA Withdrawal Prohibition: 21 days (oral and IV)

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)

  • Trade Name: Chorulon®
  • Class of Drug: Gonadotropin releasing hormone or GnRH
  • Use: Can also be administered to mares to accelerate ovulation selectively where needed to improve the degree of synchrony between the donor and recipient mares. Induces ovulation in mares. Induction of ovulation is advantageous if a mare is in a timed breeding, shipped semen, frozen semen or embryo transfer program.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition:  0 days

Deslorelin Acetate

  • Trade Name: Ovuplant™ SucroMate™
  • Class of Drug: Gonadotropin releasing hormone or GnRH
  • Use: A potent, synthetic form of GnRH. The drug is administered as a subcutaneous implant.The most common use in a breeding program is the induction of a timed ovulation, such as when mares are being bred with cooled-transported semen or frozen semen
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition:  not on CFIA website but listed with a “WARNING: For use in horses (estrous mares) only. Do not use in horses intended for human consumption. For intramuscular (IM) use only. Do not administer intravascularly. Not for use in humans. Keep this and all drugs out of reach of children.”

Lidocaine Hydrochloride

  • Trade Name: Lidoject, Lidocaine HCI 2% etc.
  • Class of Drug: Local anesthetic and anti-arrhythmic agent.
  • Use:  Skin block for sutures and implants
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: 7 days

Prostaglandins

Domperidone

  • Trade Name:  Equidone®
  • Class of Drug: Dopamine antagonist. Neurotransmitter
  • Use: Modulates or suppresses production of the hormone prolactin from the pituitary.  In breeding programs it stimulates lactation or the induction of lactation in nurse mares or the induction of follicular development. Also used as a preventative for fescue toxicosis.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: “no known manufacture for veterinary use in Canada”

Oxytocin

  • Trade Name: OxoJect™, Oxytocin-S
  • Class of Drug: Hormone
  • Use: Administered to mares for evacuation of uterine fluid and treatment of retained placenta. It may also be used for induction of labor in late term mares and milk let-down.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: not on website: 0 days

eFSH

 

The welfare of the animal is always compromised when greed is involved.  The ability for breeders to implant multiple embryos with no limits caters to the wealthy individuals in the industry. Rakhassa Bey While one might argue that ET is less risky than foaling for a mare,  horses should not have litters, especially since there is some question whether it is humane to repeatedly subject both recipient and donor mares to invasive procedures, after which many horses are dumped.  The worst  but hardly the only offender of this practice, the AQHA, allows multiple-embryo-transfer rules that facilitate overpopulation by allowing mares to have more than one foal per year. Rules about using frozen semen or eggs from long-sterile or dead animals  have allowed horses to breed from beyond the grave.  Consider that First Prize Dash,  a 1988 quarter horse mare – produced  44 offspring!  Her sire, Dash for Cash, sired 1,233 foals!  

It is also very doubtful  that either Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses have tested for some of these lesser used or less obvious drugs or hormones.  Since some drugs/hormones are not even line items in the Meat Hygiene Manual, it would be easy for sellers of horses to plead ignorance of the requirement to disclose on an EID. Embryo transfer therefore facilitates  an already unsavory horsemeat industry in novel, previously unanticipated ways.

Rescue Reality

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Vinnie-aka-Executive-ShopperSeveral competitive markets for horses have emerged as a result of the opportunities gleaned from social media sites like Facebook. Kill buyers outbid private buyers at auctions on horses that they think they can flip. People are buying horses at outrageous prices and paying phenomenal amounts of money that could be used for feed and vetting, to ship them halfway across the country only to sometimes find that they are sick. In many cases the horses that arrive bear little resemblance to their photographs, may be misrepresented and sometimes must be euthanized upon arrival. After passionately giving themselves to their previous owners, these horses do not deserve to die.

We have largely forgotten about the horse rescues who have to confront this competition for resources and face challenges that surpass those of humane societies and shelters.  Most rescues and sanctuaries rely on public donations rather than government funding, and they require commitment, passion and business acumen in order that they be sustainable. Private rescues are often run by a single person or a small group rather than a large board of directors. Most of their expenses cannot be discounted, and veterinarians and farriers usually don’t work for free.

Many horses waiting for homes at rescues are registered, sound, very rideable, beautiful, kind, and healthy after months of care. Rescues restore horses to good health, evaluate them for a variety of different types of riders, put training on them, and often provide warranties for a price that doesn’t reflect the investment of time.  Yet the perception exists in public realm that rescued horses are devalued or marginalized as old or dangerous, when in fact they are usually quite the opposite.

I really believe that we need to be careful what we allow, as it is what will continue.  If we choose not to support rescues, they will all go away….

Tanya Boyd of Kindred Farm Rescue will no longer offer adoptions through her rescue.  In her own words,  she explains why she is decertifying her not-for-profit and her former rescue operations will now operate for-profit.  (We are trying Tanya….)

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“I have been running a horse rescue for just over four years. Effective today, that comes to an end. From now on, any horse that I “purchase” will be rehabbed and marketed as for sale for a price that is in line for their true value. I will no longer operate as a rescue, because, for some reason, potential buyers think that these horses/ponies are less than, and are not as valuable as horses of the same quality, advertised on the open market.

I cannot put in words, just how emotional this is for me…showing my horses to potential buyers…knowing full well the value of any of my “rescues”, on the open market…and I am singing their praises….and offering them up for free or for $500. and still no buyers. I will do this no longer. I am simply not going to give horses away for a song anymore.

If you were an orphan…or adopted…are you worth any less? Many horse rescues in this area, and beyond, are giving it up. Why? Because there is no funding…because acquiring and maintaining Not for Profit Status or Charitable Status….for horse rescues is extremely time consuming, in terms of the administrative requirements. I know…been there, done that…cannot commit the time required to fill out paperwork. So, I sent off my letter to dissolve my Not for Profit Status. Not worth the time and energy required. Sadly, horses do not rate, in terms of rescue organizations…they are still deemed as livestock…and livestock is butchered…..and that will not change until the public demands that it change.

Frustrated, yes. Sad, yes. But I do not see a move towards any change of status for horses in sight . They are indeed, the forgotten. Where would we be now without them?. I am truly heartbroken that in the four years I have been doing this, nothing has changed. And the public is no more aware now, than it was then, of the degree to which we subject horses to so much pain and abuse. It seems that it really doesn’t matter. I feel so defeated. What does it take to get people to understand that horses are not meant to be slaughtered so inhumanely….and transported so inhumanely. Along with many other animals that we ship in transport trucks, packed full, in 35 degree weather….for hours and hours.

What have we become, as a society, that we close our eyes to this abuse….it makes me so very sad. We are allowed to ship animals for 36 hours, without water, without feed….and in this heat. And that is considered to be ok. Again….in 4 years of doing this…this horse rescue…I have seen no change in our approach….no real concern about what we subject both horses, and other farm animals to in terms of humane handling…prior to being butchered for our consumption. Are we really that unfeeling? Or do we really not want to know.

Time to ask yourself these questions.”

We All Matter – A Sermon About The Moral Value of Animals

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This is a sermon delivered by Earthsave Canada president David Steele at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, July 31st, 2016.  It was originally published on Earthsave Canada`s website.

dreamstime_s_54024506Six years ago today, on July 31st 2010, one of the closest friends I’ve ever known died. Her name was Tasty. Tasty the Sky. She was a canine person. An Australian Shepherd.

Tasty was born in early September 1993 in a research facility at the University of Virginia. She was bred to be deaf. It turns out that a common mutation in Australian Shepherds is an analog to similar mutations in humans – these mutations are behind the most common genetic cause of deafness in our species.

Once the study of her deafness was done, she was sent to another lab where the nerves to her heart were cut. The idea was to mimic one of the effects of a heart transplant. Her heart rate from then on was very low. Didn’t interfere with her health overall, though.

But the next event planned for her very definitely would have. Because she was no longer of any use to the institution, she was slated to be killed. Fortunately for her – and, as it turned out, for me – a brave veterinary student named Jessica Levy couldn’t let that happened. She spirited Tasty out of that place. After a short chain of events, Tasty found her new home with me.

I tell you about this because I think that it is through our pets that we often get insight into the internal lives of animals. We can learn from them how similar they often are to us – in their basic wants and desires; in their curiosity; in their problem solving, even.

Tasty would hug people she loved. She would remember how to navigate complex paths in places she once lived – years before – to find old friends or to get a treat that she expected would be at the end of the line. She was very bright. There’s no doubt about it. But really, she was unexceptional. The vast majority of creatures on this planet have amazing capabilities.

That’s in very large measure because, like you and me, they share a very basic and mysterious trait. They are conscious.

And wow is consciousness amazing!

To me, consciousness is the essence of what it is to be a person. It is awareness, the ability to experience. We all know we’ve got it, but we don’t really understand what it is. Physicians assess it by simple test, ranking humans’ consciousness on a scale ranging from full alertness and responsiveness, through states of delirium, and all the way to what they consider a complete lack of consciousness, defined by a complete lack of responsiveness to painful stimulation. Still, this is just a practical definition. It doesn’t get to what consciousness really is.

It’s a question that has eluded the greatest of minds for millennia. Philosophers have puzzled over it and scientists, too, haven’t been able to figure it out. Some claim consciousness is an illusion. The vast majority of us would disagree with that, I think – and with good reason. I include myself on that one. But still, try and tell me just what it is.

Some say that mind and body are separate; others say mind and body are the same. “Consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe”; “it’s a side-effect of how our brains are organized”; “it works like a machine”; “it works because of the spooky properties of quantum mechanics.” The list goes on and on. Put the theories together and what do you get? An unintelligible mess that still doesn’t explain what consciousness is.

Me, even though I don’t understand it, I think it’s physically based. We know that we can modify it by drugs – even eliminate it, e.g., for surgery, then bring it back at will. It disappears every night, too, as we sleep. That, to me, says that it arises as a property of our brains.

And again, looking around, as my experience with Tasty showed me so very well, we humans are obviously nothing like the only creatures on this planet who experience it.

Dogs and cats, cows and pigs, chickens and crows all clearly share the basic experience of life that we do. Fish, too, show clear signs of conscious awareness. Charles Darwin saw it even in the lowly earthworm. I’m not so sure that he was right about that, but I do know that they can be trained to solve very simple mazes. Fruit flies are much better at solving mazes, though; and they can even learn from each other.

We humans have our biases, so most of what we know about animal consciousness comes either from tests of animal intelligence or studies on a trait that is medically useful to humans: pain. We look into intelligence because we value that in others; we look into pain mostly because we want to use the understanding we get from pain in animals to figure out how to alleviate pain in us.

On intelligence, know, for example, that orangutans are relative geniuses. They have been known to steal canoes and paddle them away and even to put on humans’ clothing, if given the chance. Returning to dogs for a second, we have good evidence they can recognize the emotions in other dogs’ faces and in our faces, too.

That animals feel pain is obvious.

We use rats in experiments on pain because we know that they will react to it like we do and that drugs that blunt pain in them almost always do the same in us. They recognize pain in each other as well, and will try to help when they see another rat in distress. Lots of studies have shown this! We’ve even learned that fish feel pain and react similarly to us when confronted with it.

Some scientists claim that fish are not actually feeling pain; their brains are too different from ours, they say. That, to me, speaks of irrational arrogance. One doesn’t need a similar brain to have fundamentally the same experience and ability. Different structures may well take on different roles in different species. Just look at the intelligence of a crow or a parrot! Or even a chicken!

Birds’ brains are very different from those of humans and other mammals. They lack the neocortex that so many scientists tell us is necessary for intelligence. Yet, they are clearly intelligent. Crows make tools – both in the lab and in the wild. Just last week, scientists reported observing New Caledonian crows make long hooks so that they could carry more than one item away from a scene at once. Clearly ‘bird brain’ doesn’t mean what we once thought it did!

I speak of this not only because consciousness is such an amazing mystery, but also because of its moral dimension.

Beings with consciousness feel joy and pain; excitement and disappointment. They have wants and desires. What we call good can befall them; so can ill.

In short, animals – like us! – have moral value.

I am not saying that there are not differences in the ways the we and dogs and sharks and elephants experience consciousness. I’m not saying that the vast majority of other animals we share this earth with are anything like as aware as we are of their place in the world, or of the consequences of their actions.

What I am saying is that they are very much worthy of our moral consideration. That their experiences of life are sufficiently similar to our own that we should do our best to avoid causing harm to them.

We love our dogs and cats and do our very best to ensure that their lives are pleasant. Other animals are similarly deserving.

And those animals may be more aware of us and our abilities than you may think.

Many sure are aware that we are not beings to be trusted. We hunt them, pave over their habitats and otherwise disrupt their lives.

One study that I read about this week highlights this reality very well.

Scientists at the University of Western Ontario studied the fear responses of small predators. I confess that I haven’t read the study yet, so I don’t know the details. What I do know – reported in New Scientist Magazine – is that that badgers, foxes and raccoons evidently fear humans much more than they fear bears, wolves and dogs.

In one experiment, the scientists played badgers, in the wild, the sounds of bears, wolves, dogs and humans over hidden speakers. While hearing bears and dogs had some effect – reducing the likelihood that the badgers would feed, simply hearing the sound of people conversing or reading passages from books completely prevented the badgers from feeding.

A lot of animals, I would guess, if they think about it – think of we humans as terrible threats.

Clearly, from the animals’ points of view, we are perpetrators of horrors. We can’t say just how aware any specific animal is of the dangers we pose, but clearly they avoid us to the extent that they can.

There is one major way that we differ big time from at least the vast majority of the other animal species on earth.

We have highly developed abstract language. We can learn from others over great distances; we can learn from ancestors long dead.

What a huge advantage that is!

And with that advantage comes great opportunity for improvement – and in my view, great responsibility as well.

We have developed thoughtful, sophisticated theories of ethics and morality. We understand the world to a degree unimaginable in the rest of the animal kingdom. We know dreamstime_xs_7168047that others feel pain and fear when we do harm to them, just as we know that they can feel joy and belonging when we treat them well.

So let’s live according to the better angels of our nature. Let’s look objectively both at the good we do in the world and at the ill. Let’s strive to enhance the good and eliminate the bad.

To do that well at that, we need to look carefully at our own actions in our own lives. We need to consider their effects, even whether our actions are warranted at all.

I’m going to focus now on one part of the moral universe that we should be considering. It’s one of the easiest for us – in this rich Western world – to deal with. And it is one with among the greatest consequences.

For the last few minutes of this homily, I’m going to focus on animal agriculture.

From just a human point of view, this is an extremely important issue.

Animal agriculture is a huge contributor to global warming. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization pegs it as responsible for between 15 and 18% of global warming. That’s more than the 14% associated with all of the cars and planes and trains and ships in the world, combined.

Animal agriculture is responsible also for other egregious environmental effects.

The vast majority of corn and soy grown in North America is grown for animal feed. The corn, especially, requires enormous amounts of fertilizer. One result of the use of so much fertilizer is that it runs off into our waterways. This results in massive algal blooms and dead zones. One of the worst examples is the dead zone that forms at the mouth of the Mississippi every year. Every year, about 20,000 square kilometers of the Caribbean becomes an oxygen-depleted zone where all of the fish and lobsters and other sea life go belly up for lack of oxygen.

Animal agriculture is responsible for most of the ammonia pollution in North America. The majority of our fresh water goes into raising animals – mostly to grow the feed corn, soy and alfalfa.

It’s even a major contributor to the antibiotic crisis that the World Health Organization is now warning us about. Over 80% of the antibiotics we use in North America aren’t used to treat humans. No, they’re added to the feed of factory farmed animals. In such tight quarters, they’re necessary to prevent the rapid spread of disease and – to boot – they somehow speed up the growth of the animals.

And that’s not all.

Modern animal agriculture steals food from the poor.

As Vaclav Smil at the University of Manitoba has well documented, animal agriculture is outrageously inefficient. The way we raise animals today, it takes some 14 lbs of corn and soy, etc., to get back one pound of edible pork. Over 30 lbs of corn and soy and alfalfa go into a pound of beef that we actually eat.

In terms of protein, we are similarly careless. Whereas we could get all of the protein in the corn and soy if we just to eat the corn and soy itself, we instead throw most of it away, mostly in animal feces, urine and bones.

Again, referring to Vaclav Smil’s work, we throw away 60% of the plant protein we fed to the cows when we drink a glass of milk. We throw away three quarters of what we could have gotten when we eat chicken or eggs. And we throw away a whopping 87 to 95% of the protein we could have had when we eat pork or beef. It’s outrageous, really!

Throwing away that much corn and soy – and wasting the land on which other forage is grown – necessarily raises the price of grain. That wastage limits the supply of grains, often pricing them out of the reach of the world’s poor. These days biofuels, too, are contributing to that injustice.

Even more outrageous is the way we treat the animals we are so wastefully using.

When we think of farmed animals, we tend to think of animals in pasture; chicken coops; pigs wallowing in the mud. But that is not the reality for the vast majority of animals raised for food today.

Today, the vast majority of our animal foods come from factory farms. Some 98% of eggs come from hens packed 6 to 8 to a cage – each chicken with the equivalent of an 8 ½ x 11” sheet of paper to her – but it’s a wire mesh floor on which she lives. Her brothers, perhaps luckier than her, were ground up alive or suffocated in giant garbage bags on the day they hatched.

Broiler chickens live their 7 week lives on the floors of giant barns. Their badly manipulated bodies growing all out of proportion to the ability of their legs to support them.

60 years ago, it took broiler chickens almost twice as long to reach ‘market weight.’ And ‘market weight’ in those days was one quarter of what it is today. To satisfy our desire for white meat and to meet the financial demand for more meat per bird, the chickens have been bred to grow into near-Frankenstein monsters. They can’t be rescued. Their bodies will soon do them in.

Female pigs are confined to so-called gestation crates. They can stand up and lie down. That’s all. There is not enough room to turn around. Every few months they are forcibly impregnated.

Dairy cows, too, are forcibly impregnated. Like humans, cows give milk only after they give birth. So, they are are artificially impregnated once a year. Her calf will either become another dairy calf or, if male, either be immediately killed or raised for veal. Neither will be allowed to suckle from his or her mother. That milk is for us; the calf gets an artificial formula.

None of this is necessary. Humans do not need to eat meat and other animal products. In fact, there is lots of evidence that avoiding them does us good. Study after study finds dramatically lower rates of heart disease and type II diabetes in vegetarians and especially vegans. Rates of colon cancer and some other cancers are lower, too.

And it’s easier and easier to forgo the stuff. There are plant-based meat substitutes galore. One recently developed burger even has heme in it – evidently the secret ingredient for making beef taste like beef. Plant-based milks are easy to find, too.

We humans are conscious, just like the other animals around us. We have a huge advantage, though. We can learn from others via our abstract language. We can reflect on our actions with the benefit of knowledge no other species that we know of could even dream of – or even imagine exists.

Let’s use our amazing gift for good. We’ll be better off as individuals. We’ll improve our health. Poor people will eat better. Animals will not have to suffer so.

If We Could Eliminate All Animal Suffering, Should We Do It?

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In the animal kingdom, predators in search of a meal rarely seek to cause suffering – they seek a quick and efficient kill.

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

I’ve always enjoyed reading futurists such as Ray Kurzweil and crossover sci-fi writers like David Brin who are inspired by imagination. Savvy futurists envision how society could function differently and better, but prediction also helps make us aware of futures we might wish to avoid.  One futurist vision that would theoretically have a very high pay-off is that proposed by one of the world’s most notable transhumanists, philosopher David Pearce. Pearce has advocated for an end to all animal suffering caused by carnivorous predators eating herbivorous animals, whom he describes as being “trapped in the never-ending cycle of blind Darwinian processes.

Pearce’s abolitionist manifesto, the Hedonistic Imperative, proposes that a combination of pharmacology, reprogramming, GPS monitoring, neurochips, and pushing gene-edits through entire populations of animals are the methods by which we could eliminating the suffering caused by predation.   To that end, transhumanists,  philosophers,  and other followers including some vegans,  have created overarching plans to bio-engineer carnivores and omnivores (and presumably other taxonomies such as parasitoids, insects, and possibly viroids too) down to the most granular level of detail. This plan amounts to nothing less than a complete micromanagement of the planet’s ecosystem, staggering in proportion, and one that would essentially turn the wild regions of the planet into zoos.  While such a utopian dream could,  in theory at least, eliminate animal suffering in the wild, it would also have a high risk of irreversibility — and unintended or hard-to-calculate consequences for other species.

 

Retro-Engineering the Evolved Characteristics of Animals

The sum total of all the bodily parts and biological functions that an animal’s genotype creates to propagate itself is its phenotype.  Millions of years of evolution made

Of these species that have been described and catalogued, about 200 have had their genome sequenced. The pace of sequencing is affected by the cost and speed of modern methods.

Of these species that have been described and catalogued, about 200 have had their genome sequenced. The pace of sequencing is affected by the cost and speed of modern methods.

carnivorous animals into what they are today.  Not only would it be necessary to “ re-engineer an animal’s consciousness” as Pearce has described,  but going forward, physically modify their very phenotype so that they would be equipped to consume plant matter rather than animal flesh.  Being a carnivore is part of that animals’ phenotype – they are uniquely equipped with  tools to kill, consume, and digest their prey.  A herbivore, on the other hand, has evolved to evade predators and derive as much energy from vegetable matter as possible. Omnivores meanwhile, have evolved to process both meat and vegetable matter. In fact, since herbivores, omnivores, and some predators also exhibit behaviours that co-evolved in the presence of top level/apex predators, many of those behaviours and biological functions would also be redundant.

The micromanagement challenge required to innovate and maintain a cruelty-free biopsphere is astonishing in its complexity.  To begin, we would need to acquire and map the entire biocode for about 8 million species of animals, many of whom haven’t yet been discovered.  It is assumed that CRISP-R gene editing would be required to manipulate genes that control the development of teeth, the processes by which various species break down carbohydrates/protein/fats and lipids, and even the variation in the animals’ gut microbiome needs to be considered.

Teeth:

Herbivores are much better suited to grinding up plants with flat teeth.  Herbivores and omnivores have enzymes in their saliva to help break down the plant and other food that they eat while carnivores do not.

Some different adaptations for omnivores include sharp teeth in front and flat teeth in back, which enable them to eat a larger variety of food. Birds have specialized beaks for insect, seed, and flesh eating.  Obviously birds of prey are not well suited to transitioning to a cruelty-free diet without some modifications.

A carnivore’s mouth is full of sharp teeth so than can shred the meat that they eat. Their tongues are usually serrated which aids in pulling flesh off bones.  A carnivore’s taste buds have long ago ceased to recognize certain carbohydrates.  Another adaptation is that some carnivores’ digestive tract enables them to go days even months without eating anything, because catching wild animals isn’t always easy. These are all evolutionary advantages conferred on carnivores that are problematic for wild animal “zoo keepers” in Pearce’s utopia.

Digestion  by Diet:

mauro_michael-special_500

Nature – red in tooth and claw

Herbivores only consume plant material which is very difficult to digest. Since their diet includes large amounts of fibre and cellulose, the digestive tract of herbivores is much longer than carnivores. To overcome this herbivores have developed a symbiotic relationship with a population of microflora that inhabit the rumen (of ruminants) where it undergoes fermentation. The microbiome of the gut is able to break down cellulose and use the glucose for metabolic needs. Not only do the micro-organisms break down the cellulose but they also produce the vitamins E, B and K for use by the herbivorous animal.

Omnivores consume both meat and plant matter; they have a digestive system very similar to carnivores but also they also possess a working cecum that is not as well adapted as in herbivores. Due to this flexibility they are able to consume a wide diet, which has also prevented them losing the ability to synthesise certain products in the body as with carnivores. Since they are not as efficient processors of plant material as herbivores, as a group the genes that control for the break down of meat and plant material would need to be turned off/enhanced.  In birds, the crop is primarily a storage area for food consumed by the bird; certain adaptions in some species allow it to produce a mixture that can be fed to newly hatched birds.  Carnivorous bird species usually feed their offspring directly from the carcass of an animal so obviously this is problematic for those hoping to eliminate carnivorous species – they need alternate ways to feed young if they cannot consume meat.  The same vitamins that gut flora produce in the herbivore are not necessarily bioavailable in the carnivore, who must source them from their diet directly.

biological communities include the "functional groupings" shown above. A functional group is a biological category composed of organisms that perform mostly the same kind of function in the system. Ecosystems maintain themselves by cycling energy and nutrients through trophic levels. Green plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by photosynthesis. The carbon becomes part of complex molecules such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the plants. Humans like to think of ourselves as living at the top of the food chain - doing so implies we have dominion over all the other plants and animals living on this planet. That perspective is not correct when looked at in its truest biological sense. Organisms at the very top (apex) of the food chain eat only meat—the meat of other predators, that is.

Trophic levels in a marine ecosystem are shown above. They are organized into functional levels because they perform mostly the same kind of function in the system.
Ecosystems maintain themselves by cycling energy and nutrients through trophic levels. Green plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by photosynthesis. The carbon becomes part of complex molecules such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the plants. Dead tissue and waste products are produced at all levels. Scavengers and decomposers consume this “waste” and ultimately it is the microbes that finish the job of decomposition. Humans like to think of ourselves as living at the top of the food chain – doing so implies we have dominion over all the other plants and animals living on this planet. That perspective is not correct when looked at in its truest biological sense. Organisms at the very top (apex) of the food chain eat only meat—the meat of other predators, that is.

 

Clearly, it would be an oversimplification if transhumanists believed they could easily reprogram or use pharmacology to put an end to the suffering carnivores cause other species.  As Pearce acknowledges, fertility regulation would also be necessary particularly for animals that were previously part of the food chain for animals at higher trophic levels of the food web.  Animals would have to be classified according to their survivorship curve so that those who reproduce the quickest and produce the most offspring due to high predation (such as marine invertebrates) would survive longer but with fewer offspring.  It’s not about only the apex predators – every single species would have to have their reproduction levels altered to prevent starvation,  because all animals would now be consuming only plant food which is available in finite quantities.

What Would The Loss Of Predators Mean To The World Ecology?

The phrase “balance of nature” accurately describes the equilibrium (homeostasis) which exists between populations in natural ecosystems. Because plants are at the base of all food chains they are integral to maintaining the balance essential to prevent the destruction of habitats. Only plants absorb CO2 and give off life giving oxygen. We’ve already discovered that the elimination of just one link in the food chain by either exploitation, hunting, or competition from pests or disease will have a major effect on plants and/or animals above or below it in the food web.  So when considering how to re-engineer carnivorous animals in this experiment, considerable thought would also need to be given to how it could be carried out in such a way that the ecosystem is not disrupted.

Eliminating the carnivore populations could result in existing and new herbivorous species driving

The co-evolution of predator/prey species has driven natural selection. The Lotka-Volterra equation shows that in the presence of predators, the prey population is prevented from increasing exponentially.

The co-evolution of predator/prey species has driven natural selection. The Lotka-Volterra equation shows that in the presence of predators, the prey population is prevented from increasing exponentially  The presence of predators (black line) is responsible for the sudden drop in population level of the prey population (in red). Shortly after the decline in prey populations,  the predator population also experiences a decline,  and then the cycle begins anew.

losses in plant and tree biodiversity by virtue of their numbers.  Additionally, emboldened herbivores no longer have to hide from predators, so their consumption may increase.  Plants also evolved in the presence of predators as well – in areas where carnivores preyed on animals, plants had little need for elaborate defenses such as toxins or thorns because plant eater population levels were controlled by predation on the herbivores.  Unlike phytoplankton which grows rapidly can support vast numbers of marine life, land plants may take years to reach maturity.  In order that the anticipated increase in the number of herbivores and their associated plant requirements be accommodated, the nutrient status of grassland soils would probably need to be improved to increase productivity.  Unfortunately, we can`t make the sun shine longer in order to produce more energy at the bottom of the pyramid either.

So it’s very likely that plant material on earth would not have time to evolve defences against millions of new herbivores voraciously consuming them before they were decimated, rendering the experiment a complete failure when all organisms on the planet died as a result.

Dynamics Of Ecosystems and Biogeochemistry

Thus far we have focused the genetics, phenotypes, behaviours of individual animals when considering the feasibility of eliminating animal suffering.  An ecosystem consists of the biological community of plants and animals interacting with each other and sharing resources, as well as physical and chemical factors that make up its non-living or abiotic environment. The functional concerns with eliminating predators include such potential problems as how energy flows along the steps in a food web, whether there is enough energy (sunlight) to drive photosynthesis by plants, and the rate at which nutrients are recycled in the new, cruelty-free ecosystem.

Illustration of the carbon cycle in a forest ecosystem. Carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, pedosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere of the Earth

Illustration of the carbon cycle in a forest ecosystem. Carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, pedosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere of the Earth.

Energy enters the biological system as energy from the sun, captured by plant photosynthesis, which then flows upwards through the trophic levels. A trophic level is composed of organisms that make a living in the same way, that is, they are all primary producers (plants), primary consumers (herbivores) or secondary consumers (carnivores). Without the continued input of solar energy, biological systems would quickly shut down.

Biogeochemical cycles can be broken down into two types:

  1. Local cycles such as the phosphorus cycle, which involve elements with no mechanisms for long distance transfer.
  2. Global cycles (carbon, hydrogen, mercury, nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur, rock, and water) which involve an interchange between the atmosphere and the ecosystem. It is these global nutrient cycles that perpetuate life for all organisms. Of all these cycles – the carbon cycle is most likely to be affected by this abolitionist project.

When an animal eats a plant, carbon from the plant becomes part of the fats and proteins in the animal. Microorganisms and some animals feed on waste material from

Photo by Anand Varma - National Geographic. Ladybug parasitized and converted in to a zombie bodyguard by Dinocampus coccinellae. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/11/mindsuckers/zimmer-text

Photo by Anand Varma – National Geographic.
Ladybug parasitized and converted in to a zombie bodyguard by Dinocampus coccinellae. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/11/mindsuckers/zimmer-text

animals, and the remains of dead animals and plants. The carbon then becomes part of these microorganisms and detritus feeders. Quite simply, if we have numerically more animals, or they live longer, or more energy is required to enter the system to support the increased number of herbivores, the number of trophic levels would be changed (because predators would be eliminated) and  these cycles will be affected.  The risk of irreversibility – and unintended or hard-to-calculate consequences for other species really becomes apparent with this analysis.

How few trophic levels can an ecosystem support? The answer depends on the amount of energy entering the ecosystem, energy loss between trophic levels, and physiology of organisms at each level.  The loss, or even reduction in numbers, of predators in an ecosystem can set off something caused a “trophic cascade” in which the change in predator population has effects across the food web and ecosystem.  We’ve already seen this happen when wolves have been decimated – the end result is that there were changes in the type of vegetation that elk ate.  Humans have already disrupted many biogeochemical cycles and in the process have threatened many ecosystems. Climate change through the use of fossil fuels and animal agriculture are two such examples that have directly affected the carbon cycle.

Conclusion

While Pearce’s ideas are compelling from an ethical and welfare perspective, the suggestion that we can rebuild a Garden of Eden from the ground up after millions of years of evolution is hardly feasible, nor may I add, is it desirable.  It’s so difficult to fathom from a technical standpoint that I can’t quite get engaged by it,  even though the concept itself is appealing. While Pearce’s main focus is on ending the suffering caused by predation, that’s hardly the only source of pain.  Humans would also need to eliminate parasitism and disease, vaccinate animals, provide painkiller at birth, and prevent infanticide and detrimental mating competitions by male animals. What fatally undermines the thought experiment is that it positions humans as a parochial superintelligence over animals.  Besides that, what would be the point of eliminating carnivores while humans still raise, kill, and consume animals? We’re but a brief novelty on the evolutionary timeline; humans will probably be extinct long before we get close to having this much power. Either climate change or disease are likely to wipe us out, or at the very least knock the few survivors back to hunter gatherers.  If any predator needs CRISP-R, it’s us.

As we’ve learned with antibiotic resistant microbes and pesticide-resistant pests, nature can evolve faster than we can innovate.  We would have no idea what would happen when natural selection took over once this utopian abolitionist project had been finished.  Attempting to control population levels is incompatible with life, because the ultimate goal for any living being (from an evolutionary biology perspective) is to make as many copies of your DNA as possible, and have those progeny make as many copies and proliferate,  to survive while pitted against other similarly evolving animals in a changing environment.  This is the “Red Queen hypothesis.”

Human facilitated animal suffering can and should be stopped.  And it’s much more realizable. It’s ethical, has a high pay-off for humans as well as animals, and it must happen.

 

Three Concepts: The Five Freedoms (FF), Five Domains (FD) And Quality Of Life (QoL) As Tools For The Analysis Of Animal Welfare

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Three Concepts: The Five Freedoms (FF), Five Domains (FD) And Quality Of Life (QoL) As Tools For The Analysis Of Animal Welfare

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Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Most of our animal welfare audits and Codes of Practice developed for implementation on farms and in slaughterhouses arose from the core concept of “The Five Freedoms,” a set of internationally recognized animal welfare standards.  The Five Freedoms, or FF, came to be when the British public demanded that the government appoint a committee to look into the welfare of farm animals.  In 1965, the committee, chaired by Professor Roger Brambell presented the “Report of the Technical Committee to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals Kept under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems” which became known as “The Brambell Report.

While the FF utilized the problem-solving methods of that era and allowed us to measure welfare, they were still focused on the superiority of mankind, which provided the context. Anything was permitted except for what was expressly forbidden.

5 freedoms chart

In common with other scientific disciplines during the last 50 years, ideas in animal welfare science have evolved from these basic concepts.

 

Mennonite Percheron Horses

Percheron horses at the St. Jacob’s Market in Waterloo, Ontario. The welfare of these horses, used to pull this trolley around Mennonite farms, has improved slightly in that they now have a shaded structure under which to stand to avoid the hot summer sun.

We now understand that the Five Freedoms are insufficiently complex and therefore not tremendously helpful to animals since their focus was primarily concerned with the avoidance of negative experiences such as pain and hunger. Now, animal welfare is generally defined as the state of an animal in relation to its ability to cope with its own environment.

The knowledge that animals are conscious and capable of experiencing negative emotions is at the core of most people’s concern about them.  So as we progress in a linear fashion to an increasingly sophisticated understanding of animal welfare concepts, the focus of legislative instruments should follow with a shift from cruelty to welfare.

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was publicly proclaimed on July 7, 2012 at the University. The group of scientists wrote, “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary

Photo Credit: Dog Tales Rescue and Horse Sanctuary

True animal welfare is now considered to result both from an absence of negative experiences and from the presence of positive experiences or sensations, so that animals’ mental states are now a legitimate focus, along with preferences and aversions. The welfare significance of positive experiences has been promoted in discussion of the value of providing animals with “lives worth living’ or “good lives,” as opposed to “lives worth avoiding.” Laws and codes of practice must evolve to acknowledge the strong neurobiological drives in animals that are necessary for QoL to exist, even if physical needs are met.

In his recent and comprehensive essay, “Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” towards “A Life Worth Living, Dr. David Mellor (Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre – Massey University,  New Zealand) has presented the Five Domains as the successor model to the Five Freedoms, developed “in the light of new scientific knowledge and understanding of animal welfare.”  Like Temple Grandin,  Dr. Mellor is also an iconic animal welfarist who recognizes that animals have emotional lives, that they can suffer deeply, and that if we continue to use them for food and in research we need to recognize this well-supported fact and do as much as possible to alleviate their pain and suffering. Dr. Mellor also delivered the plenary at the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies annual conference on April 18, 2016.

Five Freedoms vs. Five Domains

“Both have utility. The Five Domains are clearly of use to animal behaviour and welfare scientists because they can embrace new knowledge and understanding, and provide pointers for new study. They can also be used for in-depth analysis of the impact of specific management practices (human actions) on animal welfare. For example, the FD approach has recently been used to evaluate the negative (adverse) welfare impacts of a range of procedures to which domestic horses may be subject, across a broad range of different contexts of equine care and training. This has been a valuable exercise. In the case of procedures that may be deemed necessary, such as castration, it encourages us to think carefully as to what constitutes both best practice and minimally acceptable practice. For other procedures, such as the use of the whip in horse racing, it addresses the question as to whether the alleged “benefits” can ever justify the cost. In this and many other examples, the FD approach provides a highly effective foundation for research and evidence-based conclusions as to the impact of the things we do on the mental state of the animals in our care.”

A Life Worth Living

“The concept of Quality of Life (QoL), recognises that animals have both positive and negative experiences and focuses on the balance between the two. 

2015_Five_Domains_Final_Poster_David_Mellor copy

The Five Domains of Potential Welfare. The first four Domains are predominantly physical/functional, and the last, mental state, represents the overall experience of the animal, i.e. its welfare status.

 

cows in pastureWhile the shift to QoL represents a much needed and long overdue transition from welfarism to a more compassionate moral framework, we can still do better.  Most veterinarians and influencers remain focused on FF. Food animals still cannot have a “life worth living” even though we may be improving housing conditions that supposedly are more humane and allow for more movement/natural behaviours/socialization.  It still fosters a paradigm in which billions of other animals are kept “comfortable and happy” after which we slaughter them for consumption.

 

FD and QoL initiatives are capable of lessening many of the priority welfare challenges for zoo and lab animals, pets and other companion animals:

 

  • Unresolved stress/pain behaviour and pain management
  • Inappropriate nutrition
  • Inappropriate stabling /turnout 
  • Delayed death (animals may be kept alive inappropriately, prolonging welfare problems)
  • Wild animals kept as pets or in poorly designed zoo enclosures
  • Adoption
  • Training
  • Enclosures in shelters and zoos – light, substrate flooring, drainage, heating, ventilation, air quality, cleaning and disinfection.
  • Drop boxes at shelters
  • Lessening the negative effects of No Kill while promoting population management
  • Methods of euthanasia
  • Vaccinations
  • Emergency medical care
  • Parasite control
  • Behaviour Modification
  • Anaesthesia and improved surgical techniques and recovery
  • Declawing of cats
  • Neutering and spaying
  • Improving lives for feral cats
  • Position statements from veterinary groups and advisory councils 
  • Transportation to slaughter
  • Shelter reference guides
  • Codes of practice
  • Lab animal QoL

 

 

Open Letter to Calgary Stampede Parade Marshal Jann Arden

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Photo Credit: Vancouver Humane Society Is this the horse you were thinking of when you wrote that you "want to be a rodeo horse?"

Photo Credit: Vancouver Humane Society
Is this the horse you were thinking of when you wrote that you “want to be a rodeo horse?”

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Dear Ms. Arden,

I’m writing this in response to your decision to accept the position of Calgary Stampede Parade Marshal and your various responses to people who remonstrated with you.  Many people are very concerned  about the treatment of animals, including horses,  who are forced to participate in the rodeo circuit.  These are all high-risk activities that often result in disastrous, unrecoverable injuries to the animals.

Many Canadian rodeo aficionados cite tradition, culture and athleticism as justification for events such as steer-riding, chuckwagon racing, and calf-roping.  In the face of increased public critique, animal welfare groups are helping to shed light on the cruelty of these events. Canada’s animal cruelty legislation is a disgrace – the laws have not been substantially changed since 1892.  Grassroots movements of Canadians say things need to change. There have already been at least 25 walks across the country and around the world, trying to bring awareness to Canada’s horrible animal cruelty legislation.

You previously tweeted in 2013 that you wished the Stampede would give the chuckwagon races a hard pass – I wish the entire rodeo itself J-Arden-tweet-against-chuckwagon-race-2would end.  I’m not alone, there are many humane organizations throughout the world who want to see rodeo-style events come to an end everywhere.

The ASPCA “recognizes the cruel treatment inflicted on many additional animals in the process of practicing to compete in rodeo events. Further, the ASPCA is opposed to children’s rodeo events such as goat tying, calf riding and sheep riding (“mutton busting”), which do not promote humane care and respect for animals.”  The Vancouver Humane Society was instrumental in bringing international focus to the issue of rodeos in Canada,  via the League Against Cruel Sports.  This is a first step toward internationalising opposition to rodeos in Canada and making it  harder for rodeos to justify their use of animals as “entertainment.”  The Vancouver Humane Society has had some success targeting rodeo events it considers cruel. It pressured the Cloverdale Rodeo, a major competition staged in the Fraser Valley just east of Vancouver, into dropping four events, including calf roping and steer wrestling, in 2007.

Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals Struggling against many men and a thin rope around his neck before a stadium of thousands of enthusiastic onlookers.

Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals
Struggling against many men and a thin rope around his neck before a stadium of thousands of enthusiastic onlookers.

“I treated saddle horses with wounds to their mouths from abusive use of the bit. One horse had half his tongue severed. I saw lots of so-called “minor” injuries, like cuts and abrasions, lameness, and eye injuries. I believe the callous attitude toward the calves added to their injuries; there was no concern for their welfare at all. I’ve seen injuries that ended in death, some resulting in death from euthanasia or a trip to the slaughter plant, broken bones, lameness, and minor scrapes and cuts.” ~ Dr. Peggy Larson, former Vermont State Veterinarian and Chief of Livestock and Meat Inspection, and former rodeo bareback bronco rider/large animal veterinarian

The breeding of bucking horses for entertainment is such an anachronistic practice – the only reason bucking stock exist is for the purposes of inhumane entertainment. They virtually all go to slaughter in the end, with a short stop at the Stampede before heading directly to Bouvry in Fort McLeod. That plant was the subject of an investigation by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition in 2010, which found evidence that horses were being killed inhumanely. The CHDC revealed video footage showing horses at the slaughterhouse being shot and then hoisted away by their legs while still fully conscious.

The fate of other horses at the Stampede is often not much better.  Consider that

  • More than 55 chuckwagon horses have died since 1986. This number excludes bucking and show horses.
  • At least nine rodeo horses died after becoming spooked while galloping across a bridge before they even got to the Stampede grounds. They jumped from the bridge and plunged 10 metres into the Bow River in 2005.
  • A post-mortem revealed the cause of the sudden death of a 10 year-old  outrider horse in 2013. Pathologists from the University of Calgary reported that the horse died almost immediately as the result of a pulmonary hemorrhage –  essentially a rupture of an artery in the lung.
  • In 2014, a 12-year-old thoroughbred chuckwagon horse collapsed during a training run. A post-mortem determined he died of a ruptured aorta near one of his kidneys, according to a news release from the Stampede organization. The University of Calgary veterinary school’s Dr. Gord Atkins, who chairs the Stampede’s chuckwagon committee, explained to reporters that the horse was afflicted with a common parasite that can damage blood vessels, creating an aneurysm that is undetectable until it lets go. The ex-race horse died quickly from massive blood loss.

Most thoroughbreds in the chuck races are older ex-racehorses who have already earned their retirement.  They’re retired for a reason – they’re too old to be charging around at

Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals Post-race bleeding nose. All chuckwagon horses are required to submit to mandatory drug testing.

Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals
Post-race bleeding nose. All chuckwagon horses are required to submit to mandatory drug testing.

breakneck speeds.  Note the age of the horses above who died – they were 10 and 12 years old – relatively young animals in absolute terms,  but far too old for these outdated Roman-style events.  In addition to age working against them, modern thoroughbreds have strongly muscled bodies and delicate legs that suffer stress fractures.  And we know what happens to horses with stress fractures – broken legs are the result.  And please note the veterinary comments about a horse with such a heavy parasite load that it caused an aneurysm.  I thought these horses were “family” to their owners, and worth as much as $50,000?  You know that a tube of wormer costs around $25?

“….the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) controls the camera shots that ESPN can use while filming rodeo. In calf roping, ESPN is not allowed by the PRCA to show the calf actually being dropped. The audience will never see the rope strangling the calf; they will never see the calf jerked off its feet, dragged, and choked. As soon as the loop settles over the calf’s head, the camera moves away from the calf and moves back only after the calf is tied.”  ~ Dr. Peggy Larson

Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

Tradition and heritage are two very emotional words, heavy with meaning.  Yet, despite those historical connections, the Catalonians have banned bullfighting, which was intensely tied to their nationhood and heritage.  The British have outlawed foxhunting.  The scarlet coated riders are now gone, even though few things were more “British” than stately homes, country weekends, and The Hunt.  I wonder, with regard to Canadian tradition, how many settlers had to ride or wrestle steers and race chuckwagons at breakneck speeds across the prairie?  I don’t believe that calf roping has ever been a sport but it was made so for entertainment and prize-money, as was bull-riding. Think about it: why would anyone ride a bull? It was created for entertainment and was not something based on culture or tradition.  And what the rodeo industry wants is a way to make every last dime from all the horses they shock, beat, drag, and buck.

You joked that you “want to be a rodeo horse.” You may wish to re-think that, since the PRCA, the largest rodeo-

Nothing more than macho abuse of baby animals. You can see the terror in his eyes...

Nothing more than macho abuse of baby animals. You can see the terror in his eyes…which are rolled back up into his head.

sanctioning organization in the world, has come down unequivocally as pro-horse slaughter.  In any case,  I think we could both agree that none of the horses depicted in this blog post seem to be enjoying their “jobs.”  The 2015 corporate report published by the Calgary Stampede explains that Stampede Park hosted many animal “guests” last July, including 629 chuckwagon horses and 410 bucking horses and bulls that competed during the rodeo. So I honestly wouldn’t say it’s all about the music. I would also be willing to bet my next paycheque that most of those animals aren’t really having their best day while at the Stampede. And I love how the Stampede refers to them as “guests,”  as if they come of their own volition!

“Sometimes tradition and habit are just that, comfortable excuses to leave things be, even when they are unjust and unworthy. Sometimes–not often, but sometimes–the cranks and radicals turn out to be right.”  ~ Matthew Scully:  The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy

Jann, in closing, I wish that you could see that these issues aren’t merely being brought forward by “people wearing leather shoes and eating hamburgers.”  Ask yourself though, if these events that focus on livestock do not sufficiently concern you, would you subject your dog to the same treatment?  I’m sure you wouldn’t ever consider it. It would be illegal if you did. Yet you are promoting the Calgary Stampede and the misery of thousands of animals by appearing in their parade.  Therefore, you are giving tacit approval to everything they do, despite saying that you do not like the chuck races. There are many other ways that we can support Calgary,  Fort McMurray, and promote Alberta.

Thank you for the work that you have done for animals in the past.

 

jann arden statement

 

 

The Devastating Effects of Hunting and Poaching In Short Hills Provincial Park

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George Catlin - National Museum of Wildlife Art

George Catlin – National Museum of Wildlife Art

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

In the hierarchy of public lands, parks are the most special places, where nature and all its associated diversions – quiet streams, the scents of the forest after a rain, and the occasional sightings of deer and other animals – are sacrosanct.

George Catlin, a painter of native American art, experienced  the western Great Plains when it was untouched by extensive American development. While witnessing the beauty of this land, he wrote, “…what a beautiful and thrilling specimen….. to preserve and hold up to the view of her refined citizens and the world in future ages!  A nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty.”

Hunting methods have changed a lot since Catlin painted his scenes of bison hunts.  No longer are many  parks primarily left relatively undisturbed  to preserve and protect natural resources but now they must be the venue for a vast array of harmful activities.

The Short Hills Park in the Niagara Peninsula is being destroyed not only by the sanctioned Haudenosaunee native deer hunt each year, but also by illegal and off-Shorthills1seasoned hunting. Poaching and the fear and disruption it causes compromises animals’ normal eating habits, making it harder for them to store the fat and energy they need to survive the winter. The hunt has also devastated the entire community and left residents constantly on edge,  long after the official hunt is over.  Horses live on the outskirts of the park as well, making the park perimeter a dangerous place due to the continual presence of poachers.

Disinterested indentured public servants in the Ministry of Natural Resources have no apparent interest in overseeing the parks. With budgets for maintenance exhausted on the private exploitation of the park, Short Hills is essentially abandoned without oversight. When vegetation is destroyed by 4WD vehicles, plant vigor and regeneration is reduced, ground cover is deteriorated, and there can be a change in species composition.  Inappropriate behaviours such as littering and other depreciative uses add to the degradation of the park.

Shorthills2While the MNR is busy circulating social memes to discourage the use of bird feeders by private citizens, they have no comment on the garbage accumulating in the park.  If bird feeders can attract bears, why is nothing done about garbage in the environmentally significant Fonthill Kame Moraine?  Not only that, gut piles and the remainders of deer carcasses can attract bears,  and are disturbing reminders of this cruel hunt.  Even if one is not in the park to poach deer, the condition of some trails and presence of trash do not inspire visitors to pack out all their garbage.  Perhaps the MNR will have to find space in their budget now to promote the seven principles of the “Leave No Trace” program?

Hunt supporters’ critique of the anti-hunt protesters at Short Hills has often focused on what they claim is the “unacknowledged racism” of nearby “NIMBY do-gooders” as the motivating factors in our protests.  Acrimonious counter-campaigns by hunt supporters seem to have at their core the presumption that protected public lands are there for individual use however they see fit and it is racist to suggest otherwise.   The reality is that vigilant neighbours  are good indicators of a great community.  A population of people like the anti-hunt demonstrators is actually among the most valuable resources a neighbourhood can have.

And it’s always “someone’s backyard” isn’t it?

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Yes, Some Animals Were Harmed…

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Solutrean Prop_tonemapped

One of several bison killed for props for the movie, The Solutrean.

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Most of us believe animals in movies are protected from abuse, injury, and death.  The Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) requires that any motion picture which engages SAG actors also must engage the American Humane Association, the group that allows producers to use the “No Animals Were Harmed”® end-credit certification to productions that meet its standard of care for animal actors.  The AHA protection is supposed to cover large animals, as well as fish, birds, and reptiles. On the set, AHA’s Certified Animal Safety Representatives are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the guidelines are upheld.  AHA’s oversight includes film, television, commercials, music videos, and Internet productions.

No Animals Were Harmed® Certification Program

American Humane Association monitors animals in filmed media and holds the exclusive right to award its “No Animals Were Harmed”® end-credit certification to productions that meet its rigorous standard of care for animal actors. American Humane Association works with production personnel and trainers in the pre-production planning stage, monitors the animals on set during production, and enforces American Humane Association’s Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media. It also investigates allegations of mistreatment and cruelty and sanctions productions that do not meet its standards of humane animal treatment. American Humane Association currently monitors 70 percent of known animal action in film and television productions. This amounts to approximately 2,000 productions annually, where Certified Animal Safety Representatives™ combine animal welfare and behavioral expertise to care for animal actors and protect their interests.

The AHA provides the following ratings for films under their oversight.

Outstanding – AHA determined the film met or exceeded  their  Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media and is awarded the end credit disclaimer “No Animals Were Harmed®.”

Acceptable – Significant compliance with their protocols and filmmakers who cooperated with the process.

Special Circumstances – Production followed the guidelines and cooperated, however an accident, injury, or death occurred which involved an animal.

Unacceptable – Filmmakers failed to adhere to AHA protocols and disregarded safety protocols leading to injury or death of an animal.

Not Monitored: Production Compliant – The production was not monitored however a script and relevant animal scheduling information and pre-release screening of the film were provided to the AHA.

Not Monitored – Filmmakers did not request monitoring, therefore the AHA was unaware whether guidelines were followed.

The AHA Film Unit is not without controversy, as it has been claimed that they are slow to criticize cases of animal mistreatment, yet quick to defend the big-budget studios it is supposed to police, and that an examination of the association also raises questions about the association’s effectiveness. Audiences who are reassured by the organization’s famous disclaimer should not necessarily assume it is true. In actuality, the presence of the AHA provides us with a false sense of comfort and a very different reality. In fact, the AHA has awarded its “No Animals Were Harmed®” credit to films and TV shows on which animals were injured or even killed during production. It justifies this on the grounds that the animals weren’t intentionally harmed or the incidents occurred while cameras weren’t rolling. For instance, the AHA does not monitor living conditions of animals off set, during hiatus, or during pre-production, which means there may never be any justice for any animal frivolously killed off-set for, of all things, a movie prop. And if animals were killed elsewhere to become props in a film, does that mean the film can still receive the accreditation that “No Animals Were Harmed®?”  Regardless, how can it possibly be ethical to kill animals in an attempt to capture reality for a film?

The Solutrean,” an ice age survival story set in the upper Paleolithic period, is currently in production in Alberta, and Vancouver as well as Iceland.  Recently, at least 3 bison AltamiraBisonwere allegedly killed with high-powered rifles, their hides were partially stripped, and they were shipped to the set so that the actors could appear to be skinning them.  One might think that the re-creation of actors killing an animal for a pre-historic scene would be a project that is easily replicated by  Hollywood special effects craftspersons.  But since Alberta is a province that revels in a ready supply of animals for the movie industry, I suspect this will simply be another example whereby entertainment trumps ethics.

Will the AHA do with this film what they did for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, where almost 30 animals died, including sheep and goats that died from dehydration and exhaustion or from drowning during a hiatus in filming at an unmonitored New Zealand farm where they were being housed and trained, and bestow a carefully worded credit noting that it “monitored all of the significant animal action. No animals were harmed during such action?”

So who are the stalwart defenders of animals in movies – who, unlike their human counterparts, didn’t themselves sign up for such work? As nebulous as they are, the AHA guidelines are not in force in Canada, even though a production may be filmed in Canada with actors from the SAG.  Canadian producers who use animals in their films have a variety of different legal obligations with which they must contend, ranging from contractual to regulatory to criminal. In Canada, we need to look to the Criminal Code and the Health of Animals Act for a legal framework.  After that, the issue of animal treatment tends to be addressed by provincial and municipal-level laws and voluntary guidelines.

What happened to these bison was not a tragic, unpreventable accident.  As long as there is an organization purporting to protect animals that’s intimidated by powerful filmmakers, the animals are always going to lose.  IMO, the ratings system is bogus – either animals were harmed or they were not.

 

American Humane Association
www.americanhumane.org
Film & Television Office
11530 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
818-501-0123

Isn’t It Time To Stop Serving Meat At Animal Fundraisers And Humane Events?

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Animal Place found that 78 percent of the organizations “already have in place an animal-friendly policy or are receptive to creating one.” This finding mirrors other polls where 85 percent of participants felt “it is ethically inconsistent for an animal shelter that rescues dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, goats, and other animals to sell or serve animal products at the shelter-sponsored fundraising events."

Animal Place found that 78% of the shelters and humane organizations “already have in place an animal-friendly policy or are receptive to creating one.” This finding mirrors other polls where 85% of participants felt “it is ethically inconsistent for an animal shelter that rescues dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, goats, and other animals to sell or serve animal products at the shelter-sponsored fundraising events.”

 

Under what circumstances should a humane organization unnecessarily cause pain or death to an animal?

When it’s dinnertime?

When we feel that not to cause pain and death would be seen as radical?

 When we are willing to ignore our mission in order to serve?

…. or never?

~ Montreal SPCA Executive Director Nicholas Gilman

 

 

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

The dynamic of personal autonomy, office culture, serving an audience and serving the greater good is complicated. Twenty years ago it would seldom have been a consideration that perhaps serving meat at humane or fundraising events was ethically inconsistent with the goals of the animal protection community. But shelters, rescues and humane animal groups are now re-evaluating the food they serve at fundraisers, adoption events or even volunteer recognition luncheons.

Organizations that want to create or change a food policy are getting help from Animal Place, a California-based farmed animal sanctuary. Through its “Food For Thought” program, Animal Place is awarding $25,000 in grants to animal organizations that implement a vegan policy. The campaign currently has broad support – 200+ endorsers including HSUS, Animal Justice, Piebird Farm Sanctuary, Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary, Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, and the Vancouver Humane Society.

Per Animal Place’s research, “29% of the humane societies and SPCAs (Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) had a vegetarian-only policy for their sponsored events.” Animal Place also found that when they also considered animal control and similar entities that “the percentage of vegan and vegetarian policy-holding organizations was 18% of the total surveyed.”

The Montreal SPCA’s “Best Practices” for holding successful all-vegan events means that they don’t lend their name to any

Saving animals is key to the our mission. Oh, and how would you like your burger cooked?

Saving animals is the key to our mission. Oh, and how would you like your burger cooked?

humane effort that serves meat.  They don’t allow meals to become the focus of any event – no sit-down dinners.  Instead they offer the best vegan food prepared by vegan chefs, served buffet-style, tapas, as hors d’euvres and amuse bouche.  Free booze helps too, says Executive Director Nicholas Gilman, who has overseen hundreds of  SPCA events that did not serve any meat.

Not only humane societies are adopting food policies.  As reported in The Washington Post, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit office, decided to implement a new office policy stating that “only vegan food may be eaten in its office,” in an attempt to “practice what they preach.”

What are the advantages of a meatless food policy?

  • Align your menu with your mission
  • Be truly humane
  • Be an example for others
  • Operate sustainably
  • Offer healthier foods
  • Make all supporters feel welcome
  • Value animal sentience and intelligence
  • Increase awareness
  • Stand with other nonprofits
  • Reflects your values
  • No disconnect between the mission of protecting animals and eating lunch
  • No explaining to people why we’re eating one animal in order to raise money to save another
  • No one has to be vegan to eat a vegan meal
  • Even omnivores are beginning to expect their meals to be both healthy and humane

Implementing vegan or vegetarian food policies are not without risk or controversy either, and it can be difficult to answer tough questions about the meaning of humane and compassionate food choices.  There are still disconnects between food to fork across the board, and animal rescue workers aren’t immune; they are consumers, too.  How many people laughed at the Jack in the Box’s #Bork (beef and pork) and #Moink (moo and oink) SuperBowl commercial?

 

 

 

Commercials like the above demonstrate how challenging it can be to promote new animal-friendly consumer behaviours.  Perhaps that’s why only about 40% of SPCA’s have meat-free policies in place.  Groups also feel challenged to:

  • Address concerns about public perceptions of vegetarianism and veganism as being “extreme” and that your organization has become “radical”
  • Distinguish between institutional change and personal politics
  • Facilitate ideological confrontations between certified humane proponents and meat reduction proponents
  • Deal with the perception that non-meat based meals means a bowl of carrots and a few sticks of celery
You want to support your favorite shelter or rescue at its annual fundraiser. But the bill of fare for the evening is a carnivore's dream

You want to support your favourite shelter or rescue at its annual fundraiser. But the bill of fare for the evening is a carnivore’s dream

The British Columbia SPCA (who acknowledge that their leadership team are not even vegetarian) has not implemented a vegan food policy.  They have surveyed their community to determine what their current dietary choices are and have decided instead to instead encourage increased uptake of “humanely” raised farm animal products by British Columbian consumers through leadership in the BC SPCA’s own purchasing practices, which includes SPCA certified foods, certified organic,  free-range meat,  cage-free eggs, and pasture raised dairy products.

Whether “humane” or not, livestock production is a major contributor to land/soil degeneration, climate change, water consumption and other environmentally destructive activities. This is why in 2010, a report released by the United Nations Environment Program encouraged a global shift to a more plant-based diet in order to combat the environmental effects of consuming animal products. Animal rescue and humane organizations often play a pivotal role, and it’s time for every humane, health-oriented, and climate change advocacy group to adopt a food policy that fits their values and mission. We shouldn’t be lagging messengers for this.

 

Please take a moment to participate in this short survey (results will be published at a later date):

 

Canadian Federation Of Humane Societies Conference Presentation Suggests Horse Slaughter Activists “Just Too Sensitive”

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This photo, original to the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, was used in a presentation critiquing horse advocates. The presenter claimed that criticism against feedlot owners was unjustified, they are really “not that bad.” The only criticism offered was towards the use of barb-wire fencing.

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

In April I attended The National Animal Welfare Conference, offered by The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.  The CFHS represents all the humane societies and SPCAs across Canada.  So as you would expect, the presentation consisted of a broad range topics related to cat overpopulation, animal shelter stats,  hoarding issues, spay/neuter,  along with some coverage of farm animal issues,  including representation from OMAFRA and the Alberta SPCA on horse slaughter.  I had been looking forward to this event for weeks….

Within the various humane groups, welfare standards, which vary considerably, are reviewed and debated worldwide. The humane societies and SPCAs do not even agree on the issue of what constitutes good welfare, despite the existence of codes of practice.   This schism was made more obvious by the presence at the conference, of strict vegans juxtaposed against those who still justify eating animals but want to improve their welfare while doing so.

The treatment of several issues addressed at the conference was wildly inconsistent, IMO.  For instance, we had delicious vegan lunches and snacks, and panel discussions on the importance of developing food policies for animal events.  On the other hand, the conference content was generally delivered with a view to making animal use more comfortable for people rather than the animal.  By offering vegan fare there is the suggestion that perhaps we shouldn’t be eating animals,  and yet we have presentations that malign animal activists as well-meaning but utterly misinformed people who are just “too sensitive?”

The bulk of horses in Canada are found in Alberta and anti-slaughter advocates have had challenges appealing to many people in that province due to the ranching and Stampede culture. Protesters at the recent Bouvry slaughterhouse in Alberta were subjected to strong negative feedback, to put it politely. There is certainly a notable variation between the principles, opinions, sentiments regarding horse slaughter in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada.  Knowing that at least one of the speakers on horse slaughter was from Alberta, I expected them to graywash the issue of slaughter – I must be psychic because that’s really how it played out. I believe that presenting horse slaughter as acceptable, safe, or humane,  even grudgingly,  is inconsistent with the values of a humane group or SPCA.

There were two equine vets for this segment, each presenting for about 45 minutes.

Dr. Marion Anderson – Alberta SPCA, presented first.  She has a practice in Saskatoon and became President of the Alberta ASPCA in 2012.

The only real issue I had with Dr. Anderson’s presentation was that she depicted slaughterbound horses as generally being geriatric, poorly bred, of poor conformation; with behaviour issues, unrecoverable lameness or injuries – sort of a eugenics program for these horses.  The positives of her presentation were that she did provide valid points when addressing the backstory of horse overpopulation, along with a good breakdown of horse use in Canada:

  • horses are remaining healthier, living longer, and are therefore more difficult to find lifetime homes for;
  • society has an aversion to horse slaughter;
  • US “ban” on horse slaughter;
  • demand for the horses has lessened due to lower rural population, aging baby boomers, economic hardship
  • Indiscriminate and uncontrolled breeding
  • Inadequate and improper training methods lead to behaviour issues
  • Fewer people interested in riding and tend to prefer more sedentary and technological pursuits
  • In 2010 the median age of horse owners was 50- 59 years
  • 24% of all horse owners are over 60
  • Increasing costs associated with horse ownership

However, Dr. Anderson’s presentation conflicted with statements by the USDA and other groups that found that about 92% of all horses are young and healthy and capable of living longer lives. Her presentation can be viewed online at the CFHS site here and in PDF format here.

The second presentation was made by Dr. Bettina Bobsien – she’s a vet in private practice who has worked with the BC SPCA on farm animal welfare issues and was a member of the committee that drafted the current Equine Code of Practice.  Dr. Bobsien reminded the attendees that the new equine code of practice went from 25 statements up to about 75 statements which is obviously an improvement in welfare,  albeit one that has no teeth because it’s a recommendation rather than a requirement.

IMO,  Dr. Bobsien’s presentation was a lot more problematic – probably not just for me but for others in the audience as well.  The Dr. took the approach that horse slaughter is necessary and much maligned by activists who spread “myths.”  She spoke of unintended consequences for the US after the cessation of slaughter including starvation and abandonment, which have largely been debunked, perhaps most famously by John Holland of the Equine Welfare Alliance in the states.

deputy broad

Deputy Broad went from the stable to the table in not 180 days, but in 7 days!

As the presentation unfolded, I did a double-take when I saw on the projector, images from CHDC’s own website and blog being presented as “myths” about horse slaughter. Dr. Bobsien did not name the CHDC in her presentation though, and implored the audience to refrain from embracing “activist hysteria.” It is perhaps noteworthy that Dr. Bobsien’s conference slides have not been made available for downloading at the conference website.  Perhaps it was due to the pushback from some audience members (myself included) who sought to correct some statements, or maybe the CFHS felt the slides were too controversial.

So here are a few of Dr. Bobsien’s “Myths” of Horse Slaughter (the “myth” in bold, followed by Dr. Bobsien’s response in red,  and my response in grey italics).

  • Horses are or should be companion animalsWe Have a special relationship with them. “They are livestock.” I think many horse owners have special  relationships with horses just as they do with dogs and cats and other pets.  They happen to live on farms due to their size and range requirements, but we spend thousands on board or on tack that isn’t spent on livestock.  And we have a special relationship with horses historically that we simply don’t have with other animals. 
  • Horses treated with toxic chemicals mean that the meat is tainted – example: phenylbutazone: Horses given bute are clear in 21 days and meat is fine to eat.  The EU put restrictions on imported horse meat because of a claim about toxic meat in horses originating in Canada.” I did challenge Dr. Bobsien on this and she finally said that the science and the regulations don’t match up.  Dr. Bobsien spoke about bute being kinetically withdrawn from the tissues within 21 days, but made no mention of the fact that the CFIA prohibits its use in food horses entirely.  It’s the metabolized compound that can be found in tissues afterwards that can kill you In a survey, 96% of respondents said they used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control the joint pain and inflammation in horses, and 82% administer them without always consulting their veterinarian. More than 1,400 horse owners and trainers were surveyed to better understand attitudes toward NSAIDs.  Additionally, 99 percent of horses that started in California last year raced on bute, according to the Daily Racing Form. The pro-slaughter doctors and veterinarians who attempted to refute Dr. Marini et al’s study a few years back expected everyone to accept their supposition even though it exemplified an argument from ignorancewhich started out as an appeal to authority, (not unlike Dr. Bobsien’s presentation).  Sue Wallis and Dave Duquette (of United Horsemen’s Group and the now-defunct IEBA) asked everyone to accept the word of a veterinarian who is an expert in his own field (Dr. Henneke – body scoring), but who is commenting on a field outside of his area of expertise. Dr. Henneke supports the assertion that bute exits the system completely.  So what?  He’s not a toxicologist.  When you want to discuss the Henneke scale, he is completely qualified to render an opinion.  Similarly, if Einstein makes a suggestion about relativity,  you’d better listen. If he tries to tell you how to ride a horse, you can tell him to keep his day job. In the US, Canada, and the EU, bute is not permitted to be used for food animals. PERIOD. That simple acknowledgement renders any other discussion on toxicology rather moot.  There are no safe levels for known carcinogens, which is why it’s pointless to discuss to what degree bute is or is not eliminated from the tissues. Harm is assumed.  Discussions of toxicity or “safe levels” are reserved for non-carcinogenic effects.  Furthermore, the “precautionary principle is recognized in international law, and it of course stresses that the absence of scientific certainty about a risk should not bar the taking of precautionary measures in the face of possible irreversible harm. First, do no harm.
  • Horses that are sold to slaughter go directly to slaughter. “No they are held for 180 days.” On the larger feedlots in Alberta there are probably situations where some horses are held for a period of time.  But If you look at the Health of Animals Regulations Import reference document, section 5, if imported horses (from the US) are going directly to slaughter they must be slaughtered within 4 days of their arrival.  If you have horses coming up from US auctions when does this drug withdrawal take place?  When horses arrive at LPN or Richelieu in Quebec from auctions in the US, they aren’t holding them for 180 days – they are killing them within days. 
  • Kill buyers, feed lot owners, and transporters are the ‘bad guys’. “Proper blame should be directed towards the persons who overbreed.  5 minutes of terror is better than months of starvation.”  Again, why are there only two choices – slaughter or starvation?  We can certainly cast blame in the direction of people who produce horses in a “puppymill” type of production line.  But everyone is complicit in this sordid business – from sale barn owners,  transporters, slaughterhouses,  and most definitely kill buyers – all have played a role in facilitating fraudulent transactions and abuse against horses.  Many of these individuals and businesses have been fined or packed off to prison for their crimes.
  • Horses should go to rescues instead of slaughter. “Rescues are overfull, unregulated.”  That is true even though some are registered charities, but so too are kill buyers totally unregulated, and they have input into the food chain. Sales barns sometimes fill out EIDs without input from former owners. I agree that rescues cannot possibly absorb upwards of 100,000 unwanted horses per year.  The answer lies in other solutions, including on-farm euthanasia, hay banks, financial support for rescues, and alternative disposal options such as rendering, mortality composting, and biodigestion. Dr. Bobsien herself also pointed this out.

From the presentation we could see that the Dr. appears to own a very nice dressage horse that is probably very well trained with nice conformation. If slaughter is not a good enough end for Dr. Bobsien’s own horses, why is it acceptable for others to suffer this fate?  This is what anti-slaughter advocates object to – we don’t think it’s an acceptable end for any horse.  Neither of the presentations we saw on this day gave any recognition or discussion to the suffering of non-food animals such as horses.  It’s obvious that most advocacy by humane groups and SPCAs is focused on advancements for the typical “food” animals such as chickens, cows, and pigs, while little effort is expended to the plight of the unwanted horse.  Plenty of criticism is lobbed at the negligent owners and backyard breeders or horses, where it also must lie, but kill buyers seem to get a pass.  Neither presenter touched on transport times, live export deaths, injuries, sickness, or pregnancy.