Written by: Heather Clemenceau
Under regulations of the Health of Animals Act, Canada has a mandatory identification program for cattle, bison and sheep. Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) have expanded that program to include horses. According to AAFC, horses are functional livestock and are part of the national ID and traceability strategy for animal health and food safety reasons.
Equine Canada, the comprehensive national governing body for equestrianism, is responsible for developing a national equine-specific program (CanEQUID) to satisfy federal government requirements for identification and traceability for equines. This program would somehow have to be imposed upon US horses coming to Canada as well, since, after spending several years and millions on the National Animal Identification System , (NAIS) the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) apparently scrapped the effort and turned responsibility for livestock identification over to the 50 states and various tribal nations. But for horses sent to Canada for slaughter, Americans would also have to adopt the UELN, which may result in greater scrutiny for premises ID than that currently experienced for gun control.
If you’ve been following the goings-on with equine traceability in Canada or the US, you would already know that the situation is utterly shambolic, with missed deadlines or the complete absence of functional plans and infrastructure. Ag-Canada declined to provide funding after committing about $500,000 for a feasibility study, as current budgets for traceability were already committed. Equine Canada then informed Ag-Canada that without funding support to fast-track the implementation, they did NOT wish to be included in regulations for mandatory livestock traceability. Their position was very clear — regulations without infrastructure would make compliance impossible.
Well, all of that changed a couple of months ago with a quiet declaration on Equine Canada’s website that the program was once more “on,” thus ensuring that Canadian slaughter operators can continue to make millions while some horse owners continue to have an outlet to dispose of the constant over production of horses. Also simultaneously moving forward are the new CFIA meat hygiene directives that affect horsemeat – as of July 31st this year, Canadian slaughter facilities will require complete health records dating back six months. This would apparently phase-out the often fallaciously completed Equine Information Document (EID), which has failed to assure EU members that drugs are not entering the food chain. The deadline (July 2013) was created in an exchange between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and SANGO, which is the EU’s version of the CFIA. The working group which includes the CFIA, Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, the slaughterhouses, provincial horse groups and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
Here’s the CanEquid Strategy document.
THE MODEL FOR EQUINE ID & TRACEABILITY IN CANADA
- Unique identification information, including a unique lifetime number
- Horse ownership information
- Home farm premises information
- Premises date and location where horses co-mingle for industry activities
- Horse health records related to a horse’s status for processing
- Traceability events – health certificates issued, transport manifest documents issued, etc.
In September 2012, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition wrote to Equine Canada, as well as Integrated Traceability, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to enquire about the status of CanEQUID. A response from Dr. Edward Kendall at Equine Canada confirmed that the CanEQUID program would not meet its end of 2012 target date for this program. At the time of writing this blog, we have approximately two months to see exactly what will happen to Canadian horsemeat exports. Rather unsurprisingly, the AAFC did not deign to respond to enquiries.
Finally, how is this program supposed to work for U.S. slaughter bound horses entering Canada? Two-thirds of horses sent to slaughter in Canada in 2011 were from the U.S. Is Canada’s traceability program going to work for U.S. horses? It doesn’t seem possible, since no one in Canada can attest to an individual horse’s status for slaughter. And I’m not convinced that disease reporting will be enhanced by the program either. The chip for horses is not about disease-tracking, as Ag-Canada would have the various horse owners and associations believe – it is not about science either – it’s a political necessity in order to satisfy requirements to make horsemeat a world-wide commodity. Here’s a very good example of why that is the case – when a single atypical case BSE was found in the US a few months ago, all trade to South Korea stopped immediately – this was based on trade and politics – not science, since the cause of the BSE in this example was mutagenic and posed no risk to any other animals. Random genetic mutations happen all the time in nature, so once in a while a cow will be born with a mutation that makes the BSE prion.
It’s big business to cut corners, and typical of governments to develop rules that they have no intention of following. The EU horsemeat scandal is perfect evidence that rules will be ignored when profit is a motivator. Also recall the story of Backstreet Bully, who was verified by Adena Springs as having received 21 doses of nitrofurazone, which has been linked to cancer in humans, and at least 23 doses of bute, a drug linked to bone marrow disease. Canadian officials have refused to confirm or deny whether his meat entered the food chain.