First of all, thanks to everyone for completing the survey I launched in a previous blog, and for sharing your opinions. In this survey I don’t claim to provide options for pro-slaughters to render an opinion here, as most people following this blog are vehemently opposed to horse slaughter. So the questions are mostly open and non-leading, but only if you’re of the anti-slaughter sentiment!
After numerous missed deadlines or the complete absence of functional plans and infrastructure, we have about two months to go in Canada before we find out what happens with equine traceability. We know Ag-Canada and Equine Canada won’t be ready, but what will the EU do about it? They are well aware that the Canadian slaughter system is unreliable, dangerous to the global food supply and one to avoid emulating should the U.S. resume slaughtering horses for human consumption, as is being proposed. If the EU decides to continue with the status quo, they are no doubt aware that the EID does not prevent adulterated meat from reaching the consumer. It can’t, because the document doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s also become more obvious to Canadians that the CFIA is populated with many veterinarians who are quick to respond to news articles to defend food safety practices – but unless they are trained in public health and willing to put public health front and centre, they should refrain from providing false assurances of safety or meddling in food processing operations. This is certainly true for Dr. Ian Alexander, who has an Honours B. Sc. degree in Biology and an M. Sc and Ph.D in Veterinary Pharmacology/Toxicology as well as a Doctorate of Veterinary of Medicine from the University of Guelph – but – apparently no public health experiences or epidemiological course of study. It’s absolutely astounding to me that with his education he can blithely dismiss the CFIA testing protocols for horsemeat as remotely accurate.
Traceability is “the ability to systematically identify a unit of production, track its location and describe any treatments or transformations at all stages of production, processing and distribution.” (Archipelago, 2005)
A takeaway from the food fraud/mislabelling scandal in the EU tells us that no amount of tracking without DNA species analysis at critical junctures would have prevented this fraud. If all these big chains with their food-safety-is-first traceability schemes don’t know what’s in the products they’re hawking, how are mere mortals and consumers to know?
The concerns with EU horsemeat scandal and the North American experience have been reflected in the survey. While 43.9% of the respondents believed that disease-tracking would be an important outcome of such a system, 66.7% of those same individuals would not voluntarily opt-in to a program. Perhaps related to an earlier statement from Slaughterhouse Sue Wallis regarding slaughterhouses providing 72 hours to claim (and pay associated costs for) a stolen horse from a plant, 63.2% of those surveyed do not believe a tracking program would significantly prevent horse theft. I don’t believe attitudes towards traceability for horses result only from cost or other confounding elements of the program, but from past experience with and knowledge of players in the horse slaughter industry itself. Traceability will do nothing to make slaughter humane, assure them food, water, or rest in crowded trucks in which they are often seriously injured or killed in transit.
Recent high profile food recalls and enhanced consumer awareness have made traceability a high level issue across the supply chain, from manufacturer to consumer. Even though I have a philosophical objection to it, journalist Liz Brown has written extensively about the inevitability of traceability in Canada – her research on the program is available by clicking on the article to the left.