This story is not graphic, but what happens to horses shipped for meat sure is.
You might have believed horses were cherished and protected in Canada. Unfortunately, the truth is more complicated.
Extra-large horses (like the beer commercial Clydesdales) are lovingly called gentle giants because they are calm, kind and co-operative. Yet those born into the meat trade are put in boxes and shipped across the ocean without food or water on a long, one-way flight to their unceremonious deaths. Then they are eaten by the wealthy.
It’s a gruesome national disgrace. And it’s perfectly legal, although hopefully not for much longer.
Live export horse shipments are monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Whistle-blowers have exposed basic welfare failures — horses being kept on tarmacs in brutally cold temperatures, horses arriving overseas already dead or dying and horses falling and stepping on each other in the over-crowded crates.
Most of these animals come from one of a few facilities that breed horses specifically to become meat, or from the pregnant mare urine industry, where the females are repeatedly impregnated so their urine can be collected to make hormone replacements for women, even though synthetic alternatives exist.
The foals are separated from their mothers and most are deemed disposable. When the mares’ bodies become exhausted, they, too, are normally sent to slaughter. Pregnant mare urine production parallels the dairy industry in this way.
Canada has appallingly low standards for slaughter-bound animals of all kinds. Cows, goats and sheep can be shipped for 36 hours without food, water or rest. Horses, pigs, chickens and rabbits? Twenty-eight hours.
Tens of thousands of horses are also slaughtered within Canada.
But whether these dismal standards are being met or not, the real issue here is why we are unnecessarily shipping and killing animals at all.
Endangering animals and people
Canada has a serious animal slaughter problem. We kill more than 800 million individual animals per year and cause physical and psychological suffering that is difficult to fathom and impossible to justify.
Factory farming is also endangering our own species. Workers are treated with alarming disregard. Industrial animal agriculture has consistently been identified by scientists and other methodical analysts as a central and major cause of climate change, not as a peripheral problem.
Equally dangerous is the very real possibility that factory farming close to home will be the cause of the next pandemic.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has made it unequivocally clear that our species needs to act with far more compassion and good sense. Profits don’t excuse harm and violence. We need humane jobs, and a sustainable future that is caring and just.
Legal change is within our reach
Horses’ speed, power and collaboration built almost every community in this country. We ask horses to partner with us for sport, protection, recreation, therapy and companionship. I was on the back of a gentle horse named Champ before I could walk.
Horses play. They comfort. They form meaningful bonds with people and other animals. Many horse people, me included, have witnessed first-hand how horses grieve the deaths of their friends. Horses are emotionally attuned and empathetic souls who feel joy but also fear and pain. Humane euthanasia is the only ethical way to end their lives, when necessary.
Animal advocates and lawyers, actress Kate Drummond, national icons like Jann Arden, horse lovers and Canadians of all kinds recognize that we need to halt live horse export. Liberal MP Nathan Erskine-Smith is currently working on a sorely needed ban and you can sign his petition to end this inhumane practice.
Whether your vision for Canada is progressive or conservative, neither includes the slaughter of horses. Horses are important members of our families and communities who deserve far more respect and protection. Putting an end to live export is the absolute least we must do, and it is time for the federal government to act.
Kendra Coulter receives funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She serves on the Canadian Violence Link Coalition coordinating committee and on Ontario's Provincial Animal Welfare Services Advisory Table.
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