moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to my Bill today. I will begin by recognizing and thanking all those Canadians who have written letters, signed petitions, and shared information about the horse slaughter industry with me.
Bill seeks to recognize that horses are ordinarily kept as domestic animals for recreational and sporting purposes, not to produce meat for human consumption, and may contain substances that are prohibited in food animals.
The bill would prohibit horses from being conveyed to slaughter and horsemeat from being sold for human consumption. The only exception to the prohibition would be for horses that are raised primarily for the food chain and are accompanied by a complete lifetime record, in chronological order, of all medical treatments ever administered.
To understand why such a distinction needs to be made, it is necessary to examine the nature of the equine industry, the medications that are administered to horses, the purposes for which these medications are commonly used, the implications that are posed to human health from ingesting equine drugs that may be present in horsemeat, and the adequacy of the regulations that currently govern the Canadian horse slaughter industry.
The question that needs to be answered is: Without the enactment of Bill , is it possible to guarantee a safe horsemeat product if it is produced from horses that were not raised or regulated within an agricultural industry and were never intended to enter the human food chain until the day of being purchased by a kill buyer under contract to a Canadian horse processor.
Last year, 71,961 horses were slaughtered in Canada. Some 85% of the meat derived from these horses was exported to the EU and the remaining 15% sold domestically. Over half of these horses were imported from the U.S., a country, I will note, that is not permitted to export horsemeat to the EU, and where a 2007 ban on horse slaughter remains in place today. It bears keeping in mind that out of a population of some ten million Canadian and U.S. horses, little more than 1% is slaughtered to produce meat, meaning nearly 99% are not.
Whether bred for show, racing, jumping, breeding, pleasure, rodeo, dressage, companionship as pets, or for work, horses enter the slaughter supply chain to Canada for processing from a multitude of owners and a myriad of directions.
Throughout their lives, a wide variety of medications are administered to keep horses healthy and able to perform in their racing or sporting career and any other capacity required by their owners.
“WARNING: Do not use in horses intended for human consumption”, reads the label found on an extensive array of common horse drugs and includes, among others, wormers, vaccines, painkillers, tranquilizers, bronchodilators, anabolic steroids, ulcer mediations, diuretics, antibiotics, and fertility drugs. Most of these drugs are listed in Chapter 17, Annex E.5 of Canada's Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures, under the heading List of Veterinary Drugs Not Permitted for Use in Equine Slaughtered for Food. When something is not permitted, any administration of these drugs renders their meat unfit and unapproved whether or not it can be detected in tests.
In his detailed letter of notice to European Commissioner Tony Borg, Bruce Wagman of the legal firm Schiff Hardin, representing Front Range Equine Rescue and the U.S. Humane Society, includes as Exhibit 1, a list of 115 banned and dangerous substances commonly administered to U.S. horses that are slaughtered for horsemeat exports to the EU, in contravention of numerous food safety and transparency laws.
Also included in Mr. Wagman's letter are 13 signed declarations representing the sworn testimonies of a broad spectrum of American veterinarians, breeders, trainers, and owners attesting to the administration of these drugs to horses they have raised or cared for. In one example, Dr. Holly Colella, a veterinarian who attends to more than 1,200 horses annually in her practice, testifies that a majority of the substances on Exhibit 1 is regularly and routinely administered to the horses she works with.
In her article for Newsweek entitled “What's In Your Horse Burger? Chemicals That Pose Serious Health Risks”, Vickery Eckoff writes, “Horses—and particularly racehorses—are walking pharmacies”.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, one of the authors of the study entitled, “Association of Phenylbutazone Usage with Horses Bought for Slaughter: A Public-Health Risk” that was published in the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, has stated in interviews that “Eating them [that is horses] is about as healthful as eating food contaminated with DDT”.
Dodman's study had clearly shown that mechanisms to ensure the removal from the food chain of horses treated with the drug phenylbutazone, or “bute”, as it is commonly called, are inadequate at best. By matching the registered name to their racetrack drug record over a five-year period, the Dodman study revealed that 18 thoroughbred racehorses sent for slaughter had been given “bute” on race day, a drug that is banned for use in any animal intended for human consumption because it causes serious and lethal idiosyncratic adverse effects in humans.
Mindy Lovell, a Canadian, has owned horses for over 35 years. She has competed extensively and trained professionally for many years. Currently, she operates a boarding stable in conjunction with a thoroughbred aftercare program. In her experience, the one thing she notes that all horses have in common is the way in which they are cared for with respect to veterinary care and medications. As she writes in her letter to me:
One can simply walk into ANY boarding/training/schooling facility and open the medicine cabinet to clearly see the array of drugs and medications easily available and commonly used on these horses. The majority of these are clearly labelled—not to be used on horses intended for human consumption.
In testimony before a 2012 congressional committee that was struck on the heels of The New York Times exposé on the use of drugs in the racing industry and its relationship to an increased number of horse breakdowns leading to jockey deaths on American racetracks, Arthur B. Hancock III, a fourth-generation horse breeder, declares that:
Today, only 5% of all horses are bleeders and yet almost 100 percent receive Lasix on race day. There is only one reason for this. Lasix is a powerful diuretic that allows a racehorse to shed 20 to 30 pounds at race time, thus making it a performance-enhancing drug.
Further down in his testimony he states, “In addition to Lasix, nearly 100 percent of all racehorses run with Butazolidin, Ketofen, or Banamine along with other ‘therapeutic drugs’ in their systems”.
At the same Congressional hearing, Kathryn Papp, a veterinary practitioner at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pennsylvania, states:
The overuse and abuse of medication is rampant at our Thoroughbred racetracks and training centers. The abuse is not limited to just performance enhancing drugs, it encompasses all substances that our trainers think may improve their horse’s performance, from valid treatments to hokey and possibly dangerous therapies. Medications that are currently being overused at our racetracks include but are not limited to antibiotics, corticosteroids, NSAIDs, hormones and their analogues, calmative agents, hyper sensitizing agents, and respiratory aids, amongst many others. These substances are not just being used inappropriately around race time, more commonly they are employed during training and the time leading up to races. I cannot tell you how many barns I know that train every one of their horses on phenylbutazone daily whether they need it or not. And bute alone has many adverse effects to consider, ranging from GI issues to renal issues.
Also at this committee meeting, Congress heard from Glenn Thompson, a thoroughbred trainer for 30 years and author of the book, The Tradition of Cheating in the Sport of Kings, who stated:
From the time you start your first hot walking job until you take out your trainer's license you were taught, if a horse has a problem, you do whatever it takes to get them healthy to race. If there is an ankle problem, you give the horse bute…, if a horse has a bleeding problem, you give him Lasix…, if a filly is in season, you give her a drug to take her out of season.
Clearly, everyone involved in the horse slaughter industry, including Canadian, American and European regulators, know perfectly well that they simply cannot guarantee the safety of horse meat.
Lastly, given that the United States has no program in place to monitor the drugs given to horses and has no intention of creating one, the U.S. cannot export its horse meat directly to Europe. A report produced by the European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office very clearly outlines the inadequacies of our regulatory regime when it comes to horse slaughter. Here are some examples from the 2010 audit.
First of all, the oversight regime in place in Canada to verify the use of drugs in horses intended for slaughter, as set out in Council Directive 96/23/EC, is inadequate because it does not provide official verification of the identification, movement and medical records of a limited number of horses destined for slaughter.
Imported horses were accompanied by an affidavit signed by the last owner—often a horse dealer—indicating any medical treatments administered over the previous six months. Nevertheless, no official guarantee was requested from the United States authorities that affidavits were verified and could be considered as reliable.
Supervision and certification are not enough to correct the problems noted.
In addition, in such areas as the export of horse meat, standards did not fully provide adequate guarantees.
The affidavit regarding any medical treatments administered is required for all horses slaughtered, regardless of their origin. However, there are no official controls to verify the authenticity or reliability of the affidavit.
Imported animals are accompanied by an affidavit indicating all medical treatments administered. However, the USDA assumes no responsibility regarding the origin of the animals, the controls in American institutions or the authenticity of the affidavit.
One might expect that, given the damning results of the audit and the serious risk to human health posed by horse medications, the slaughter industry would have been forced to significantly curtail its activities until a reliable medication oversight system could be developed and implemented. That did not happen. On the contrary, the European Union asked Canada to come up with a new plan to address the problem of medications in horse meat. While Canadian and European authorities look for ways to amend their regulations in accordance with trade agreements, the slaughter of Canadian and American horses continues as though nothing happened.
A Star investigation has found that Canada's food inspection system has serious flaws when dealing with the steady stream of racehorses sent to slaughter every year. Throughout his life, like many competitive horses, Backstreet Bully was given powerful performance-enhancing drugs that are potentially deadly in meat eaten by humans.
Two of these, nitrofurazone and phenylbutazone, had been administered to Backstreet Bully dozens of times, but the shoddy paperwork and poor oversight allowed by Canada's food watchdog cleared him for human consumption in a market that includes Quebec, Europe and some Toronto restaurants.
“You can’t kill that horse”, Stacie Clark, who works for the Stronach farm, recalled pleading with an abattoir official. It was not just small amounts of these drugs that had once been given to the horse: 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.
We have an industry where the primary consideration of owners in the care and treatment of horses is to ensure that they perform their career as required, not whether they will end up on someone's dinner plate.
We see a wide variety of substances that are commonly, and in many cases routinely, administered to horses that are prohibited for use even once if intended for the human food supply. We have exceedingly lax enforcement of a highly inadequate regulatory system, and whereas governments in the EU and the U.S. have conducted various studies and considered at length the issues of horse medication and food supply, Canada's Parliament has not yet seen it fit to do the same.
I am asking my hon. colleagues to support Bill at second reading.
I will close with the following statement by Dr. Peggy Larson, a former USDA veterinarian medical officer . She said:
Based on longstanding medical and scientific principles, it is impossible to declare horse meat safe for human consumption when the horses who are slaughtered for that meat have been exposed to an unidentified (and unidentifiable) number of drugs, treatments and substances, in unknown (and unknowable) quantities, at various times during their life.
Mr. Speaker, I want to assure members that our government takes animal welfare concerns very seriously. Horses, or equines, have played an important role in Canada's history, and I think we all agree that horses and indeed all animals need to be treated humanely.
Where Conservatives disagree is whether the subject before us today is one of food safety. While this bill is being presented as such, in fact it is not. To remind members, this bill proposes to amend the Meat Inspection Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act. It would prohibit the import or export of equines for slaughter along with equine meat products for human consumption, unless the equine was raised primarily for human consumption and unless a complete lifetime medical record was provided.
I want to point that it is not just about restricting the movement of horses across the border. This bill includes preventing horses from moving from one province to another within Canada. This is not a food safety issue, and it is certainly not an import-export issue, so I appreciate the opportunity to present clear facts to the House.
Here are the facts of the matter. Horse slaughter is a legitimate business activity in Canada. There are indeed Canadians who eat equine meat. Our government is committed to the humane treatment of animals.
With regard to my first point, equine meat production is a major and legitimate industry in Canada. I would like to provide some additional facts. Over a billion people throughout the world eat approximately one million tonnes of equine meat per year. China alone consumes some 400,000 tonnes. In 2012, the estimated value of the Canadian horse slaughter industry was $122 million. This industry produced approximately 24 million kilograms of equine meat. That same year, 17.7 million kilograms of equine products were exported, which contributed approximately $90 million to the Canadian processing industry.
This industry is important to the economy. It is also a matter of individual choice. Right now, each horse owner in Canada has the right to choose the best end-of-life option for their animals. Canadians care about their horses, and while I appreciate that some people have difficulty with the idea of horse slaughter, the fact is that this is a humane end-of-life option. Let me be clear. Our government does not support taking away rights from horse owners, and this is a matter of principle.
Canada's equine herd grows by approximately 34,000 foals each year. Canadians use end-of-life slaughter for 85% of the annual increase in the domestic horse population. As we can see, this is an important population management tool. The decision to choose slaughter as an end-of-life option should therefore remain a decision for each horse owner to make. As well, the equine slaughter industry employs well over 600 people directly in rural Canada, jobs that will be in danger with the passage of this bill. I would encourage the NDP to stand up for hard-working Canadians instead of trying to ban this industry through the back door.
With regard to my second point, there are in fact Canadians who eat equine meat. They eat approximately 2,000 tonnes per year. The consumption of equine meat is commonplace in Quebec and in the other provinces of Canada. In Quebec, equine meat can be found in supermarkets right next to the beef, chicken and pork.
It is not up to the government to tell Canadians what they can or cannot eat. However, we are responsible for making sure that the food they choose to eat is safe. That is why there are already strict food safety regulations in place.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency performs daily inspections in all federally registered meat establishments to verify that all products are manufactured in accordance with food safety regulations.
Let me further clarify the facts about veterinary drugs such as phenylbutazone, also known as bute.
Bute is an anti-inflammatory commonly used to treat lameness in horses. It is approved by Health Canada for this use as an anti-inflammatory, but it is not approved for use in food-producing animals, and that includes equines destined for human consumption.
For this reason, the CFIA regularly tests equine meat for veterinary drugs, including phenylbutazone. The overwhelming majority of tests reveal freedom from drug residues. In fact, compliance rates are very high, at over 98%.
In addition to testing, other precautions are taken. Since July 2011, the CFIA has required that equines presented for slaughter be accompanied by a complete treatment history for the six months prior to slaughter. The European Union, our largest export market for equine products, accepts this requirement as an appropriate assurance that non-permitted residues are not present.
Under Canada's Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures, all equines presented for slaughter must be accompanied by an equine information document, or EID. The EID links the identity of the animal to a six-month medical history. The six-month period exceeds the recommended withdrawal period for a number of veterinary drugs, including bute. EIDs are just one part of a larger integrated system designed to prevent trace residues in all meat products.
It is important to note that no case of human illness has been attributed to the consumption of horsemeat or veterinary residues therein in North America or in countries of any of our trading partners, so as members can see, Canada already has firm protocols in place to verify that meat products are safe to eat.
To my third point, our government is committed to verifying that all animals destined for slaughter are treated humanely. Here are facts about what we are doing.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's slaughter improvement program has made up to $60 million available to improve federally regulated slaughter facilities. This includes specific investments aimed at improving animal welfare practices. We have committed up to $3.4 million for the development and updating of codes of practices for farm animal care.
Animal welfare assurance systems continue to be eligible for funding under Growing Forward 2. For example, up to $100,000 has been committed to the National Cattle Feeders' Association to help develop and implement a national feedlot animal care assessment program.
As I said earlier, we all agree that animals must be treated humanely. That is why CFIA inspectors are present on site in all federally registered slaughter facilities each day to verify that animal welfare requirements are met. However, if something unfortunate should occur, the CFIA has the authority to investigate animal welfare concerns in instances of non-compliance. The CFIA also has the authority to respond to findings with a full suite of enforcement tools, including criminal prosecution. This is the reality right now, but I cannot speak to the consequences if the current end-of-life option was no longer available.
According to Equine Canada, Bill would not enhance or add value to existing food safety legislation in Canada, it would not improve the humane welfare of horses in Canada, and it would cause serious implications for Canadian horse owners moving horses interprovincially within Canada.
For all these reasons, our government opposes Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say from the very start that the Liberal Party supports the bill.
The bill tries to find a balance between the cultural consumption of horsemeat by many people around the world. In Kazakhstan, Quebec, France, et cetera, people do consume horsemeat. It has been a tradition, so we want to understand that cultural difference.
We want to understand also that Canada has a $19 million horsemeat industry, mostly for export, that brings in money for people in that industry. There are only five areas across Canada: two in Quebec, two in Ontario, and one in British Columbia. We do not want to stop these people from having an industry.
The bill strikes to find a balance between the valid reason for exporting horsemeat for slaughter to countries where people eat horsemeat, but it also recognizes that there is a difference between a horse and a cow. Cows are raised primarily for slaughter. From the moment we start raising cows or sheep or chickens or any other animals that we raise for slaughter, there is a fair sense that we need to ensure that the animal has not had unsafe hormones or unsafe drugs in its blood.
Horses raised as pets or for racing or for other reasons tend to have a very long history of injections of some kind, either a lot of corticosteroids for arthritis or injuries or else a fair amount of hormones to build the right kind of muscle.
Horses that are raised to be pets, to be household friends, to draw carriages, et cetera, and horses raised for racing and for other equestrian purposes have a history of having been given certain medications. If, at the end of their lives, we slaughter them for human consumption, those medications in the horsemeat could pose a threat to human health. We do not ordinarily give these drugs to humans or to livestock that is raised for human consumption.
The bill is saying that if we wish to have a horse slaughter industry, we should breed horses as we do cows, primarily for that purpose, so that they would be raised with all of those checks and balances in place in terms of the way they are raised, the medications that are taken, the type of food that they eat, et cetera, so that they would be safe.
That is an important step for Canada to take.
The United States eradicated its horsemeat industry in 2007, and now the only two countries that actually use horses for slaughter in North America are Mexico and Canada.
All the bill is saying is that there needs to be this kind of balance so that we do not endanger human health.
We heard earlier that some prohibitions are in place. However, at the end of a horse's life, when it is no longer useful for the purpose it was bred for, that still does not mean that the horse has not been given, over its years, the kinds of medications needed to make it perform as well as it needed to for the purposes for which it was raised. Therefore, we cannot say after the fact that we are going to check the meat, because the bottom line is that we do not have the ability to ensure that down the road it would be safe for humans to eat horses that are bred for purposes other than for slaughter.
What the bill would do, really, is prohibit most horses from being transported for slaughter for meat, but it would make an exception for horses that have been bred primarily for human consumption and that are accompanied by a complete lifetime medical history.
Basically, we are saying that we want to put in checks and balances.
For those who say this is all emotional, it is not, actually. I think there is fairly good evidence to show that horses that are not bred for slaughter carry medications that could actually harm people. The proponents of the bill in Canada are the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, the Humane Society International, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Basically we think that the bill is eminently supportable. We do not want to put the businesses that are currently in Canada out of business.
What we are saying is that here is a plan to be followed if we are going to maintain what we do for every kind of animal food that we eat, which is to ensure that it is safe, that all of the health precautions have been taken, and that the animals have not been given medications that are stored in their muscles and in their fat and that will be passed on to humans who are not able to survive with that level of a lifetime of medication.
This bill is an extension of a former bill introduced in October, Bill C-322, which was a bill to amend the Health of Animals Act. The member moving this bill says that the former bill did not extend far enough and did not include the checks and balances he wanted. What we now have is a very thoughtful bill, and we support it.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on the bill introduced by my friend and colleague, a bill dealing with horse slaughter.
The Liberal Party just wants to make slaughter a better thing, a safer thing. The bill, for all intents and purposes, would end slaughter in this country.
That may have been the unintended consequence of the bill, because while the bill actually says that horses have to be raised for slaughter and have a passport, in this country we really do not have anybody who raises horses for slaughter. There are some who are on the edges of it, but it is unlike the beef industry, in which that is the entire industry. There are some who do some slaughter, but primarily horses are not raised for that. Most are raised for other purposes, whether for racing or for recreational use. Quite often kids get involved in riding horses, and sometimes adults get involved in racing horses later on in life.
There is an industry in this country. There are concerns about bute, and those are legitimate concerns. In fact, the CFIA takes those concerns very seriously, to the extent that bute is listed as a controlled substance. It has made sure it is not allowed. The evidence on bute is clear. No one argues that. I do not think anyone in this House would argue that.
People are basically saying that those are the rules, and it should not happen. There are some folks who may not be complying, and at the end of the day the authorities and the regulatory bodies are supposed to make sure they catch them. They are supposed to look at the industry to make sure that it does not happen.
The general accounting office in the United States has done a study. The U.S. did not actually ban horse slaughter. Quite often those in Canada who oppose horse slaughter say that the U.S. has banned horse slaughter, but it actually did not. What Congress did was withdraw funding to the USDA for inspections. Consequently, since the industry did not have a federal inspector, it could not export the meat, which is similar to this country.
Therefore, since the market for slaughtered horsemeat was primarily an export market and not an internal market, the facilities were shut down. It was not because it was banned, and it is still not banned in the U.S., but simply because it had to be done somewhere else, so then the horses were transported here.
The general accounting office in the U.S. did a study in the last while that examined horse welfare across country from the time the slaughterhouses closed until now. The study came to the conclusion that it has gone into decline. There are more horses being abandoned. There are more horses that are simply mistreated and are not being fed as much.
Those horses that are now being abandoned would have gone to a slaughter facility. I recognize a lot of folks do not necessarily like that the end of a horse's life, which may not be its natural life, is in a slaughter facility. I think one has to understand that there is a bit of cycle to this when it comes to horses, and indeed this has been going on for a long time.
The proponents of the bill, those who defend it, are saying it is a health and safety concern. There is no question that legislation is in place already about health and safety concerns. We still have regulations about transport, about how horses should be slaughtered, and about the types of drugs being used and whether they are or are not allowed.
Ultimately, this industry exists in this country and is regulated under the CFIA. People are engaged in this industry. In some folks' eyes, it may not be a particularly nice thing that is happening. I would suggest that if people have ever been to a slaughter facility, they would know that most of it is not nice. Their sensibilities probably would be upset by it, and correctly so. However, at the end of the day we do slaughter animals.
The Canadian equine association is the major umbrella group for horse owners, whether their horses are shown in an arena jumping or used for commercial purposes or for horse racing. The Canadian equine association opposes the bill, and I think correctly so.
It does not believe that it enhances the value of existing legislation for food safety. It does not believe that the welfare of horses in Canada will improve, and it thinks there are serious implications for Canadian horse owners who move horses interprovincially. Clearly, the group that is engaged with horse owners and the horse industry across Canada is saying that this is not a helpful bill. I think they are right. I think they are headed in the right direction.
Yes, we can always do better with inspections to make sure that horses in auction houses have correct documentation that is lined up properly so that the CFIA and inspectors can ensure that we do not get another story like the one we saw in the paper, because they are always the one-offs. Thousands of horses go through the system. There is always a one-off, such as a horse being purchased only 24 hours or two or three days earlier, when the owner has attested to a six-month certificate. When those folks are found out, their licences have to be removed. If they are caught egregiously breaking the law and the rules, they have to be dealt with. There are things in place to make sure that actually happens.
Ultimately, this is a bill that for all intents and purposes would end horse slaughter in Canada. Unfortunately, when one reads the restrictive practices in the bill, it says “must” be this and that. In other words, it must be only horse slaughter they are raised for and they must have a passport. It does not say “or”. If it said “or”, perhaps there would be an opportunity. However, it does not. Therefore the majority of horses that have been used in some sort of commercial activity or recreational activity would be abandoned over time, because folks would say that they do not want that horse anymore. If no one wanted to buy it, they would abandon it.
Horses are expensive. Many people buy horses thinking that they are nice animals, and they are. Many of us look at them and think they are majestic. They almost seem to feel what we are thinking. There is that closeness with a horse that perhaps one does not have with a chicken. Then again, the mayor of my municipality many years ago judged bantam chickens. He loved those multi-coloured bantam chickens. He loved those animals, much more than many of us in the House or across the country would think.
Folks' attachment to animals varies greatly from one group to another. For some, it is domestic cats or dogs. For some,it is snakes, and for others, it is horses. I can sympathize with the sensibilities around horses, but one cannot lose sight of what we are trying to attain. The end result of this bill would be to end horse slaughter. It would not be an unintended consequence. It would be the intended consequence. The GAO in the U.S. has said that the unintended consequence of shutting down the facilities, not banning them, is that for horses, life has become worse.
I find myself in a strange position, as the critic for agriculture on this side, having to disagree with my good friend from . I will not be able to support the bill at second reading.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for for raising this issue and for bringing it to the attention of the House. I would also like to thank the individuals who have already spoken here this morning.
I will begin by stating that the slaughter of equines for human consumption is a legitimate economic activity in Canada. We see that Canadians value their freedoms and choices, and so do horse owners. If anything, this bill would only take away choices. It would take away the choice of Canadians to eat what they want, as long as it is safe, and the choice of importers and exporters to buy and sell a product that is legitimate.
I must say that I have read this bill a number of times, and I have given it a great deal of thought. I appreciate that some people have difficulty with the idea of slaughtering horses for meat production. There is no question that Canadians care about horses, and in fact, about the humane treatment of all animals. Our Conservative government understands that. However, this bill is not the way to proceed.
The choice by horse owners to use a safe end-of-life option for their animals is paramount. As a government, our role is to protect Canadians' rights and choices, not to take them away. The choice of Canadians to eat what they want, as long as it safe, is important. It is not the role of government to tell Canadians what they can and cannot eat. Canadians in Quebec and other provinces, like Alberta, choose to consume horsemeat. In fact, supermarkets in Quebec offer it right next to the beef, chicken, and pork.
What is our role? It is certainly not to tell Canadians what they can or cannot eat. It is our role to verify that the food they choose to eat is safe. While this bill is presented as a food safety matter, in reality it is not.
This last January, I was privileged to speak at the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum on the topic of food safety and food security. The world looks to Canada as a leader in food safety. We have an international reputation as having the finest food safety system in the world. The innuendo that works its way in from the margins as we debate issues like this does everyone a disservice.
Let me point out to the House just what it is that we Canadians can be so proud of. Horsemeat is a safe and wholesome source of protein, and Canada has strict food safety regulations already in place to ensure this. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency performs daily inspections in all federally registered meat establishments to verify that all products are manufactured in accordance with federal food safety rules.
The CFIA requires that all equines presented for slaughter have an equine information document, or an EID, which identifies the animal, with its six-month medical history. The CFIA also regularly tests equine meat for veterinary drug residue. That is happening right now. The six-month period well exceeds the recommended withdrawal period for a number of veterinary drugs. The overwhelming majority of tests reveal freedom from drug residues. Compliance rates are very high. They are over 98%, in fact.
The CFIA would be well within its mandate, though, to halt any practices that pose a threat to the public, but that is absolutely not the case here.
While the slaughter of equines for the purpose of human consumption is a legal activity in Canada, this bill would effectively ban that industry through the back door. I would like to explain and expand upon this as we look at the next choice this bill would put in place, which is the choice of importers and exporters to buy and sell a product that is legitimate.
I have talked about how there are Canadians who choose to eat equine products. They have the right and the freedom to do so, and we will protect their rights and freedoms.
Equine production is a significant part of Canada's economy, as well. In 2012, the estimated value of the Canadian equine slaughter industry was $122 million. Approximately 24 million kilograms of this product were produced. That same year, 17.7 million kilograms of equine products were exported, for an estimated value, for the Canadian processing industry, of $90 million.
This bill proposes to prohibit the import or export of equines for slaughter, along with equine meat products for human consumption, unless the equine is raised primarily for human consumption and unless a complete lifetime medical record is provided. This would include their being moved from one Canadian province to another or across the border. By imposing these restrictions, this bill would take away the industry's right to accept equines for slaughter, even though they meet federal food safety and animal welfare regulations.
While the bill would not prohibit the consumption of equine meat or equine slaughter, it opts to cut off the movement of equines for slaughter and equine products. This is a backdoor strategy to destroy a legitimate industry. This bill would essentially end or curtail all equine meat products in Canada.
The equine slaughter industry employs well over 600 people directly in rural Canada, jobs that would be in danger with the passage of a bill such as this. We also need to think about these people and their families and the economic hardship they would endure if this bill were adopted.
This bill would also hopelessly erode our ability to export to countries that want our top-quality Canadian equine products, countries such as Japan, China, France, Italy, Mongolia, and Belgium, to name just a few. What about choices for Canadian consumers?
We have to look at the principles. Let us explore a little further the last choice this bill would take away, the choice of horse owners who may want this end-of-life option for their animals. Right now, each horse owner has the right to determine the best end-of-life option for his or her animals. As I said at the beginning, I appreciate that some people have difficulty with the idea of slaughtering horses, but humane slaughter for meat processing is a humane end-of-life option.
Canada's national equine herd grows by approximately 34,000 foals each and every year. In 2012, owners chose humane slaughter for meat processing for 26,000 Canadian-born horses. Canadians use the end-of-life slaughter option for 85% of this annual increase in the domestic horse population. Restricting choice here directly affects an important management tool, so I suggest that the decision to choose slaughter as the best end-of-life option for horses should remain a logical, well thought out decision for each horse owner to make. This option generates value for Canadian horse owners who appreciate the revenues they receive from the sale of surplus equines for slaughter.
The other concern I have, which is even worse, is that this bill could have negative animal welfare consequences. If we took away this humane end-of-life option, what would horse owners resort to: abandonment or unsupervised euthanasia? We do not want to facilitate undue suffering for horses, or any animals, for that matter. That is why it is important that industry be allowed the option to slaughter equines in a humane and hygienic manner, that consumers be permitted to consume equine products, and that importers and exporters be free to buy and sell equine products.
In closing, let me add some personal thoughts. My first recollections as a child on the farm were trips I made on the hayrack pulled by my family's team of horses. I also know that the $12.50 colt my dad bought when I was a kid was the best cattle horse I have ever ridden. These horses were farm animals, great animals. They were part of our business, but growing up, their end-of-life options were as obvious to me as were those of the chickens, pigs, and cattle we butchered as part of farm life.
As part of the Knee Hill Valley 4H Beef Club, I remember sale days vividly. We just had average calves cut from our herd, but when I was about 10 years old, my calf and I came second in showmanship. The man who bought my pet steer told me that he was going to maybe take it to another show, since it was so well trained. I never forgot how that made me feel. Thinking back, I doubt if that ever happened, but it did make our final farewells easier. Even so, it never changed the fact that I knew that this was business and that soon after, many people would be enjoying this fine animal of mine.
It is our great privilege that we have different opinions heard in the House as our democratic way, and I want to thank the hon. member for for raising this issue, but Conservatives will be opposing this bill.