Welfare Of Horses Transported To Slaughter In Canada: Assessment Of Welfare And Journey Risk Factors Affecting Welfare

shutterstock_268534550This study  was published in the Canadian Journal of Animal Science. The findings of injury to horses are hardly surprising considering the number of unfamiliar horses travelling together in close confines and the rough handling involved whenever animals are being transported to slaughter.

Abstract:

“Injuries in horses transported to slaughter in Canada. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 95: 523–531. Horses transported in groups on long journeys to slaughter are at risk of injury. Injuries can occur following trauma and aggression from other horses. This study quantified injuries in 3940 horses from 150 loads that arrived at a slaughter plant in Canada. Surface injuries were quantified using visual assessment. Digital thermography was used to detect areas of raised surface temperature. Carcasses were assessed for bruising. Multivariable regression analysis was used to examine the associations between journey characteristics and the risk of injury. There was a significant association between journey duration and the number of horses per load with surface injuries (P<0.001). In 100 horses from 40 loads studied in detail, 33% had surface injuries identified by visual assessment, 48% had areas of raised surface temperature identified by thermography and 72% had bruising identified by carcass assessment. The levels of agreement between identification of injury by thermography and that by identification of visible injuries and carcass bruising were low. Pre-transport assessments could not be performed and hence injuries could not be linked causally to the transport conditions alone. However, the detailed assessments of injury and the use of multivariable regression analysis showed that long journeys were associated with injuries.”

The full text of the study,  available here,  makes several interesting observations:

“On the basis of changes in the behaviour and physiology of horses during a 30-h journey, Friend (2000) considered that journey durations in hot conditions, without water, should not exceed 28 h and they should be shorter if there was aggression between horses, the stocking density was high, and the fitness of the horses was less than ideal.”  This suggests that the 36 hour transport limitation is inhumane.

“There are many anecdotal reports and graphic images available on the internet and the effectiveness of the enforcement program in the USA has been called into question (United States Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General 2010; United States Government Accountability Office (2011).”  This comment seems to question the ability of the USDA and other groups to police slaughter and transport infractions while slaughter was operating in the US.

“Some loads of horses were slaughtered immediately upon arrival, some were lairaged overnight and others were kept for up to 2 d (if they arrived during a weekend).”  This observation refutes statements made by pro-slaughter advocates that there is a “holding period for withdrawal” at slaughter plant lots.  Since most of these horses will arrive from US-based auctions  where they were previously  owned by private individuals,  we can only ask slaughter apologists where the holding time occurs in the chain-of-custody for horses.  Indeed, Under the Health of Animals Regulations Import reference document, section 5, if imported horses are going directly to slaughter they must be:

1. Accompanied by a USA-origin health certificate.

2. Inspected by CFIA at the border on entry into Canada. The load is sealed at this point

3. Licensed by CFIA to be taken directly from the border entry point to a federally registered slaughter plant. The transporter must proceed directly to the plant. The horses may only be transported to the plant designated in the license.

4. CFIA inspectors at the plant will open the sealed load upon its arrival.

5. The plant operator must slaughter the horses within 4 days of their arrival

“For journey origins associated with long journey durations the majority of horses arrived at the slaughter plant with a plasma total protein concentration that was greater than normal and indicative of dehydration.”

“Lameness and poor body condition were not identified as potential issues affecting the fitness of many of the horses that were transported to slaughter. If many very low value horses and/or geriatric horses had been purchased for slaughter then a greater percentage of the horses would have been expected to have been in poor body condition and have shown signs of lameness (Cary and Turner 2006).”  This finding supports observations elsewhere and by the USDA that 92% of horses sent to slaughter are healthy are able to lead productive lives.  It is also suggestive that most horses are not sent to slaughter as a last resort before starvation and that injuries incurred enroute are less likely to be due to poor condition at the outset and more likely to be attributed to travel itself.

Recent Study Findings – 15% Of Horse Transports To Slaughter Exceed 36 Hour Limitation

ayache horse trailer
Dorian Ayache, Three Angels Farm owner and operator, received a shut-down order in 2012 from the DOT stating the motor carrier posed an imminent hazard to public safety. Three Angels Farm had two accidents over an eight month period involving poorly maintained vehicles and fatigued drivers, which not only endangered the public, but also resulted in the death of multiple horses. Ayache was cited for those accidents.

Because it is a business viewed by many as disreputable,  horse transport to slaughter is sometimes accomplished using sub-standard vehicles traveling under cover of darkness,  driven by persons who have already incurred transport violations.  Current regulations allow horses to be transported for up to 36 hours without food, water or rest. Unlike some other species,  horses do not travel well in the company of other unfamiliar horses and often kick, bite,  or trample each other,  leading to serious injury or even death enroute.

There have been many reported cases of animal welfare violations in Canadian horse slaughterhouses including failure to provide food and water, illegal unloading of animals, late stage pregnant mares shipped, and sick or injured animals denied veterinary care.

Not surprisingly, veterinary experts around the world and leading animal protection groups have denounced horse slaughter as inhumane.

For many,  the study below, published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, merely validates what we have confirmed via Access-To-Information requests and Order Papers submitted to the government.

From the abstract of the study“Patterns and durations of journeys by horses transported from the USA to Canada for slaughter”

Roy RC1, Cockram MS1.

rotz horse transport fire
This truck caught fire with horses aboard, and the driver stopped but neither he nor first responders were able to extinguish the flames. No reason was given for keeping the horses trapped in the trailer as it burned. The truck was pulled over in New York on March 13, 2013 and ordered out of service until repairs and maintenance could be performed. Nine violations were noted in 2011, one of which was a discharged or unsecured fire extinguisher. The horses were reportedly destined for the Viande Richelieu Meat, Inc. slaughterhouse in Massueville, Quebec.

“Concern has been expressed over the welfare of horses transported from the USA for slaughter in Canada. United States Department of Agriculture owner/shipper certificates for the year 2009 were analyzed to provide quantitative information on the patterns and durations of these journeys. In 2009, horses from 16 states in the northern USA were transported to 6 equine slaughter plants in Canada. Thirty-two percent of loads were from auction centers, 33% from feedlots, and 35% from horse collection centers.”

The median duration of the journey was 19 h.  The actual time in transit for the horses was observed as follows:

  • 36% < 6 h
  • 11% for 6 to 18 h
  • 13% for 18 to 24 h
  • 25% for 24 to 36 h
  •  9% for 36 to 48 h
  • ….and apparently 6% > 48 h

“Some journeys exceeded those specified in regulations and, based on other research, would put these horses at risk of negative welfare outcomes, such as dehydration, injury, and fatigue.”

So,  despite the median journey being 19 hours,  a full 15% of the journeys exceeded the 36 hour limitation – 36 -48 hours without rest,  food or water.