Update: On June 21, 2023, Senate Public Bill S-270 was introduced to prohibit the export of live horses and other equines from Canada for slaughter. The introduction of this bill is only the first step in its progress through Senate. The Senate has risen for the summer and won’t resume sitting again until September 19. At that point, Bill S-270 can proceed through the Senate and the House of Commons.
With your support to encourage Senators and Members of Parliament to pass this important bill, we are hopeful that a brighter future for horses in Canada will be possible.
Horse meat is eaten in many countries across the globe, including in Canada. Yet, Canada is one of the only countries in the world that breeds, raises, and transports horses overseas for slaughter to fill the demand for fresh horse meat. Gentle draft horses are raised in poor conditions and are exported by plane on journeys that can take more than 20 hours. Since 2013, more than 40,000 horses have been exported out of Canada. These horses are purpose bred for export, not sourced from auctions, as the importing countries have strict health standards.
Horses exported for slaughter are raised on feedlots in Western Canada. Feedlots are barren plots of land where horses are often not provided shelter or protection from the elements. There is minimal veterinary oversight and care provided.
The horses’ long journey begins when they are transported by truck from the feedlot to the airport – usually in Calgary, Edmonton, or Winnipeg. As prey animals with strong fight-or-flight instincts, horses are extremely sensitive to the unfamiliar stimuli they experience during transport. Unlike horses kept as companion animals or used for show or sport, horses destined for the meat industry are unaccustomed to being transported, so this can cause them significant distress.
At the airport, the horses may sit on the tarmac for hours before being loaded onto the plane. Before being loaded, three to four horses are put into a single shipping crate smaller than the average horse stall. Due to the limited space available to each horse, horses can easily injure one another or lose their balance and be unable to get back up. Current international airline transport regulations require horses to be able to stand in a comfortable position without coming into contact with the top of the crate, but eyewitnesses often report that crates are too short for the horses to stand comfortably without their ears touching or pushing through the top of the crate.
Horses fly in these crates without feed, water, or rest for the entire journey. The flight is between 10 to 13 hours and may stop to refuel in Alaska, adding two to three hours to their long journey. For international export, the typical time without feed, water, and rest for these horses is 20 to 22 hours, but there have been cases recorded that exceed this. It is currently legal for horses to be transported without feed, water, or rest for up to 28 hours. The BC SPCA strongly advocates that no animal should be transported without feed, water, or rest for more than eight hours – and that no horses should be flown under such circumstances.
Horses are at an increased risk of injury, dehydration, and fatigue as journey duration increases. Horses are a species that has evolved to graze and would normally spend over 65 per cent of their day eating. When horses are not fed regularly, they are at a much higher risk for painful and life-threatening conditions such as gastric ulcers and colic and will show signs of stress.
Once the horses arrive at their final destination, they no longer fall under Canadian jurisdiction, so it is unclear how these horses are then treated.
Developments in the fight to end Canada’s live horse export
- February 18 – Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) initiated a federal petition (e-3187) calling upon the government to stop air shipments of horses exported for human consumption, due to ongoing animal welfare concerns.
- April 29 – BC SPCA joined the CHDC and other animal protection organizations in sending a letter to the federal government urging action on this issue.
- June 18 – Petition e-3187 closed with a total of 77,684 signatures, making it the most-signed federal e-petition relating to animals in history.
- June 22 – Petition e-3187 presented to the House of Commons by MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.
- August 15 – The government was unable to table a response to the petition before Parliament was dissolved.
- December 16 – Banning the live export of horses for slaughter was included in the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
- November 9 – CHDC initiated another federal petition (e-4190) calling on the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to halt the live export of horses for slaughter, consistent with the Minister’s mandate letter.
- November 15 – BC SPCA sent a letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food asking about the status of their mandate to ban live horse export, requesting an updated timeline for banning the practice.
- February 7– Petition e-4190 closed with a total of 36,175 signatures.
- February 13 – Petition e-4190 presented to the House of Commons by MP Alistair MacGregor.
- March 29 – Government response to petition e-4190 was tabled, stating they are working to implement the mandate letter to ban live horse export.
- June 21 – Senator Pierre Dalphond introduced Bill S-270 to Senate to prohibit live horse export.
The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition has been at the forefront of this issue, and the BC SPCA has supported and will continue to support their work towards ending the live export of horses for slaughter.
Currently, we are awaiting the government’s response to petition e-4190. It has been over a year since the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was given the mandate to end the live export of horses for slaughter. Groups and individuals concerned about this issue have still not heard back from the Minister regarding progress on the ban. We encourage you to reach out to the Minister at Marie-Claude.Bibeau@parl.gc.ca to voice your concern for horses and ask for an update on the ban.
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