An animal welfare group is suing a department of the Canadian government over the transportation of horses — a first-of-its-kind case in the country.
The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition has launched a lawsuit against the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for the allegedly unlawful, unethical manner in which it is shipping horses to Japan to be slaughtered for human consumption. It will be heard at the Federal Court of Canada.
In the Notice of Application, the applicant argues that the CFIA’s interpretation of the Health of Animals Act is unlawful, resulting in the distress, injuries and deaths of horses in transit. The Health of Animals Regulations state that horses more than 14 hands in height must be separated during air travel and the animals should be able to stand in a natural position without hitting the roof, which isn’t always the case for the exported horses.
“Under the Health of Animals Regulations, horses being exported have to be inspected by veterinary inspectors, and the veterinary inspectors have a form they fill out. Basically, the gist of it is whether or not that shipment complies with the regulations,” says Rebeka Breder, an animal law lawyer at Breder Law, who is representing the CHDC. “What we find very odd is that most of the time, there are horses over 14 hands in height not segregated, yet the veterinary inspectors are completing the forms that they’re abiding by the regulations, which in our view, they’re not.”
The CFIA and a representative for Gwen MacIssac, counsel at the Department of Justice Canada who is representing the CFIA, declined comment as the case remains before the court.
According to the Notice of Application, the CFIA maintains that the netting material overhead isn’t considered “part of a roof” and that they permit the non-segregation of horses more than 14 hands in height if the horses get along. This is determined by the veterinary inspectors on the ground, who Breder says can’t possibly establish the horses’ compatibility in the short time the examination takes place.
In fact, HAR ss. 141(8) and 142(a) outlines that CFIA is prohibited from waiving the inspection of horses before export. The applicant argues the respondent’s conduct in the method of interpreting HAR and the Health of Animals Act and waiving/not applying the legal requirements for animal transport is an error in law.
The Canadian government isn’t the party paying for the horses to be shipped to Japan, although it does oversee the compliance of the regulations. Kill buyers — people who purchase the horses for slaughter and could be located anywhere in the world — pay for transportation. The Notice of Application states the CFIA is interpreting the regulations in a manner that satisfies these industry and business interests.
“In my view, it begs the question if the government, if the CFIA, truly is concerned about the welfare of horses, then why does it not ship only two horses together per crate, as opposed to three or four?” says Breder.
Animal law lawyer Camille Labchuk, who’s the executive director of Animal Justice (not directly involved in the case), says that the CFIA not enforcing the regulations and continuing to practise illegal transport methods for the horses contradicts the rule of law.
“I think this [case] raises some really fundamental issues that go to the core of what the government should be doing to protect animals who are being transported,” says Labchuk.
The issue of food safety, while not part of the lawsuit, is also at play. There aren’t any health regulations guaranteeing the safety of horse meat for human consumption.
Since horses aren’t typically raised for consumption, they’re often pumped with drugs throughout their lifetime, including a common drug — phenylbutazone (also known as bute). If a horse were on this drug, it would be in its meat.
Currently, there aren’t any legal regulations marking how much bute is allowed to be present in the meat and that’s because it’s unknown as to how much bute is safe for human consumption.
Breder says she’s frequently asked why this specific case is important to her when other animals, such as cows and pigs, are already transported and slaughtered for food here in Canada.
She says horses are a flight animal and tend to startle and scare easier than other animals, making it harder to kill them when they’re trying to escape the assembly line, which results in a more greatly inhumane method of slaughter.
“It’s very hard to actually kill them quickly because they’re trying to run away. There have been reports where up to 11 shotgun hits were done on a single horse because they’re trying to get away,” she says.
Labchuk believes that the topic of animal law regulation enforcement is increasing in prevalence and will be on the public radar more so now than in the past.
“Enforcement is emerging as a real hot topic in animal law and that agency, to continue to fail to do their job, is going to continue to face increased scrutiny,” she says.
Discovery for the case is scheduled to take place Jan. 29-30 in Ottawa.