An animal rights group alleges that horses destined for slaughter were mistreated during transportation from Edmonton International Airport to Japan earlier this month.

Karin Nelson from “Voice for Animals,” a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting animals, recalled seeing approximately 90 horses crammed into wooden crates sitting on the airport tarmac for seven hours before they were loaded onto a plane.

“You could hear the horses stomping and kicking in the crates,” Nelson told CTV Edmonton on Tuesday.

The animal advocate took photos and filmed video of the horses which she said were overcrowded in too-small crates.

Nelson said there were about three or four horses in each crate and some of the horses’ ears were touching the ceiling of the enclosures.

“What happens when they’re so tightly packed is that, if a horse goes down, they have no chance of getting up,” she explained.

The horses Nelson observed were on their way to Japan to be slaughtered for their meat. While sending horses to Japan for slaughter is an accepted and legal practice, Nelson’s group believes the treatment the animals endure during transport needs to be addressed.

“Most people that I talk to when I tell them this is happening, they’re shocked,” she said. “It’s just not something that is generally acceptable in Canadian society.”

Nelson sent the footage of the horses at Edmonton International Airport to The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, an organization devoted to the welfare of horses in particular.

The group’s executive director, Sinikka Crosland, said Edmonton is the third Canadian city to have its airport used to send horses to Japan for slaughter, after Winnipeg and Calgary. She said Calgary used to have weekly horse shipments to Japan at one point in time.

Since 2002, the Canadian Horse Defenders Coalition has been urging the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to crack down on airlines, shippers and buyers that don’t follow the rules for transporting horses.

“I think all of these parties are part and parcel of the problem,” Crosland said. “The CFIA is actually turning a blind eye to what’s going on.”

The CFIA did not respond to a request for comment, but a March, 2016 letter from the agency said the Edmonton International Airport is equipped to support the air travel of horses and is a departure point for slaughter shipments to Japan.

With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Shanelle Kaul