A glimpse inside Canada's 'sinister' horse meat industry
CALGARY -- Canada - and in particular Alberta - is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of horses for meat. More than 25,000 are slaughtered annually. The meat is frozen and exported, mainly to Japan, France and the U.S.
But what is most controversial is how the industry feeds the desire for fresh raw horse meat in Asia. Thousands of live horses are loaded onto airplanes annually and flown thousands of kilometres away, where they are fattened up for slaughter.
The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition describes that voyage as cruel and inhumane: “They are…stuffed...into small wooden crates, three to four horses per crate. Often, there isn't enough headroom. There's no room to lay down. They can't stretch out. Sometimes horses have fallen...during takeoff and landing,” executive director Sinikka Crosland tells W5.
The horses are flown almost weekly out of airports in Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. Their destination is 9,000 kilometres away in Kumamoto Prefecture, western Japan. Horse meat is a delicacy in Japan. The raw horse meat is called “basashi” and customers will pay as much as 8,000 yen or about $100 dollars a serving, in line with what Canadians pay for high-grade steak.
Activists have filed numerous access-to-information requests with government regulators to track how many horses are injured or killed during that lengthy journey. In 2014, a horse described as “agitated” kicked the fuselage of the plane and forced an emergency landing. The horse died. In 2018, a horse described as stressed and breathing heavily was “down in a crate.” It was euthanized when it couldn’t get back up. In 2020, five horses had falls and one was dead on arrival in Japan.
There is a growing global movement to end the transport of all live animals, not just horses. The British Parliament has announced plans to end the export of live animals for slaughter, describing the practice as inhumane.
Canadian veterinarian Judith Samson-French explains why travel is especially difficult for horses: “Horses are not trained or conditioned for transportation. Horses are flight animals and we're treating them like cattle. It doesn't work. So from the humane point of view... and the biology of the horse, it does not make it conducive for transportation. Animals should be slaughtered where they're raised. They should not be slaughtered an ocean away and put through the misery of transport.”
International standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health stipulate that large horses be segregated during transport and that the top of their head not touch the top of the crate. They do not have a mandate for compliance or enforcement. And while Canada is a member of the organization, this country does not follow those standards. Instead, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) maintains it is humane for horses to be crated in groups during the flights if they are “compatible” and that their heads can touch the top of the crate if they are “agitated.”
Canadian singer and television host Jann Arden is using her voice to advocate on behalf of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition in a campaign called #horseshit. From her recording studio in Calgary, Arden says watching the horses being loaded up at the Calgary airport has forever changed her.
“To watch horses go to their death. It's horrible. I wish I had never seen it. It'll be with me for the rest of my life, but because I'm able to bear witness, I can help them. This country was built on the back of a horse. We owe them a debt of gratitude. Are we horse people or are we this sinister part of agriculture?”
A petition to end the live export of horses has been launched in the House of Commons by Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, the MP for Beaches-East York in Toronto.
Watch “Flight Animals” Saturday at 7pm on W5