Horses for EU export possibly treated with illegal substances - FVO

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

HSI called for a suspension on all horsemeat imports from Canada
HSI called for a suspension on all horsemeat imports from Canada

Related tags Horse Horse meat European union Eu

Horses for export into Europe may have been treated with illegal substances in Canada within the last 180 days before slaughter, according to a Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) report.

An audit found there are ‘serious concerns’ in relation to reliability of the controls over imported and domestic horses destined for export to the EU.

The FVO recommended testosterone and other substances, which are banned in food producing animals, are not used in horses from which meat is intended for export to the European Union.

Testosterone use

Testosterone is permitted in horses for food production (within 180 days prior to slaughter) in Canada. However, Articles 4 and 5 of Council Directive 96/22/EC prohibit its use.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said it will remove testosterone from the relevant section of the Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures (MHMOP) by June 2015.

“There are no official checks to verify the veracity of the EIDs [equine identification document] or whether the horses actually match the identifications registered on the EIDs,” ​said FVO’s audit report.

“The information contained in several EIDs checked by the FVO audit team appeared incomplete, unreliable or false. It can therefore not be ensured that horses slaughtered in Canada for export to the EU have not been treated with substances which are not permitted in the EU, in particular hormonal growth promotants.”

The Canadian rules for authorisation and use of veterinary medicinal products (VMPs) for horses are different from those in the EU, said FVO.

“…the lack of horse identification requirements until shortly before slaughter, the lack of a requirement to keep treatment records on holdings, and the lack of enforcement powers at holding level are different to the situation in the EU and undermine the competent authority’s guarantees regarding the use of substances in horses which are not permitted to be used in the EU.”

CFIA added it will work with industry to strengthen the ways and means of ensuring animal identification and treatment records are credible and complete for 180 days prior to slaughter.

HSI calls for suspension

Dr Joanna Swabe, Humane Society International’s EU executive director, said it has sounded the alarm about horsemeat entering the food chain from Canada that does not fully meet EU safety standards for years.

“FVO audits have consistently identified serious problems with the lack of traceability of American and Canadian horses slaughtered for export to the EU, particularly regarding veterinary medical treatment records,” ​she said.

“It is high time that the Commission takes action and suspends all horsemeat imports from Canada.”

Ewa Demianowicz, HSI/Canada campaign manager, said horsemeat produced in Canada poses serious health risks for consumers and CFIA regulations cannot guarantee it is compliant with EU food safety standards.

“It is appalling that the Canadian government has still failed to ban this practice, despite these risks and documented flaws.”

Broader audit

Findings were part of a broader audit in May last year to review the structure and operation of control systems in Canada's meat sector for export to Europe.

Trade statistics show a decline in exports of pork and casings from Canada to the EU from 2010 to 2013 while export of beef and bison meat dropped during the fiscal year 2010/11 but stabilised at a relative low level during the last two years.

Export of horse meat dropped during the fiscal year 2010/11 but has since stabilised at a level similar to what was found during an FVO audit in 2010.

The Canadian carcass sampling for pathogen reduction follows requirements similar to those of the US.

Each year 58 consecutive samples were taken from the most important species on each of the slaughter days using the swab method for Salmonella testing. 

The annual testing programme is completed if the results are considered to be acceptable, i.e. no more than two positive results out of the 58 samples tested. 

One sample per 300 horses slaughtered is to be taken for E coli testing, which in most of the establishments visited resulted in one sample per day. No sampling for total bacterial counts is required according to Canadian requirements.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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