Fact Sheet: Medications and US Horsemeat

Veterinarians for Equine Welfare (VEW) welcomes the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's new policy regarding equine health and medical treatments, but also remains cautious about its actual implementation and impact.

The policy recently announced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) with assistance from the Veterinary Drug Directorate (VDD) of Health Canada was in response to stricter requirements recently mandated by the European Union. The new policy states that, "it will be mandatory for all CFIA inspected facilities in Canada engaged in the slaughter of equines for edible purposes to have complete records for all animals (domestic and imported) presented for slaughter. These records will include unique identification for each animal, as well as a record of medical treatments administered to the animal for the six-month period preceding slaughter."

It is the united opinion of the VEW that it is beyond the scope of our profession to comment on the culinary practices of any person or country; however, consumer safety of meat produced in our country is very much a responsibility that veterinarians must carefully consider.

Horses, unlike traditional food animals in the United States, are not raised or medicated during their lifetime with the intent of one day becoming human food.  Because American horses are not "intended" for the human food chain, throughout their lives they will often have received medications that are banned by the FDA for use at any time during the life of food animals.
Click here for list of drugs prohibited for use in horses slaughtered for human consumption.

Approved use of medications in food animals is specifically contingent upon observation of recommended withdrawal times. Withdrawal times have been experimentally determined in traditional food animals; however, withdrawal times for these drugs have not been established in horses. Thus, medications that are FDA approved for use in traditional food animals come with specific withdrawal schedules printed on the packaging, while the same medications, purchased for horses do not include the requisite withdrawal schedule, but simply state "NOT FOR USE IN HORSES INTENDED FOR FOOD".

Unlike the United States, European Union and United Kingdom member countries have a distinct safety policy with regard to horses entering the food chain. All EU/UK horses must carry "
equine passports" in which the animal is declared to be either "eligible for slaughter as human food ", or "not eligible for slaughter for human food".

Any EU or UK horse, which has ever received a medication that is banned for use in food producing animals, is forever prohibited from entering the food chain. All food animal approved medications that are prescribed and administered to horses in the EU or UK have strict withdrawal schedules printed on the packaging and all such medications must also be recorded on the equine passport. The EU/UK system is designed specifically to ensure the health and safety of humans that consume horsemeat. In contrast, even with the new CFIA policy American horses treated with medications that are absolutely prohibited by the EU will still be entering the food chain.

It is the strong position of VEW members that absent any formal regulation or structure by the United States with regard to medications and food safety withdrawal schedules for equines entering the food chain, horsemeat derived from any U.S. horse can never be regarded as safe for human consumption.

Furthermore, VEW member veterinarians strongly object to the AVMA and AAEP position in favor of horse slaughter for human consumption. For the AVMA and AAEP to condone the human consumption of meat derived from equines that have not been raised or medicated in a manner consistent with food safety regulations is, in our opinion, unethical, disingenuous, and dangerous.

Click here to view the
entire CFIA policy and list of drugs covered.  To read VEW's statement regarding our strong opposition to slaughtering horses for human consumption please visit www.vetsforequinewelfare.org.
 
(updated February 2010)