Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More CFIA enforcement problems come to light

Inspectors Fear Workers Who Slaughter Horses

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is supposed to enforce regulations about the handling of animals during slaughter. It has come to light, however, that at horse slaughter facilities, inspectors were actually ordered to stay off the kill floors during slaughter.

Why? According to Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union that represents inspectors, out of fear for their safety. Kingston explained, "Anybody could just walk in, grab a rifle, and start shooting. Basically that's the way it was working. I mean, they had no idea whether the person using the firearms was qualified, was stable, or anything else."

Canadian officials fear inspectors will be injured or killed as workers manhandle and fire guns at horses. There may also be concern that inspectors will suffer post traumatic stress from observing such brutal treatment of animals. So they abandoned regulatory oversight of the slaughter process.

Horses in Canada are supposed to be stunned prior to slaughter with a rifle or captive bolt gun. (You may remember the captive bolt gun used by the serial killer in the film, No Country for Old Men.) Investigations have shown the horses are beaten, shocked and shoved during this inherently cruel and inhumane process. Commercial horse slaughter for human consumption is not legal in the U.S., but American horses are still sent to Canada, as well as Mexico, for slaughter.

Regulatory oversight doesn't mean much to a process that is inherently cruel and inhumane. From the moment horses enter the slaughter pipeline, and are transported to slaughter houses, until their deaths,they suffer terribly. Horses are flight animals, very sensitive to unusual noises or movements, especially around their heads and when they are trapped or cornered. It is impossible to hold horses' heads still to stun them effectively as required before slaughter. Imagine their terror as someone tries to stun them with a captive bolt gun. Repeated shots may be required, and it is no secret that, not only in Canada orMexico, but also when horse slaughter occurred in the U.S., horses were still conscious when they were slaughtered.

Indeed, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found in 2004 the most frequent violation noted by inspectors in slaughter houses was ineffective stunning, meaning "in many cases ... a conscious animal reach[ed] slaughter." GAO also noted there had been no effort made to stop the ineffective stunning and the records kept by inspectors were so poor, it was impossible to tell in a followup investigation that there had been any improvement.

The Canadian government's fear for its inspectors' safety during horse slaughter raises questions about what we are doing to ourselves, and our humanity, in allowing this inherently cruel and inhumane practice. Those who slaughter horses have become so desensitized and lacking in empathy in the way they handle the animals that they actually frighten government officials. In abandoning the slaughter process to these desensitized employees, the Canadian government, at least in horse slaughterhouses, has conceded it cannot control them.

A recent study by a University of Windsor criminologist, Amy Fitzgerald, shows a link between slaughterhouses and violent crime. Fitzgerald studied numbers from the FBI crime reporting database, census records and arrest reports from 581 U.S. counties over an 8 year period. She controlled for factors that might be said to account for increases in crime aside from the opening of a slaughterhouse, such as new residents, immigrants and the poor, and an influx of young men. What she found is that the existence of a facility where animals are slaughtered is somehow related to an increase in violent crime, and the more slaughterhouse employees in an area, the higher the crime rate.

The inherent cruelty of horse slaughter is disturbing as much because of what it does to us as human beings, as the fear and painful suffering it inflicts on horses.

Photo credit: jumpinghooves

Laura Allen is the founder of Animal Law Coalition, general counsel for Equine Welfare Alliance and Executive Board member for Saving America's Horses - A Nation Betrayed.

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