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Horse meat is big business in Alberta

Canadians consume about 650,000 pounds of horse meat and export about 30 million pounds of it each year, with most coming from the province best known for its cattle.

“Probably two-thirds of the Canadian processing is done in Alberta,” said Bill desBarres of the Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada, an advocacy group for the horse-meat industry.

While some might bristle at the thought of slaughtering horses for food, advocates like desBarres believe it’s the best end-of-life options for many of the animals.

“It’s the most humane option – for horses that qualify – to go to processing,” he said. “But the horse must qualify. It can’t have phenylbutazone administered in the life of the horse, for instance. That’s a painkiller that does not have a designated withdrawal time.”

Horses that have consumed other drugs can qualify after spending sufficient time on a feedlot for the drugs to clear their systems, desBarres said.

Other groups, however, like the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, say it’s impossible to guarantee that horses sent for slaughter are free of such drugs, and point to cases where trace elements of substances considered unsafe for humans have shown up in horse meat.

“With such random, scanty testing protocols in place, one can only imagine how many drug-positive horses slip through the cracks,” CHDC executive director Sinikka Crosland said in a statement.

Bruce Flewelling, who buys and sells horses for meat in Alberta, said processing may be distasteful to some – including his own father, who was an avid horseman – but he prefers it to simply burying or cremating horses at the end of their lives.

“With processing, you get something out of the horse,” he said.

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