Canadian Horses Face Harrowing Journey to Japanese Slaughterhouses

Canadian Horses Face Harrowing Journey to Japanese Slaughterhouses


In a practice that has sparked significant controversy and advocacy efforts, Canada has become a focal point for the export of live horses to Japan, where they are destined for slaughter and consumption.

This trade, deeply intertwined with cultural, ethical, and economic threads, raises profound questions about animal welfare, regulatory oversight, and the complexities of global food markets.

Canadian horses are exported for slaughter in Japan. Photo: Pexels
Canadian horses are exported for slaughter in Japan.

The Journey from Canada to Japan

Every year, thousands of Canadian horses embark on a long and arduous journey to Japan, a journey that begins in the vast expanses of Canadian feedlots and ends in the slaughterhouses of Japan. As CBC reports, these horses, primarily breeds like Clydesdales and Percherons, are raised explicitly for this purpose.

Critics of the practice describe the transport conditions as "horrific."

"When horses for slaughter are shipped, they are crammed into these crates," said Sinikka Crosland, of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition.

Approximately $23 million worth of fresh, chilled or frozen horse, donkey and mule meat was shipped to Japan, Switzerland, France, Italy and the United States during 2021, according to . According to the Globe and Mail, more than 14,500 horses worth almost $93 million have been shipped from Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg to Japan.

Annual exports involve thousands of horses. Photo: Pexels
Annual exports involve thousands of horses.

Regulatory Oversight and Challenges

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) plays a pivotal role in overseeing the export of live horses, ensuring compliance with both national and international regulations.

The CFIA asserts that its inspectors diligently enforce the Health of Animals Act and Regulations, with veterinary inspectors present for each air shipment to certify exports. However, incidents where these regulations appear to be breached have been reported, raising concerns about the efficacy of the oversight and the enforcement of humane treatment standards.

In December 2022, a notable case highlighted these concerns when a shipment of live horses to Japan exceeded the legal 28-hour limit for transport without food, water, or rest, leading to legal complaints and calls for governmental action from animal welfare advocates, according to the CBC.

Clydesdales and Percherons are primarily affected. Photo: Pexels
Clydesdales and Percherons are primarily affected.

Economic Implications and Cultural Contexts

The export of live horses to Japan is not only a matter of animal welfare but also an economic issue, with horses fetching high prices in the Japanese market. Proponents of the trade, like Lyle Lumax of Carolyle Farms, argue that this industry contributes significantly to the Canadian economy, providing income for farmers, feed suppliers, and others involved in the supply chain.

"My business depends on [getting] the horses to the plane in the best shape they can be, 100 per cent of the time. To get the meat for their restaurants, they need the horses there in the best possible shape," he told the CBC.

However, the practice of consuming horse meat, while a delicacy in some cultures, remains a contentious issue globally.

In Japan, horse meat is considered a prized ingredient in dishes like sashimi, where it is savored for its unique flavor and texture, reports Global News. This cultural acceptance contrasts sharply with perceptions in countries like Canada and the United States, where horses are often seen more as companions or working animals than as food sources.

Cultural differences in horse meat consumption fuel the trade. Photo: Pexels
Cultural differences in horse meat consumption fuel the trade.

Calls for Change

Amidst the ongoing debate, there have been increasing calls from advocacy groups and concerned citizens for a ban on the live export of horses for slaughter.

Prominent figures, such as Canadian musician Jann Arden, have lent their voices to this cause, urging for legislative action and greater public awareness. These efforts aim not only to halt the export of live horses but also to foster a broader dialogue on animal welfare, ethical food production, and the sustainability of current agricultural practices.

As Canada grapples with these complex issues, the fate of thousands of horses and the future of this trade hang in the balance. The conversation around the live export of horses for slaughter underscores the need for a nuanced approach that considers animal welfare, cultural practices, and economic realities in equal measure.

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Matthew Russell

Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.

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