When the last legal (Florida’s Killing Fields) horse slaughtering facility in the U.S. was closed in 2007, the 100,000 horses that had been annually shackled and slashed on American soil had to be moved elsewhere. Mexico and Canada became logical destinations. In February 2010, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) released hours of videotape revealing abuse and cruelty at the Viandes Richelieu and Bouvry (North America’s largest horsemeat exporter) equine slaughterhouses.
Three distinguished veterinarians were asked to review the footage and offer analysis:
Dr. Mary Richardson notes the horses’ distress from unfamiliar loud music and wet, slippery (blood) floors. Shots, fired at improper distances (feet instead of inches), were off-target, thus requiring multiple rounds. The shooters showed no sense of urgency when reloading and did not always ensure unconsciousness before the hang and bleed (sometimes, the upside down horse would be shot again). No scientific methods for checking consciousness (corneal reflex, voluntary movements) were observed.
Dr. Mel Richardson reminds that horses are the ultimate flight-prey animal; they run at the first sign of danger. “Loud music echoing off the walls, horses whinnying in fear, people yelling and using whips and electric prods and the smell of blood and death all equate to equine hell. Bouvry and Richelieu are causing extreme pain and suffering to the horses in their facilities.”
Dr. Debi Zimmerman says that fear-producing stimuli abounds at both plants; Bouvry and Richelieu are creating “unacceptable levels of suffering, both emotionally and physically.” She adds: “At Richelieu, horses were routinely subjected to excessive whippings on their bodies, excessive use of electric prods (both stick and hand-held), and some struck repeatedly across their faces.” Horses were penned next to the stun box for hours and overcrowded in the kill-line (causing a panic that required still more harsh measures to regain control). One shooter “allowed a horse that became cast in the stun box, to flail about for almost three minutes while he carried on a casual conversation with a co-worker. …The shooter whipped an older and obviously lame horse (#93) 19 times.” Sometimes, against regulations, horses stood side-by-side while being felled.
Some Bouvry horses were likely conscious while being exsanguinated (shackled by one leg, neck slashed from both sides using a sawing motion). And some of these had their feet chopped off within 45 seconds of the slash; a full bleed-out takes several minutes. Imagine that.
Because these two abattoirs are the last to use .22-caliber rifles for stunning (which is, ironically, more humane than an unwieldy captive bolt taking aim at head-shy animals), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) instructed their inspectors to remain in a separate room while guns were being shot; i.e., no one was watching the kill floor to guarantee humane slaughter. This negligence was corrected only after the undercover video went public, almost three years after the CFIA directive went into effect.
Another Canadian plant (Natural Valley)…
This HSUS video (released before the last three U.S. slaughterhouses closed) shows an even worse state of affairs in Mexico. There, a small puntilla knife intending to sever the spinal cord (to immobilize, not desensitize) is plunged into the horse. Illegal in the U.S. and E.U., the still-conscious animal is then shackled to bleed-out.
As Canadian horse-slaughter expert Twyla Francois puts it: “[They are] so frightened. You can see them in the [auction] ring, that they search the ring looking for a friendly face. We have been comfort for them, and then we take them to slaughter. We see this at the slaughterhouses too, where they’re still seeking out affection from even the slaughterhouse workers themselves.”
“And one thing we saw that really broke my heart was, you would see the workers walking by the pens and the horses would rush the pens, looking for comfort from these men who were going to kill them. It just seems like such a betrayal. …nothing can prepare them for the journey they have ahead of them after they’ve been given up.”
To be clear, this is no commentary on the men paid to pull the trigger. To them, it’s only a job. Rather, the unspeakable sadness in Ms. Francois’ words comes from the knowledge of what went before. Many of these horses were once pets or pampered athletes (at least while they earned). They had names. They were treated kindly, even, at times, loved. Their trust was repaid with the auction block, tightly packed haulers, and Richelieu and Bouvry. Do her words not strike a chord? And the truth is, this vile business often represents the consequences of a sunny afternoon in Saratoga.