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Live horse exports to Japan – Know the facts

Horse meat is eaten in Canada and various countries in Europe, Asia and South America.

Horse meat is exported to Japan and other countries from facilities that are licensed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations. The CFIA provides inspection services as required for horse slaughter as it does for other food animals.

There is also market demand in Japan for fresh horse meat that is partially filled by live horse exports from Canada. Exported horses are fattened in Japan before being slaughtered.

The CFIA is aware that some Canadians object to the export of live horses.

It is important that discussions about live horse exports are based on correct information.

Humane treatment of horses being exported

The Health of Animals Act and Health of Animals Regulations establish requirements for the live exports of animals.

CFIA veterinary inspectors are present for each air shipment to certify the export as required by the Health of Animals Act.

CFIA inspectors work diligently to enforce the Health of Animals Act and Regulations and to verify that the horses are fit to travel and will be transported humanely. Additionally, the container and stocking density requirements of the Live Animal Regulations of the International Air Transport Association are incorporated by reference into the Health of Animal Regulations and must be met.

In December 2019, the Federal Court ruled that the CFIA is engaged in the protection of animal welfare during export and is reasonably exercising its discretion in the enforcement of the Health of Animals Act and Regulations.

Any Canadian exporter who has successfully negotiated a commercial contract with an importer in Japan and who can comply with Japan’s import conditions (as specified in an established health certificate) may export horses to Japan.

The CFIA does not have the authority to deny export shipments that are in compliance with the humane transport regulations and the requirements of the importing country.

Subsidization of live horse exports

The CFIA does not provide subsidies or financial assistance to any exporter.

The CFIA provides inspection and certification services to food, plant and animal exporters and charges cost-recovery fees at rates established by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Fees Notice.

Transport times for horses exported by air to Japan

Regardless of the mode of transport, the total allowable travel time without feed, water and rest for horses is the same. The limit under the Health of Animals Regulations is 28 hours; and this includes the full transport time (loading and unloading). The travel time starts from the time animals last receive feed and water and ends when they are again provided feed, water and rest.

The majority of air exports of horses to Japan depart from Calgary, and the flights take 10 to 12 hours. The combined land and flight travel in Canada and Japan can be completed in less than 28 hours.

Prior to February 2020, the maximum transport time was 36 hours. The CFIA is applying an education and awareness compliance approach as transporters adjust to the new lower limits.

Deaths of horses during export flights to Japan

The CFIA is aware of 5 horse deaths related to air shipments to Japan since 2013. Approximately 41,000 animals have been transported during this period, which is a mortality rate of 0.012%.

Sources of the horses being exported to Japan

Japan requires that horses being exported to Japan originate from Canada.

All horses exported to Japan require several vaccinations and blood tests. The horses are also required to be isolated from animals that are not being exported. The animal disease history of the premises where horses are kept prior to export must be known to complete the export certification.

Given Japan’s animal health requirements, companies supplying the Japanese market raise horses specifically for export purposes. It is not practicable for exporters to use wild horses or horses from auctions in Canada or the United States for exports to Japan.

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