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Safety of Horse Meat

Industry's role

Industry is responsible for making sure that all meat sold in Canada is safe, as required by the Safe Food for Canadians Act and Regulations (SFCA and SFCR) and the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations (FDA and FDR).

CFIA's role

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) works closely with the meat industry to ensure they understand and comply with federal food safety requirements.

The CFIA verifies compliance by:

Phenylbutazone ("bute")

Phenylbutazone is a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory commonly used to treat lameness in horses. It belongs to the class of drugs called "non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs."

Health Canada regulates the use of veterinary drugs in Canada. Phenylbutazone is approved by Health Canada to be used in horses but is not approved for use in food-producing animals (including horses slaughtered for human consumption).

The agency has zero tolerance for phenylbutazone in food and monitors for residues of this and other veterinary drugs in food.

If the agency determines that there may be a food safety concern related to chemical residues in a particular product, the agency investigates and takes appropriate action based on the human health risk. The decision to conduct a recall for a product containing an unapproved veterinary drug is based on Health Canada's health risk assessment.

Results of CFIA testing for phenylbutazone residues

Since 2002, the agency has been regularly testing horse meat for phenylbutazone.

Results show a very high compliance rate for phenylbutazone residues.

Safeguards in place to verify that there is no phenylbutazone residues in horse meat

In July 2010, the agency made it mandatory for every horse (domestic or imported) presented for slaughter in Canadian federally regulated equine facilities to have a record of all illnesses, vaccinations and medications given in the previous 6 months. This is referred to as the Equine Information Document (EID).

The Equine Information Document is required under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations. Each document must be reviewed and signed by a CFIA veterinarian.

Horses presented for slaughter in Canada with incomplete EIDs are prevented from being slaughtered for human consumption.

Other countries, including Japan and European Union countries, do their own testing of horse meat imported from Canada. Canada is informed if any food safety issues are identified by these importing countries.

CFIA enforcement

Industry is responsible for taking corrective action if phenylbutazone is detected in horse meat. The agency has a range of enforcement options, including product destruction, recall and licence suspension – to ensure that industry takes effective action in response to residue findings.

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