What they DON’T want you to know…
This article has been a major collaborative effort. Within these pages you will find absolute, scientific proof that horse meat from the US is deadly. To dispute these facts is to deny any role that science plays in research of the effects of chemicals on the human body. For those in the US, this tells of why a Federal system once concerned about food safety decided to bend the rules to benefit a few foreign companies. For those in the horse meat eating countries, read closely, for this will tell you why you are not feeling well at all. While long and detailed, this knowledge is vital to those wanting to know the truth about horsemeat and drugs.
It is not a secret that horses in America are not considered food animals but are rather regarded as large companions or athletes, bred to trust their human masters, provide them leisure and to perform at the track like professional sportsmen, and as such, horses are raised, fed and medicated in a totally different fashion than real food animals like beef cattle, sheep or pigs. Never considered part of the food chain in this country (not even in the hardest times, where it was sold primarily to poor European immigrants as a cheap replacement for beef), horses are routinely administered all kinds of drugs, food supplements and miscellaneous substances that, under current American and European laws, theoretically prohibits them from being used as human food yet, last year alone, more than seventy million pounds of tainted horsemeat from America’s pet horses were sent abroad for human consumption.
- Box of a preparation of phenylbutazone commonly sold throughout the United States. Note the warning on the right “Not for use in horses intended for food”. Still, everyday hundreds of US horses treated with this drug are slaughtered for gourmet meals in continental Europe.
There is not virtually any barn in the United States where we can’t find in the medicine cabinet a number of different drugs used in common horse husbandry that are clearly labeled “Not for use in Horses intended for food”. Still, the meat of these animals is being sold top-dollar overseas as nothing short of a “therapeutic meat”, to quote Swiss horsemeat butcher and known peddler of Dallas Crown’s wares Max Marki, proprietor of a boucherie chevaline at the Boulevard du Pont d’Arve, Geneva.
While agribusiness has always disregarded and even derided food safety regulations –claiming they know better- in an effort to gain a competitive edge either by reducing production costs or by increasing raw material yield, the truth is that those regulations are there for a good reason. It wasn’t all that long ago when it was common for people to die after eating contaminated food, forcing governments to create agencies to oversee the food chain, slaughtering and handling practices in order to prevent sharp practice. Advancements in chemistry further complicated the picture by placing on the market a number of substances used to treat a variety of medical conditions in animals which, when misused or used with fraudulent purposes in food-producing animals, may irreparably harm the health of those eating such contaminated meat.
The horsemeat industry settled in America and keeps supplying itself from US horses because fully grown animals of optimal slaughter age –between 10 and 15 years old- are very expensive to raise for slaughter somewhere else, remarkably in Europe, which lacks vast grasslands and where farmers find highly uneconomical to raise and feed horses for longer than two years. According to Jean-Claude Terraillon, another Geneva horsemeat wholesaler and retailer, “the older the horse, the more tender it is; it’s the opposite of other meats”, hence putting a prize on animals in the apogee of their lives.
Unlike the United States, European countries where horse meat is most popular are rather small and highly urbanized. Save for preppies and upper classes, most people live concentrated in urban areas, dwelling in vast blocks of staggering condos while rural areas are reduced and highly industrialized, making unfeasible the establishment of meat horse farms, less the development of a live horse industry large enough to keep supplying the horsemeat industry with animals of the desired age, American style. In Europe riding and sport horses are for the most part regarded as true luxury “items”, icons of monetary prowess and social status of their owners, as only the wealthiest can provide for their expensive upkeep. They are too few and too expensive to be turned into fillets. On the contrary, the United States has an abundance of horses of optimal slaughter age due to systematic overbreeding and, in addition, is a very large country with big rural areas, hay is relatively cheap and a lot of people own horses for a variety of reasons, not just the wealthiest elites. The Belgian horsemeat cartel found in AQHA’s overbreeding throwaway policies a match made in heaven.
However, Americans do not regard their horses as food sources, in fact most horse owners are not aware (nor expect) their animals could end up in someone’s plate (and those who do expect it to happen don’t give a damn), and thus they don’t consider the potential danger for those to those consuming American horsemeat when medicating their animals. Nonetheless, the profits obtained by the Belgian-owned horsemeat corporations by purchasing American horses at a way lower price of what a similar animal would cost in Europe are just too high, too juicy to let them go… so the horsemeat cartel preferred to look the other way and play its cards with local and European food safety authorities to make sure the import window is kept well open, all while playing roulette with the health of unsuspecting consumers lured into purchasing “therapeutic meat” (never better said, as it is full of chemicals to treat equine diseases), in a reckless attitude similar to that leading to the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (“mad cow disease”) European crisis during the early 90’s.
Anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, antibiotics, anti-parasitic and other biocides, hormones and even some food supplements and pesticides given or applied to American horses all end up in the plates of European bourgeoisies and discerning “food connoisseurs”. The problem is that these substances are known to be unsafe on humans and to cause dangerous kidney, liver and blood pathologies plus, irremediably, cancer. Others are known to be teratogenic, that is, causing genetic damage resulting in developmental malformations. In fact, some of these drugs were used long ago on humans but were quickly removed from the market and relegated to other uses in which their toxicity is not an issue (like horse veterinary medicine) when it was proved they were linked to several deaths and cancer cases after their administration. On some other cases (remarkably some kind of antibiotics) their use in humans is relegated to emergencies in which the benefits of the treatment outweigh its inherent toxicity and its side effects, including the much dreaded resistance of bacteria to current antibiotic formulations.
“They eat nothing but grass”
Bearing in mind such negative effects on human health it is understandable why authorities both in the US and abroad prohibit animals treated with such drugs from entering the human food chain. And therefore, pursuant to Section 530.41 of Title 21 of US Code of Federal Regulations, several provisions of the Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act (21 U.S.C. §301 et seq.), provisions of European Commission (EU) Regulation No. 37/2010 and European Council Directive 96/22/EC several medicines commonly used in horse husbandry in the US have been totally banned from use in animals (regardless of species) intended to be slaughtered for human food, notably:
- Phenylbutazone: Banned for use in all food animals (the label directly indicates it is only for horses not intended for slaughter). In Europe, while phenylbutazone is not included in Table 2 (banned substances) of Commission Regulation No. 37/2010, it is not listed either in Commission (EC) Regulation No. 1950/2006 establishing a list of allowed substances if a six-month withdrawal period is observed, so any animal treated with this drug is categorically excluded from the food chain, particularly horses, whose treatment with this drug must be stated in the European Equine Identification Document (Equine Passport) and subsequently signed out of the food chain in the aforesaid document
- Clenbuterol (Ventipulmin)
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES)
- Ipronidazole and other nitroimidazoles (including metronidazole)
- Furazolidone, Nitrofurazone, other nitrofurans
- Dapsone (4-[(4-aminobenzene)sulfonyl]aniline)
- Glycopeptides (antibiotics such as vancomycin)
- Gentian violet (Tris(4-(dimethylamino)phenyl)methylium chloride)
- Aristolochic acid (8-methoxy-6-nitrophenanthro[3,4-d][1,3]dioxole-5-carboxylic acid) and preparations thereof
- Hormonal steroids for growth promotion purposes (testosterone, progesterone, trenbolone and derivatives)
- Anabolic or gestagenic steroids for therapeutic and/or zootechnical purposes (boldenone and estrogens such as 17ßestradiol, estriol, and other sex hormones).
- All ß-agonists (e.g. compounds belonging to the Clenbuterol family)
- Stilbenes ((E)-1,2-Diphenylethene and isomers), salts and esters.
- Thyrostats (Thyroid hormones, derivatives like Levothyroxine and their agonist such as thiouracils and sulfur-containing imidazoles)
In addition, pursuant to European Commission (EC) Regulation No. 1950/2006, some substances deemed to be essential for the treatment of horses are allowed to be used in animals intended for slaughter, provided a minimum withdrawal period of six months is observed in order for such compounds to reach Commission established Maximum Residue Limit (MRLs), for example:
- Altrenogest (gestagenic agent, MRLs set to 1 μg/kg in fat and 0.9 μg/kg in liver)
- Carprofen (NSAID with uses similar to phenylbutazone but less potent; MRLs set to 500 μg/kg in muscle, 1,000 μg/kg in fat, liver and kidney)
- Cefquinome (antibiotic; MRLs set to 100 μg/kg in liver and 200 μg/kg in kidney)
- Ceftiofur (antibiotic; MRLs set to 1,000 μg/kg in muscle, 2,000 μg/kg in fat and liver and 6,000 μg/kg in kidney)
- Dexamethasone (corticosteroid; MRLs set to 0,75 μg/kg in muscle, 2 μg/kg in liver and 0.75 μg/kg in kidney)
- Febantel, Fenbendazole and oxfendazole sulphone (antiparasitic agent; MRLs set to 50 μg/kg in muscle, fat and kidney and 500 μg/kg in liver)
- Firocoxib (NSAID; MRLs set to 10 μg/kg in muscle and kidney, 15 μg/kg in fat and 60 μg/kg in liver).
- Flunixin (NSAID; MRLs set to 10 μg/kg in muscle, 20 μg/kg in fat, 100 μg/kg in liver and 200 μg/kg in kidney)
- Ivermectin (antiparasitic agent; MRLs set to 100 μg/kg in fat and liver and 30 μg/kg in kidney)
- Kanamycin (antibiotic; MRLs set to 100 μg/kg in muscle and fat, 600 μg/kg in liver and 2,500 μg/kg in kidney)
- Mebendazole (antiparasitic agent; MRLs set to 60 μg/kg in muscle, fat and kidney and 400 μg/kg in liver)
- Meloxicam (NSAID; MRLs set to 20 μg/kg in muscle and 65 μg/kg in liver and kidney)
- Metamizole (NSAID; MRLs set to 100 μg/kg in all relevant tissues)
- Moxidectin (antiparasitic agent; MRLs set to 50 μg/kg in muscle, and kidney , 500 μg/kg in fat and 100 μg/kg in liver)
- Neomycin (antibiotic; MRLs set to 500 μg/kg in muscle, fat and liver and 5,000 μg/kg in kidney)
- Trimethoprim (anti-infectious and chemotherapy agent; MRLs set to 100 μg/kg in all relevant tissues)
- Vedaprofen (NSAID; MRLs set to 50 μg/kg in muscle, 20 μg/kg in fat, 100 μg/kg in liver and 1,000 μg/kg in kidney)
Moreover, all substances for which MRLs could not be set according to pertinent EU regulations should never be administered to animals intended for slaughter, an example is, once more time, phenylbutazone.
All the drugs listed above are routinely given to horses in a daily basis throughout the United States, especially those involved in racing. But not only medicines are administered to American equines, other compounds not catalogued per se as “medicines” are also frequently given to US horses, such as dimethyl sulfoxide (an lab grade polar aprotic solvent used as a liniment on horses to treat sore legs), protein supplements and, much like beef cattle, bone meal, which is a known vector for BSE or “mad cow” disease.
Nevertheless, although the European-owned horse slaughter corporations are perfectly aware of this fact, they continue sourcing their stock from American horses on a cost basis, to the detriment of unsuspecting, gullible consumers duped into purchasing toxic meat passed off as a “safe”, drug-free sliming wonder coming from wild horses that never receive the noxious substances and industrial fodder given to food-producing cattle in factory farms. “The Americans pretty much let them roam free. They eat nothing but grass — not the kind of (expletive) you feed to pigs,” said Marki on a 2005 article published in the Contra Costa Times. Next to a sign in Mr. Marki’s shop reading “horse meat origin USA”, appears a logo of a prancing steed with the unmistakable brand “Dallas Crown, Inc. Texas, USA”.
Horsemeat fans could claim that for many of these medicines there are established withdrawal periods and that the Canadian and Mexican drug residue control programs make sure both such withdrawal periods are observed and that established MRLs are never exceeded but evidence, official and independent alike, show otherwise.
- A dish of “cheval tartar” (horse raw meat patty) served in an upper-class restaurant. Despite the fancy presentation, the promises of unequaled taste and the high price of the dinner’s bill, it is nothing but a time-fused chemical bomb that can potentially kill you.
In first place, there is not a established withdrawal period for many of substances commonly used to treat equine ailments (notably phenylbutazone plus those included in Table II of European Commission (EU) Regulation No. 37/2010) since these build up in equine tissues and never completely leave the body system, therefore not being possible to establish MRLs. This is implies that no matter how much time elapses between the last dose and slaughter, the toxic compounds will remain in the meat and, eventually, be transferred up the food chain, accumulating on its upper links (i.e. in people), where they can therefore break havoc.
Second, although withdrawal periods and assorted mechanisms to prevent banned substances from reaching the consumer’s plate have in place in the European Union since 1996 (at least on paper), such mechanisms are a novelty when it comes to American horsemeat exports, assuming they are actually implemented as intended by Brussels, as will be set forth later. The six-month withdrawal period required by EU legislation on substances included in Regulation No. 1950/2006 was not fully implemented by Canadian and Mexican authorities until early 2010 (coming finally into effect on July 31 2010), several months after they were officially requested to do so by the European Commission’s Health and Consumers Directorate General Food and Veterinary Office (DG-SANCO FVO) in a letter sent to all countries not belonging to the European Union that were exporting horsemeat into it, following a series of audits (such as Mexico’s 2008 audit, discovering an unsettling number of critical traceability, hygiene and drug residue / microbiological monitoring program deficiencies) revealing that the majority of third countries, if not all, exporting horsemeat into the EU authorize or tolerate the administration to horses of substances explicitly prohibited or not allowed for use in horses intended for slaughter for human food and that neither veterinary treatment records are kept (so as to enable the eventual recall of a batch of contaminated horsemeat upon revision of the drug treatment records) nor there are any system in place to separate horses intended for slaughter (which must never be given any banned substance and observe the 180-day withdrawal period for the rest of drugs listed in Regulation No. 1950/2006) and the rest of equines not intended for slaughter, which are understood to never be allowed to enter the food chain as they are administered banned substances that are of usual, if not virtually necessary, use in common horse husbandry practices. Said audits raised concerns amongst the FVO’s inspection unit at Grange, Ireland, that horsemeat being sold in shops across Europe could be potentially contaminated with dangerous chemicals posing a significant danger to the population and therefore requiring exporting third countries to adopt corrective measures bringing their regulations in line with EU’s ones as regards to traceability, treatment record keeping, banned substance usage and segregation of equines treated with them.
This means that, for decades, thousands of people in Belgium, France, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and several other countries have been secretly fed contaminated, poisonous meat without neither European nor local production authorities (i.e. American, Canadian and Mexican ones) doing a single thing to prevent it. The situation was much more direr back in the 80’s and the 90’s, when the European Union was still pretty much in the drawing board and the horse slaughter plants only had to deal directly with the Belgian custom authorities and the primitive, easily rigged paperwork controls it carried out. It is not difficult to imagine how the Belgian Ministry of Agriculture cleared these imports of any serious testing thorough a sketchy “collaboration agreement” with USDA or similar bureaucratic artifice to further national economic interests and gaining the favor of the deep pockets of the horsemeat cartel.
As a result of the aforesaid letter, Canada and Mexico implemented in 2010 traceability systems, deemed “compatible with EU-standards”, to identify all equines presented for slaughter at EU-approved plants, keep a record of the veterinary drugs administered to such animals during their “lifetime” and, theoretically, exclude from the food chain those that received banned substances or that didn’t observe the 180-withdrawal period. But even now that local Canadian and Mexican regulations have been adapted to EU standards this does not necessarily mean enforcement or implementation is actually effective.
The traceability/drug record monitoring concept is implemented in the European Union by means of the Equine Passport, a compulsory official document (all horses must have one) that identifies all equines in European countries older than six-months and which not only contains a record of the medicines administered to the horse during its lifetime with accurate dates but also a record of its owners/associated premises plus allows to segregate animals intended for slaughter from those that aren’t (e.g. because they received banned substances and are thus unfit for human consumption). For such purpose there is a field available to directly sign the horse out from the slaughter pipeline from the beginning, making it ineligible for slaughter. Additionally, if phenylbutazone and other banned substances have been administered to the horse, the aforesaid field must be checked off by the veterinary practitioner prescribing the treatment, automatically excluding the animal from slaughter. The system is further reinforced by mandatory microchipping, which additionally prevents the forging of passports for fraudulent purposes. All equines presented for slaughter in European countries must have a matching Equine Passport / microchip at the time of the killing to prevent ineligible animals from entering the food chain; once the horse is slaughtered, the passport is invalidated and returned to the Passport Issuing Organization (usually the Ministry of Agriculture, or a government-authorized entity such as a breed registry depending on local legislation) for archive. If no passport is presented at the slaughter plant or it has incongruous information, the animal is separated from the conveyance, held at the plant and either euthanized or returned to the owner/dealer; charges might be later filed against them or the veterinary practitioner if fraud was attempted. Of course no horse whose passport indicates it has been signed out from the slaughter pipeline could be accepted at an abattoir.
The system implemented in Canada and Mexico is far less complex than the EU equine passport and, although it was eventually accepted by the European Commission because “it was deemed to further the same final purpose”, it presents a series of critical flaws that render both the Canadian and Mexican schemes totally useless if we take a serious approach to food safety.
Neither the Canadian nor the Mexican systems require compulsory registration of all equines in the country from birth; it only requires identification of animals presented for slaughter for human consumption. While national databases may exist or might be implemented in the future for that purpose they are not currently used to identify slaughtered horses (as opposed to the unitary database used in the European model). Microchipping is not compulsory either for all equines in the country. It is only mandatory to microchip horses bound for slaughter and just a few days prior to slaughter (usually between one and eight days, the time they stay at collection centers, i.e. slaughter feedlots). The picture is further complicated if we take into account there are two types of slaughter-bound horses: those killed to supply national demand (especially in Mexico), which are not required to be identified or microchipped, and “EU eligible” animals, those whose meat is intended for export to the European Union and to which the new “traceability” system applies.
Unlike the European equine passport, the Canadian and the Mexican traceability systems are not based on a single book-type document, printed on government-stamped paper, which accompanies the horse throughout its life and keeps a detailed record of medications, owners and premises. Instead they simply consist on an ad-hoc paper form denominated EID (Equine Information Document) that contains some basic information about the owner/dealer (killer buyer), an attached picture or, in its absence, an schematic drawing showing the horse’s markings and, in place of the complete medications and premises record found in the European equine passport, a paltry “sworn statement” (we are reluctant to call that an actual affidavit) in which the vendor, in many cases directly the killer buyer, merely declares that, to his knowledge, the horse has been under his property for at least six months, that it has not been treated with any veterinary drug for six months and that it has never been administered any of the substances whose use is totally banned in food producing animals (those of table II of European Commission Regulation No. 37/2010). Neither the Canadian or Mexican food safety agencies check for the authenticity of such affidavits, nor carry out ante-mortem drug detection tests on animals covered by them, trusting in the “honor” of the killer buyer signing them. The EID forms are later archived at the slaughter plants, which are responsible of keeping “accurate” records of all EIDs.
In such forms there is not any reference to legislation or to penalties for signing a false affidavit or forging public documents whatsoever. There is no indication it is an “official” document. In some cases, Mexican EIDs don’t bear any SENASICA or SAGARPA headers making it look like a homebrew forgery of the real document; some are poorly translated. In some Canadian examples, a header reading “Richelieu Meat Version 4.3” appears pre-impressed in the upper right corner of documents associated to horses killed at a plant that has nothing to do with Viande Richelieu, Inc. (it was actually Les Viandes De La Petite-Nation, Inc.), which could be led to believe that either the documents were filled out by the killer buyer (instead of the vendor) with whatever form we had at the time or that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Viande Richelieu, Inc. are quite in connivance with each other. All these irregularities add nothing but further concern about the adequacy of a system that was hastily implemented with the sole goal of keeping the foreign-owned horse slaughter plants open instead of protecting the health of consumers abroad, as was officially stated.
- Overview of a Canadian Equine Information Document or EID. There are no CFIA logos or header, no official CFIA rubber-stamps, no vet seal; there is no nothing! How can a paper sheet anyone can print at home and fill in with whatever he wants provide any kind of traceability or reliable guarantee on drug treatment records? Picture courtesy of the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition.
Both the Canadian and the Mexican systems can only ensure traceability to the last holding of origin, in case of horses of national precedence, or to the last collection center (border slaughter feedlots, like the Morton or the Presidio ones) in the case of horses imported from the United States. No data whatsoever is available about where such horses were before, who their owners were or which drugs received prior arriving to the last holding (the killers’ feedlot). The picture is further aggravated by the fact most –if not virtually all- horses slaughtered at these plants for export to the European Union come from the United States. Taking into account that, according to EU auditors, horses at Canadian and Mexican slaughter collection centers stay between one day and one week before being sent to the plant, and that the ages of most animals slaughtered range between 7 and 15 years, this means that the ratio of actual traceable lifespan provided by the Canadian and Mexican EID system is of just 0.009 – 0.065 points for a seven year-old equine, an amount of time so ridiculously exiguous that is difficult to take such system seriously. Where has been this equine during the previous seven years? Which ailments suffered? Was it raced in the past or was a brood mare given hormones to induce estrus? Had it laminitis and was given phenylbutazone to control pain? Who knows? Who cares?
The inherent limited scope and faulty nature of both the Canadian and the Mexican EID systems, relying solely in the “good faith” and “honor” of those signing the affidavit (which are not even Canadian or Mexican nationals to begin with, making their prosecution by these countries’ authorities impossible), cause them to be particularly vulnerable to falsification and other forms of fraud. On a study conducted on June 2011 by the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition (CHDC) titled Pasture to Plate revealed numerous irregularities in the EIDs of horses slaughtered during those days at Les Viandes De La Petite-Nation, Inc. plant in Quebec. Upon review, the 63 EIDs examined by CHDC scored a complete fail grade. All have some form of omission or false information such incomplete owner and dealer names and addresses, people listed as “owners” using phone numbers actually belonging to a killer buyer, to horses whose description in the EID do not match the provided pictures, showing the EIDs were not filled out and signed by the previous owner, as mandated by law, but by the very killer buyers or by US auction house operators, at best, parties who all have a vested interest in overriding the already insufficient 180-day withdrawal period in order to cash in as soon as possible with a total disregard for laws and the safety of European consumers. Sloppy statements such as “Drug-free Six Months” conveniently put across the top, all with same handwriting and the same red pen color, are found in many EIDs. In another flagrant example, one particular killer buyer or “agent” was found to consistently use a stamp to fill out the EIDs, not only rendering the document invalid (as it requires a real signature, not a stamped or “pasted” one) but also setting an alarming precedent as far as paperwork for food safety issues is concerned. In no case the signature of the owner or the dealer is counterchecked against a copy of their respective national ID cards or passports to verify its truthfulness, as is usual for affidavits in European countries (which additionally require notarial attestation of the affidavit’s signature, plus chain authentication or apostillation of documents issued by foreign governments or officials, in this case the notary’s attestation). This irremediably leads to question whether all EIDs are false or invalid, if not downright fabricated at the plants.
- Canadian EID document showing a pre-printed Microsoft Word header hinting the file was printed at or obtained from Viande Richelieu, Inc. Why does an official Canadian government document bear the name of a privately-owned horse killing corporation? Picture courtesy of the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition.
Pro-slaughter proponents may argue these evidences don’t arise from an official, government-sanctioned source but, much to their dismay, this is not the case. These evidences were not only uncovered as a result of investigations carried out by equine welfare advocates but also acknowledged by European Union’s FVO-SANCO officials in their 2010 Canada and Mexico audit reports. In such reports we find lines such as the following, confirming the observations hereinbefore detailed:
- “The control system in place in Canada for verification of the current use of substances in horses to be slaughtered as specified in Council Directive 96/23/EC is inadequate, as it only allows for official verification of identification, movement and treatment records of a limited fraction of the horses to be slaughtered.”
- “Live horses from the US for immediate slaughter, are, from their entry into Canada until their slaughter, under veterinary control (sealed truck, documentary control and report to custom point of entry after slaughter). Nevertheless, no equivalent guarantees are given and no documentation provided regarding the current use of substances as specified in Council Directive 96/23/EC.”
- “The imported horses from the US were accompanied by the signed Affidavit (EID) of the last owner, covering the medical treatment during the last six months, which in many cases was a horse dealer. Nevertheless, no official guarantee was received by the CFIA from the US authorities that this guarantee was verified and could be considered as reliable.”
- “Supervision or the certification was not adequate to address the deficiencies noted.”
- “In areas such as the export of horse meat, standards did not fully provide adequate guarantees.”
- “The sworn statement on veterinary medical treatments is requested for all slaughter horses, irrespective of their origin; however, there are no official controls in place to verify their authenticity or reliability.”
- “According to the Mexican National Residues Monitoring Programme (NRMP), 19 samples in 2008, nine in 2009 and six in 2010 have tested positive for residues of substances, the use of which is prohibited in the EU. All of those horses were covered by the declaration stating that no treatments were administered to the animals.”
- “…the traceability systems showed some deficiencies when implemented and several carcasses in the chillers were not health-marked.”
- “…approval was recently granted to an establishment which is not yet compliant [with EU requirements], whilst another one (approved since 1999, in which several deficiencies were noted by the mission team) was not audited since 2006.”
- “In two establishments discrepancies were noted with regard to the number of cuts obtained and their origin.”
- “Non-traceable carcasses (destined, according to the CAs and the FBO, only for the national market) and non-health marked carcasses were present in two establishments (one of them slaughtering horses also for the domestic market) and were sometimes in contact with EU eligible meat.”
- “Imported animals are accompanied by a sworn statement on veterinary medical treatments. However, the USDA does not take any responsibility with regard to the origin of the animals, to the controls over US assembly centers and to the authenticity of the sworn statement.”
- “Collection centers are not requested to keep treatment registers, although horses can remain there up to two months; however, in general, horses stay between one day and one week.”
- “…no system is in place to verify those declarations accompanying the horses presented at the OISA which have been rejected due to illnesses at a previous border control (and that can stay some time at the US border and likely to be treated with VMPs).”
- “Traceability of live horses is ensured only to the last holding of origin (for Mexican horses) or to the collection center (for US horses) undermining the reliability of information over the whole chain.”
- “The CAs do not verify the reliability/authenticity of the sworn statements made by owners on veterinary medical treatments, even in the presence of positive results.”
- “In September 2010 two RASFF notifications were issued for the presence of cortisone. All horses were covered by the sworn statement.”
- “Two out of five establishments visited did not comply with EU requirements and the procedure for approval did not ensure that EU requirements were met. Moreover the approval was based on the evaluation against national legislation only.”
Curiously enough, despite the fact both the Canadian and the Mexican EID systems are similar and equally deficient and that, incidentally, more critical failures were found in the Mexican one during the audit, the FVO-SANCO’s Mexico team –although acknowledging and listing these deficiencies in the report’s body- did not include in the recommendations section a call for an action plan to ensure horses imported from the US for slaughter are never administered banned substances and truly observe the 180-day withdrawal period required pursuant to European Commission (EC) Regulation No. 1950/2006, as did the team dispatched to Canada, fueling speculation as to whether the Mexico’s team was “advised” from Brussels or lobbied by certain horsemeat corporations to forego such demand, especially given the high concentration of Belgian interests in the Mexican horsemeat industry (as opposed to the Canadian one which is mostly owned by the Franco-Canadian Bouvry family).
But even more puzzling is the fact that both the Canadian and Mexican EID systems do not even list in the affidavit’s list of banned substances phenylbutazone, a very dangerous drug causing aplastic anemia and kidney damage in humans that has no withdrawal period (it builds up in the horse’s system) and is outright forbidden both in the US and Europe for use in any kind of meat-producing animal, yet the European Commission mysteriously gave its approval to such defective systems on the basis they were deemed “equivalent” to European legislation, despite the notable concern European authorities showed about horses administered banned substances entering the food chain, specifically phenylbutazone, to the point of threatening in the late 90’s to revoke its medical license Europe-wide (meaning it would be considered illegal and not available to horse owners anymore) if positive samples for the drug or its even more dangerous metabolite oxyphenbutazone were found in horsemeat of British or Irish origin and ultimately culminating in European Commission Regulation No. 504/2008, establishing the Equine Passport system and making veterinary practitioners signing the passports on each treatment directly liable and subject to prosecution if horses given banned substances enter the food chain.
The omission of phenylbutazone from the Canadian and Mexican EID affidavits is of remarkable interest from a food safety viewpoint, not just because of the high toxicity of the substance for humans but also because its ubiquitousness in the US horse industry. Regarded by Americans as the “horse aspirin”, phenylbutazone is used systematically as the aforesaid over-the-counter analgesic is used by humans, most times without prescription or any sort of veterinary control and is, by far, the most overused drug in American horses. Save for, perhaps, wild horses (whose meat, much in contradiction with the claims of European horse butchers, is theoretically not allowed for import into the EU), it is very difficult to find in the United States a horse that that was never given a “bute” –as it is commonly known- tablet or I.V. shot at some point of its life. This means the risk of ingesting phenylbutazone-contaminated meat is, with difference, much higher than for other substances like antibiotics or anabolic hormones whose usage range is not as broad as phenylbutazone’s.
Moreover, phenylbutazone’s metabolite oxyphenbutazone builds-up in tissues and is, eventually, released back to the blood stream, meaning that even if the drug was administered long ago, there is a substantial chance a varying amount of it will be found in the meat of slaughtered horses and, from there, transferred up the food chain. Even a minute dose of phenylbutazone or oxyphenbutazone may trigger an episode of aplastic anemia in sensitive people, especially children. This is why both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and EU food safety authorities ban categorically the use of phenylbutazone in any meat-producing animal, asserting there is no currently-approved use of the drug in food-producing animals, since withdrawal periods couldn’t be established for this compound. To put it simply, a horse that ever received phenylbutazone at some in the past is ineligible for slaughter and, according to current legislation, slaughtering such horse is a violation of food safety laws.
However, a 2010 food and chemical toxicology study titled “Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: A public health risk” authored by Dr. Nicholas Dodman, professor at Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts, Dr. Nicolas Blondeau, a senior researcher at the Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology Institute of the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in Valbonne, France, and Dr. Ann Marini (M.D.), a researcher at the Department of Neurology and Program in Neuroscience of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Maryland, found consistent evidence showing phenylbutazone was present in the meat of US horses slaughtered in Canada and Mexico and that horses rescued from the slaughter pipeline were administered said substance at some point in the past, hence making their slaughter illegal pursuant to both FDA, CFIA and EU food safety legislations.
The methodology of this five-year study consisted in, from a study population of 68 thoroughbred race horses (50 rescued from the slaughter pipeline, 18 known to have been slaughtered), identifying individual animals through lip tattoos (ID system used by the Jockey Club) and matching their individual IDs to the corresponding racetrack drug treatment records available from both the Lifetime Past Performance Record and individual racetrack records since, just like human athletes, all drugs given to thoroughbreds in race day must be recorded and anti-doping blood tests are drawn to ensure the animals are not administered illegal performance-enhancing substances. Positive horses are disqualified and trainers sanctioned.
Of the 68 horses studied, racetrack drug treatment records were found for 32 of them, all of the 18 horses sent for slaughter and 16 of the 50 animals rescued from the slaughter auctions.
After carefully identifying the animals and matching the available racetrack documentation to their names, the study found that all the horses sent for slaughter (18) plus all the horses rescued from slaughter for which drug records were available (16) had a positive history of phenylbutazone administration. These horses were administered the drug on race day and one which was slaughtered had documented levels of phenylbutazone on its blood, following an anti-doping test carried out by racetrack authorities after winning a race. Overall, of the 32 medical treatment records examined, a startling 100% of them showed positive history of phenylbutazone administration, constituting their slaughter and their purchase for intended slaughter for human consumption a flagrant violation of current American, Canadian and European food safety laws.
The time interval from the last known phenylbutazone administration to slaughter ranged from 0.25 to 48 months but, since there is no withdrawal period established for this drug, such data is of little relevance. Nonetheless, it must be noted that it is unknown whether these horses received additional doses of phenylbutazone from the time they left the racetrack to the time the animal was bought or sent for slaughter. Old racetrack musculoskeletal injuries often require additional, protracted administration of phenylbutazone and other NSAIDs to manage pain in former racehorses so, even assuming (for comparative purposes) an hypothetical 180-day withdrawal period for the drug, its presence in the animal’s tissues at the time of slaughter is highly likely. In addition, given the alarming 100% incidence of positive phenylbutazone presence in all animals for which treatment records were available, it is reasonable to assume not just that the 34 thoroughbreds whose records couldn’t be located were also positive for phenylbutazone but also that, at best, a minimum of 50% of all US horses slaughtered or purchased for intended slaughter may also have a positive history of phenylbutazone administration, making them unfit and ineligible for slaughter for human consumption. Granted such high probability ratios we can take for a fact horsemeat sold in boucheries chevalines and served in fancy bistros across Northern Europe is indeed contaminated with phenylbutazone. Perhaps this is what gives American horsemeat its “very, very good – extra[ordinary]” taste, to paraphrase Mr. Marki.
Worth of mention is also the fact that Mexico’s National Residue Monitoring Program (NRMP), as submitted for yearly approval by FVO – SANCO, does not currently test samples for the presence of phenylbutazone or oxyphenbutazone, while the Canadian and the US ones (back when the Texas and Illinois plants were in operation) do some marginal testing but using incorrect sampling techniques aimed at attaining a false negative (including an attempt of cover-up by USDA by making its 2006 equine NRMP, dubbed “the red book”, inaccessible).
The results of this landmark study imply that, if we take a serious approach to food safety, using current, in-force worldwide legislation as reference, a significant part of the US horse population would be unfit for human consumption, being therefore necessary to remove it from the slaughter pipeline. This, in turn, would ruin the business model the foreign-owned horsemeat cartel is based on, since it would substantially increase the price of American horses really fit for meat production, cutting down the plants’ bottom line; there wouldn’t be any difference between buying American stock and sourcing the animals from Great Britain or “meat horse” farms in France or Romania.
- Danish European Horse Passport (European EID). Compare it to the sketchy home-printed paper sheets of the Canadian and Mexican EIDs.
Bearing in mind the initial concerns (probably result of the fallout from the “mad cow” UK crisis of the late 80’s) European authorities showed to make sure phenylbutazone and other compounds banned for use in meat animals weren’t present in horses slaughtered within the EU, and the warnings on imported horsemeat contamination issued by the LaGrange, Ireland FVO inspection unit in 2005, it is utterly inexplicable –and downright dumbfounding- why both the European Commission, the mandarins running the subordinate “Council of the European Union” and the rubber-stamping European Parliament, refused to include phenylbutazone in the list of prohibited substances for use in all food-producing animals found in Commission Regulation No. 37/2010, when they had the clear opportunity (and enough backing evidence) to do so in late 2009, when the previous “Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2377/90” was derogated and replaced by the aforementioned Regulation No. 37/2010, by using a bureaucratic subterfuge about the inability to test phenylbutazone MRLs pursuant to the current procedure and its absence from Annex IV of the previous council regulation dating 1990. Yet, at the same time, they require European veterinary practitioners to remove from the slaughter pipeline all European horses given phenylbutazone by declaring them not intended for slaughter in Part II of Section IX of the Equine Passport, under a series of ambiguous directives open to interpretation.
Does this apparent double standard have anything to do with the fact explicitly including phenylbutazone in the list of banned substances of Regulation No. 37/2010 would legally force EU’s DG – SANCO to paralyze imports of American horsemeat from Canada and Mexico? Given the concerns about phenylbutazone administration on European horses, why didn’t the EU Commission’s apparatchiks apply the same standards to phenylbutazone-laden imported American horsemeat? Is this a wink to the Belgian-owned horsemeat cartel? Overconfidence in the “guarantees” provided by CFIA and SAGARPA? There is an old Spanish saying that goes, “broad beans are cooked everywhere” which is a cynical way to imply that there is no human institution that is free of corruption and that being skeptical about everything, assuming always wrongdoing and malfeasance in the actions of others, is usually the right choice; it is perfectly applicable to European Union’s wishy-washy approach to phenylbutazone on imported horsemeat…
All these irregularities, the nonchalance with which these EIDs are accepted by the Canadian and Mexican food safety agencies, the European authorities’ double standard on phenylbutazone plus the fact the slaughterers are the ones responsible of keeping EID records, enabling their possible tampering, clearly reveal not just the unfeasibility of traceability and drug residue monitoring on American horsemeat but also how unsafe it is for those consuming it. This is an unquestionable reason to ban the slaughter of American horses yet the US Congress prefers to turn a blind eye on the issue in order to further the political agenda of agribusiness lobbyists. After all, it is others who are eating the stuff…
And the fact is that there is simply no way to make meat from US horses traceable or safe to eat. The dynamics of the horsemeat business and of the US horse slaughter pipeline supplying the Canadian and Mexican plants, plus the cost-basis nature of the operation (keeping the animals in feedlots for six months in optimal conditions is economically and physically unfeasible for the slaughter plants which supply themselves from US horses simply because they are cheaper, apart from the fact the meat will lose “quality” and the ratio of meat yielded per animal will decrease –i.e. horses at border feedlots tend to get skinny due to scarce and/or inadequate food-), render these half-hearted attempts at traceability totally useless. The animals must be slaughtered as soon as possible for both the plants and their purveyors to max out their profits. In addition, it is usual practice to pump horses full of analgesics before they are sold at auction in order to mask injuries and arthritis problems to potential buyers. The killer buyers just want to cash-in and couldn’t care less about the drugs given to the horses they bring to the plants. This inevitably results not only in the 180-day withdrawal period required by the European Union not being respected at all but also in animals being slaughtered days after they were administered substances that directly render the meat unfit for human consumption.
Still, European horse butchers have no worries about the safety of imported American horsemeat, preferring to hide their heads in the sand. “They’re wild horses”, said Marki when questioned about the drugs routinely given to US equines.
Overall, the entire EID scheme fielded in Canada and Mexico turns out to be a miserable band-aid for a life-threatening food safety issue. Granted, prior to 2010 traceability and drug residue screening on meat from American horses was simply non-existent but what was implemented thereafter is simply a bad joke. The failure of such systems is, however, not technical but rather logical, intrinsic to the definition and value held by horses in the American culture.
The traceability concept seems to work in Europe because (1) all horses older than six-months require compulsory passport issuance in all EU countries, even if they never leave the premises they were born, (2) there is the concept of horse as food-producing animal plus a clear differentiation between horses intended for slaughter, specifically reared for that sole purpose and fed, medicated and cared for like beef cattle, and horses intended for sport, leisure and equestrian activities, which are never intended to be slaughtered for food and are thus cared for accordingly (which, paradoxically, also compose most part of the European horse population). Banned or controlled drugs are only available with a veterinary prescription which necessarily implies the presentation of the passport upon which the doctor annotates the prescribed treatment and, accordingly, signs out the animal from the slaughter pipeline. Some substances are not even available at all. On the contrary, since horses in the United States are never, ever considered to be food animals these banned substances are commonly available and usually administered without prescription and veterinary supervision. Similarly, since it is understood horses will never enter the food chain, there is no need to develop a traceability system or to keep accurate, portable treatment records sealed by veterinarians. In this regard, the Canadian and Mexican EID systems are just lame attempts at implanting a concept of horse that simply has not place or meaning in the American culture and the US horse industry.
American horses are not food animals and should not be slaughtered for food to begin with, no matter if the meat is ate by others abroad or how many phony affidavits are presented by clearly biased party whose sole interest is cashing in money.
“Very good for your health”
It is now clear that American horses are not fed or medicated like food animals and their meat is thus unsafe to it, not existing functioning, realistic controls in place to prevent American horses given drugs banned for use in food animals from entering the food chain. But, are these horsey medicines all that bad for your health? What dangers does American horsemeat really pose?
According to horsemeat peddlers like Mr. Marki, none. “Horse meat is very good for your health”, he claimed. “During World War II, it was the meat of the poor. Now it’s become a therapeutic meat. Doctors recommend it, especially for people with heart problems.”
But the truth is that these drugs are actually ALL that bad, and that’s why a significant amount of resources were invested by governments worldwide to prevent them from entering the food chain, at least through mainstream meats such as beef, poultry, pork and sheep. Let’s review some of the different health problems that the different kinds of drug residues found in horsemeat can cause in your body. Phenylbutazone (4-butyl-1,2-diphenyl-pyrazolidine-3,5-dione) and its metabolite oxyphenbutazone ((RS)-4-butyl-1-(4-hydroxyphenyl)-2-phenylpyrazolidine-3,5-dione) present a marked bone marrow suppressing effect which causes a large range of blood dyscrasias, that is, diseases states of the blood in which this one contains permanent abnormal cellular elements. This is caused because the chemical attacks the bone marrow, where red, white blood cells and platelets are produced. Such as attack produces aplastic anemia, a dangerous disease in which the bone marrow does not produce enough new blood cells to replenish those that naturally die, leading to any of the following medical conditions:
- Anemia: Low red blood cell count/hemoglobin. A reduced number of red blood cells imply a lower capacity of blood to transport oxygen and evacuate carbon dioxide. This causes hypoxia, i.e. lack of oxygen, in internal organs, which in severe cases may result in cellular death. Generally, anemia causes fatigue, malaise, lack of concentration and, in severe cases, intermittent claudication of the legs and heart failure, as the body attempts to compensate for the lack of oxygen-carrying capability of the blood by increasing cardiac output.
- Leukopenia: Reduced number of leukocytes or white blood cells found in blood. This obviously places those affected at increased risk of infection. Severe causes result in agranulocytosis: a severe lack of one the main types of infection-fighting white cells (usually neutrophils), effectively suppressing the immune system of those affected and placing them in a high risk of deathly infection. A suppressed or lowered immune system is also associated to a higher risk of developing tumors, since leukocytes usually destroy abnormal tumor cells upon detection.
- Thrombocytopenia: A decrease on the number of platelets circulating in the blood stream, difficulting coagulation. In severe cases it may lead to uncontrollable bleeding.
- Pancytopenia: A combination of the three conditions described above.
Phenylbutazone may also attack directly red cells and destroy them, resulting in hemolytic anemia.
It should be noted that phenylbutazone-induced aplastic anemia is idiosyncratic, that is, it is unpredictable and unrelated to dose. There is simply no way of predicting who may or may not suffer it. Sensitive people, such as children and those with known pharmacologic intolerances (allergies to drugs) are especially susceptible to these idiosyncratic effects, the minutest dose of phenylbutazone being enough to trigger aplastic anemia. It is worth noting as well that the mortality rate of phenylbutazone and oxyphenbutazone-induced aplastic anemia is 94% and 71%, respectively.
But that’s not all, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program, phenylbutazone is a known carcinogen. European authorities regard it as “potential carcinogenic and teratogenic”. In addition, it presents an elevated kidney and liver toxicity (to the point it shouldn’t be mixed up with other hepatotoxic drugs such as acetaminophen, amoxicillin-clavulanic acid (Augmentin) or certain chemotherapy drugs (e.g. methotrexate). It also considered toxic to embryos and should be used with caution in pregnant or nursing mares.
As a curiosity, Mr. Marki claimed that “doctors recommend horsemeat for people with heart problems”. Although that was obviously a fabricated statement, incidentally, reducing platelets levels might theoretically reduce the occurrence of thrombosis and infarction in those with one of the typical profiles of a horsemeat buyer (aging, sedentary, often obese, smoker, thinks horsemeat will help dealing with health issues without giving up current lifestyle). However, since such people may already take blood thinners as prescribed by their physicians –particularly warfarin derivates- to deal with such problems, ingestion of phenylbutazone may result in a catastrophic exacerbation of the anti-coagulant effects of blood thinners (as phenylbutazone displaces warfarin from plasma binding sites, increasing its bloodstream concentration until reaching toxic levels), leading to dangerous internal hemorrhage and death. This is why you should never seek medical advice from a guy selling fillets.
- If things were done by the book, pursuant to recent European legislation implementing the UN Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), imported American horsemeat should bear the warning pictogram shown above, together with the following hazard statements: H303: May be harmful if swallowed; H340: May cause genetic defects; H350: May cause cancer; H362: May cause harm to breast-fed children; H373: May cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure.
Clenbuterol and other beta2-adrenergic receptor agonists (β-agonists in short) are drugs used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in horses. Some derivatives are used in inhalers to treat the same conditions in people with asthma and labored breathing (e.g. emphysema). They are also used illegally as a performance-enhancing drug in sports, as it increases oxygen transportation rates, and to artificially make beef and pork leaner.
A major side effect of β-agonists is cardiac arrhythmia. Because these drugs increase myocardial oxygen demand, they can precipitate angina in patients with coronary artery disease and, eventually, myocardial infarction. Headache, tremor, nausea, diarrhea, diaphoresis (excessive sweating), hypertension and heart palpitations are also common. It may also cause subaortic stenosis (an abnormal narrowing in a blood vessel or other tubular organ or structure) and thyrotoxicosis (drug-induced hyperthyroidism, which in turn may produce weight loss, apathy, polyuria, polydipsia, delirium, tremor, pretibial myxedema, shortness of breath, loss of libido, amenorrhea, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gynaecomastia and feminization).
Flunixin meglumine (2-[[2-Methyl-3-(trifluoromethyl)phenyl]amino]pyridine-3-carboxylic acid) is, like phenylbutazone, another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to alleviate colic pain, muscle pain and joint disease in horses. Its antipyretic effect also alleviates fever.
Flunixin intoxication causes diarrhea and gastrointestinal ulceration. Prolonged exposure may result in kidney and liver damage as well as bleeding. Flunixin should not be combined with corticosteroids or other NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen), as it may increase the risk of kidney disease or gastric ulceration. It may also potentiate the effects of anticoagulants and the toxicity of aminoglycoside antibiotics.
Chloramphenicol (2,2-dichloro-N-[1,3-dihydroxy-1-(4-nitrophenyl)propan-2-yl]acetamide) is a bacteriostatic antimicrobial agent that became available in 1949. It is considered a prototypical broad-spectrum antibiotic and, being cheap and easy to produce, it is usually an antibiotic of choice in the Third World. Due to resistance and safety concerns, it is no longer a first-line agent for any infection in developed nations, although it is sometimes used topically for eye infections. It is also widely used in veterinary treatments. However, despite its broad use, chloramphenicol has major adverse effects.
Like phenylbutazone, the most dangerous adverse effect associated with chloramphenicol treatment is bone marrow toxicity, which may arise in two distinct forms: bone marrow suppression, which is a direct toxic effect of the drug but is generally reversible (bone marrow function recovers after administration is suspended), and aplastic anemia, which is idiosyncratic (unpredictable and unrelated to dose) and cannot be easily reversed, being usually fatal.
The risk is higher with oral preparations. This, together with the drug’s elevated liposolubility (dissolves readily in fat tissue) may account why it is banned for use in all food-producing animals, regardless of species or withdrawal times.
In addition, chloramphenicol administration has been shown to increase the risk of suffering childhood leukemia and is linked to the Gray baby syndrome, which can be fatal unless the drug is completely removed of the blood stream by means of an exchange transfusion.
Dexamethasone ((8S,9R,10S,11S,13S,14S,16R,17R)-9- Fluoro-11,17-dihydroxy-17-(2-hydroxyacetyl)-10,13,16- trimethyl-6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17- dodecahydro-3H-cyclopenta[a]phenanthren-3-one) is a potent synthetic glucocorticoid steroid. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant. In oral or parenteral formulations it is 26.6 times more potent than the naturally occurring hormone cortisol and 6.6 times more potent than prednisone. It is used combined with trichlormethiazide to treat horses with swelling of distal limbs and general bruising. Adverse effects of this drug are numerous, especially when administered orally; these include:
- Stomach upset and ulceration of esophagus, stomach, and duodenum.
- Increased appetite leading to considerable weight gain.
- May trigger a latent diabetes mellitus. It also exacerbates glucose intolerance in those with pre-existing diabetes.
- Its immunosuppressant action, especially when synergistically potentiated by cyclosporine and other immunosuppressants, may allow pathogens such as viruses, bacteria or fungi to progress more easily, to the point infections can become life-threatening. It also suppresses fever, which may cause an infection to be detected too late to be effectively treated.
- Fatty liver degeneration (similar to alcohol abuse).
- Hypertension and worsening of heart insufficiency (due to mineral corticoid activity).
- Like all corticosteroids it elevates intraocular pressure, leading to glaucoma and cataracts.
- Psychiatric disturbances, including personality changes, irritability, euphoria, or mania.
- Muscle atrophy, negative protein imbalance.
Nitrofurazone (2-[(5-Nitro-2-furanyl)methylenelhydrazine carboxamide) is a synthetic furan derivative active against a broad spectrum of bacteria. It has been used widely in veterinary and human medicine, usually in the form of ointments but the latter has become less frequent as safer and more effective products have become available to the point it has been discontinued in the US for human use. However, nitrofurazone is still widely used in veterinary medicine to treat surface lesions, infectious enteritis in small animals, and skin, eye, ear, and genital tract infections.
According to the USDHHS National Toxicology Program nitrofurazone is carcinogenic and mutagenic (induces gene mutations). Nitrofurazone has been shown to be clastogenic toward single-stranded DNA. Oral administration in humans causes severe peripheral polyneuropathy at the doses required for effective therapy. In addition, it may also cause hemolytic anemia and causes severe contact or allergic dermatitis.
- Label of US-marketed nitrofurazone dressing. Note the conspicuous multiple warning indicating it should not be used in horses for human consumption or in food producing animals whatsoever, plus the notice on carcinogenicity.
In rats, oral administration of nitrofurazone was shown to inhibit spermatogenesis at the spermatocyte or spermatid stage, resulting in testicular atrophy when dosing was prolonged. Hypertrophy of the adrenal glands was also reported. A similar effect was demonstrated in mice, and interstitial cell hyperplasia and seminal vesicle hypertrophy were also shown.
This drug, together with all other nitrofurans (furazolidone, furylfuramide, nitrofurantoin, nifurquinazol, nifuroxazide, nifurtimox...) is banned for use in all food-producing animals regardless of species and withdrawal periods.
Nitroimidazole (5-Nitro-1H-imidazole) derivatives (metronidazole, tinidazole, nimorazole, dimetridazole) are a class of antibiotic drugs used against anaerobic bacteria and protozoa infections, particularly giardiasis in people and animals. It is also commonly used with other antibiotics to treat pleuropneumonia, peritonitis, abdominal abscesses, and other severe infections caused by aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. Veterinarians often prescribe it to prevent infection after colic or after abdominal surgery, when mixed bacterial infections are a risk. Metronidazole is not FDA approved for use in horses; however it is commonly used and considered accepted practice.
Nitroimidazoles are classified as potential carcinogens by the USDHHS National Toxicology Program, hence justifying why both the US FDA and European food safety agencies prohibit their use in any food producing animal, regardless of withdrawal period.
Adverse reactions associated to this drug include nausea, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, vomiting, glossitis, stomatitis, dark urine, metallic taste in the mouth, and paresthesia. Long-term exposure or high doses of nitroimidazoles are associated with the development of leukopenia, neutropenia, increased risk of peripheral neuropathy and central nervous system toxicity. Toxic levels can cause symmetrical lesions in the brain in the corpus callosum and dentate nuclei. Other reactions include dysarthria (difficulty or unclear articulation of speech in otherwise non-impaired individuals), vertigo, and confusion.
Metronidazole has been shown to trigger Stevens–Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis, two life-threatening skin conditions in which cell death causes the epidermis to separate from the dermis, when combined with antihelmintic drug mebendazole (also routinely administered to horses as a dewormer). Nitroimidazoles are also linked to episodes of fatal serotonin syndrome.
Fluoroquinolones are a family of synthetic quinolone derivates containing a fluorine atom attached to the central ring system. They are broad-spectrum antibiotics that play an important role in treatment of serious bacterial infections, especially hospital-acquired infections and others in which resistance to older antibacterial classes is suspected. In some cases of life-threatening infections, they can be life-saving.
However, the abuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics is encouraging the emergence and spread of multidrug resistant strains of bacteria and thus, a multitude of professional medical organizations such as the Infectious Disease Society of America or the American Thoracic Society recommend minimizing the use of fluoroquinolones as much as possible, reserving it for life-threatening infections that require hospitalization.
Continued exposure to minute doses of fluoroquinolones and other antibiotics (e.g. through food contamination) causes otherwise inactive pathogens to develop resistance to the compounds, as these kill bacteria whose phenotype renders them susceptible to the drugs. Strains that are resistant survive and pass on their "resistance" genes to future generations. In addition, inherent mutagenicity of the substances and bacterial conjugation (horizontal transfer of DNA material called plasmids) may cause formerly susceptible strains to develop resistance. Over time, resistance genes become dominant, accumulate in reservoirs and finally treatment failure occurs. This is one of the reasons fluoroquinolones are banned for administration to any meat-producing animal both in the US and in Europe, despite the numerous derivatives formulated for veterinary use. There is no withdrawal period established to this class of drugs.
But the fluoroquinolones contamination not only pose a danger from an epidemiologically point of view; these drugs also produce adverse reaction in those ingesting them. Adverse reactions include central nervous system (CNS) toxicity, phototoxicity, cardiotoxicity, arthropathy, and tendon toxicity (there are numerous accounts of tendon ruptures during treatments with the substance and a boxed warning is mandatory on quinolones sold in the US. In some cases hepatitis, hemolytic and eosinophilic pneumonitis have been also reported. Others effects include nausea and vomiting.
First generation fluoroquinolones such as flumequine and nalidixic acid have been shown to be mutagenic and carcinogenic. They are no longer available for clinical use and are mostly relegated to veterinary use on companion animals. The most widely used fluoroquinolones in the United States include ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin and moxifloxacin. Many others have been removed from the market, at least in some countries, due to serious adverse reactions and safety concerns. Levofloxacin, ofloxacin, ciprofloxacin, and moxifloxacin have all been associated with liver injuries such as hepatotoxicity, hepatic failure, and delayed and prolonged cholestatic hepatitis. Use in patients under 18 years of age is not approved by FDA. It shouldn’t be used either in animals of rapid growth (e.g. pups under 12-18 months of age).
Metamizole sodium (Dipyrone) is a mild analgesic and antipyretic NSAID first synthesized in 1920. It was widely used until the 1970 when it was shown to possess idiosyncratic adverse effects causing agranulocytosis similar to phenylbutazone. It was then banned for clinical use in the US since 1977 and, overall, replaced by much safer alternatives such as ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetamol. It is now mostly relegated to veterinary use, commonly for mild colic in horses.
In 2001 it was discovered the drug was being sold over-the-counter in Latino shops across the US despite the ban, when a boy was admitted into a Salt Lake City emergency room with symptoms of agranulocytosis.
Aminoglycosides are a class of antibiotic drugs based on molecules of substituted amino-modified sugars that are effective against certain types of bacteria, particularly Gram-negative ones. These include amikacin, arbekacin, gentamicin, kanamycin, neomycin, netilmicin, paromomycin, rhodostreptomycin, streptomycin, tobramycin, and apramycin. They are used (remarkably neomycin, the cheapest of all derivates) to treat gastrointestinal, respiratory, urogenital, skin and soft tissue infections associated with Streptococci and Staphylococci in horses.
These drugs are not normally used in human clinic applications unless the benefits of the treatment (e.g. eliminating a life-threatening infection) clearly outweigh the marked chronic nephrotoxicity and ototoxicity of these compounds.
Different in vivo and in vitro studies have shown aminoglycoside derivates such as neomycin or streptomycin accumulate over time in kidneys and the inner ear above serum levels, eventually resulting in kidney failure and deafness. There is also positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational or marketing experience or studies in humans.
Boldenone ((8R,9S,10R,13S,14S,17S)-17-hydroxy-10,13-dimethyl-6,7,8,9,10,11, 12,13,14,15,16,17-dodecahydro-3H-cyclopenta[a]phenanthren-3-one), marketed in the form of the undecylenate ester under the trade names of Equipoise, Equigan or Ultragan is a synthetic anabolic steroid used for the treatment of debilitated animals, as following severe illness, overwork or overexertion.
FDA currently approves its use only in horses not intended for slaughter for human consumption. European authorities ban completely its use in food producing animals. It is mostly anabolic (increases nitrogen retention and muscle mass) and has slight androgenic activity and is used illegally in professional sports as a performance-enhancing drug, by artificially increasing strength and muscle volume.
Exposure to this drug may cause virilization (development of male secondary sex characteristics) in women. In males, it may cause reduction in serum testosterone level, seminal volume, sperm motility and sperm count as well as histopathological alterations in the testes and epididymis, leading to testicular atrophy. Overall, intake of boldenone produces a significant impairment effect on the reproductive functions of males. It is also suspected to induce liver cancer. In high doses it may produce gynaecomastia.
Altrenogest (allyltrenbolone) is a synthetic progestagen (hormones belonging to the progesterone family) related to the veterinary steroid trenbolone. Progestagens are named for their function in maintaining pregnancy (pro-gestational), although they are also present at other phases of the estrous and menstrual cycles.
Under the trade name Regu-Mate, it is used to suppress estrus in mares and to facilitate scheduled breeding during the physiological breeding season. Sometimes it is also used to prevent abortion following breeding.
Exposure to this substance may cause disruption of the menstrual cycle, uterine or abdominal cramping, increased or decreased uterine bleeding, prolongation of pregnancy and headaches. In males, it may cause disruption of reproductive function, decreased libido and reversal of secondary male sex characteristics (gynaecomastia, feminization) due to its antiandrogenic effects.
It is suspected to cause fetal abnormalities. Studies in rats during the embryogenic stage of pregnancy at doses greater than the recommended equine dose caused fetal anomalies, specifically masculinization of the female genitalia.
Label instructions clearly indicate the product should not be handled by women suspecting to be pregnant. It is only approved for horses not intended for slaughter in the US and EU regulations require a 180-day withdrawal period.
Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is a organosulfur compound used as liniment for horses with sore legs. It is frequently used together other substances as it polar aprotic nature readily facilitates their dissolution and absorption through the horse skin, hence allowing active compounds to reach deep into tissue (e.g. muscle). Alone, it helps reducing inflammation.
Although DMSO is generally regarded as generally safe, it presents a certain degree of embryo toxicity, as it is able to cross the placenta. Use in pregnant and breeding animals (both male and female) is avoided. It is not authorized either for use in horses for human consumption.
Presence of DMSO may facilitate the absorption of other dangerous chemicals trough the gut. These are just a few examples of the different health problems that may possible be caused by the different kind of drug residues and metabolites present in the meat of US horses.
But if that wasn’t enough to stop you from munching steak tartare tonight, then you may be interested in knowing horses, pretty much like pigs, can transmit through their meat trichinosis, a parasitic disease caused by a nematode called Trichinella spirals and usually contracted by eating raw or uncooked pork meat.
- Trichinella spiralis cysts in striated muscle nurse cells.
In America, horses become infected with this round worm when they come in contact with opposum’s [insert link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opossum] excrements, acting as vectors of the aforementioned parasite, especially if they are not dewormed regularly. Later such horses may be slaughtered and their contaminated meat shipped to Belgium, France and Switzerland, infecting the local population due to the taste for raw or lightly cooked horsemeat existing in those countries.
Many people infected with Trichinella don’t show any symptoms if their immune systems are healthy. However, people with compromised immune system or sensitive such as elders may develop a series of life threatening complications.
Trichinosis has two marked phases: one enteral (intestinal) and another parenteral (intramuscular).
During the enteral phase, a large burden of adult worms in the intestines promote symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, dyspepsia, and diarrhea from two to seven days after infection, while small worm burdens generally are asymptomatic. Eosinophilia presents early and increases rapidly, causing inflammation. Then the larvae migrate from the intestines (breaking the intestinal wall) to striated muscle tissue, starting the parenteral phase.
The severity of symptoms caused by larval migration from the intestines depends on the number of larvae produced. As larvae migrate through tissue and vessels, the body’s inflammatory response results in edema, muscle pain, fever, and weakness. A classic sign of trichinosis is periorbital edema, swelling around the eyes, which may be caused by vasculitis. Splinter hemorrhage in the nails is also a common symptom.
Larvae encyst in skeletal muscle cells (their target), which become nurse cells, enabling the parasite to conceal itself from the immune system while it continues to feed and reproduce. Intense muscular pain, difficulty breathing, weakening of pulse and blood pressure, heart damage and various nervous disorders may occur in this phase.
During their migration, Trichinella larvae may compromise the Central Nervous System (spinal cord, brain…), the heart and the lungs, leading to a fatal form of stroke. Death can occur in 4 to 6 weeks, usually of myocarditis, encephalitis, or pneumonia.
People often mistakenly think that food-borne parasitic disease are only found in the Third World, however this is not the case. While pork and boar trichinosis are quite controlled and rare in modern Europe, several important outbreaks of this disease affecting thousands of people have taken place in the last 30 years, predominantly in France. Some deaths, all in old people or with a pre-existing cardiopathy, were also registered during these outbreaks.
In most cases, wholesaler’s records revealed the implicated horsemeat was imported from a slaughterhouse plant in the United States, despite the supposed testing carried out by USDA to prevent Trichinella-positive carcasses from entering the food chain.
This clearly demonstrates American horsemeat is not by any means a “good for your health” or “safe alternative to beef”. It is simply a tainted, low-quality product, sourced from animals that are simply not raised to produce meat in the first place. Moreover, it is an impending, inadmissible public health safety risk.
Some pro-slaughter advocates are already positioning in support of tighter veterinary drug regulations and compulsory traceability and identification European-style, so their masters can keep overbreeding and profiting from the slaughter pipeline. However, their shortsightedness prevents them to realize that horses will never, ever become food animals in the United States and that American horse owners should neither foot the bill nor bear the burden of compulsory traceability, strict veterinary controls, drug inaccessibility and inflexible, food-oriented regulations to accommodate a small group of foreign-owned interests.
The United States Congress must take decisive action to prevent tainted, drug-laden American horsemeat to continue being sold to partner countries in Europe, as well as to protect the legitimate right of American horse owners of having unhindered access to all the available medicines developed by science to heal the ailments of their faithful equine companions. And the only way to do so is banning, authoritatively and definitively, both horse slaughter and the exportation of US horses for slaughter abroad.