As Top Chef Canada prepares to show an episode in which a cheftestant uses horse meat as the protein for a dish, it has come to my attention that those involved with the Food Network in general, and with this show in particular, are under the impression that it is safe to eat horse meat. As someone who worked as a groom at a racetrack before going off to culinary school, I must inform them that horse meat exported from the United States is not being regularly inspected for drug residues. Horses here are not intended to be used as food and there is no system in place to track the medications given to a horse or the other substances applied topically to the animal before it arrives at a slaughterhouse. For those of you who choose to eat horse meat, ask the chef or the butcher if they can track the animal’s history from stable to table and guarantee that the animal was never given vaccinations, medications, or de-wormers, which would contaminate the meat. If the horse was exported from the United States, the answer is NO. They cannot be sure.
No one who raises beef cattle would be allowed to use the medications frequently given to horses. The USDA has regulations concerning what medications can be given to an animal intended for food. However, that does not include horses because we do not raise them for food! Starting at the bare minimum, most horses receive vaccinations once a year and de-worming paste every 6 weeks. If they become sick, they are given anti-biotics, steroids, NSAIDs, or other medications. Phenylbutazone, one of the most common anti-inflammatory drugs given to horses, is known to have harmful effects on humans. This is why it is no longer used for people but it is still widely used on horses. I have seen horses with serious injuries being given 1 gram of ‘Bute’ per day for up to a month. How long do you suppose it takes for the drug to be completely cleared from a horse’s system? I’m guessing it would take longer than 7 days, which is the average amount of time it takes for a horse to move from stable to table…
Horses in the U.S. are also treated with many topical preparations that are not intended for use on livestock that will be used as food. For horse owners who use a salve called Furacin, read the label. It states that the product contains carcinogens and should not be used on animals intended for food. However, this product is widely used at racetracks. In the barn where I worked, it was used as a sweat. The lower leg would be covered in Furacin, then a layer of sheet cotton, plastic wrap, and a standing wrap. It was used to remove swelling from the legs. Something similar is done with DMSO, an industrial solvent. This might be done on a daily basis if the swelling recurred. Many of the horses who received this treatment were sent to auction and then on to slaughter. They ended up on someone’s dinner plate. The killer buyers who sent them to slaughter could not give anyone any idea of what medications or other substances were used on a given horse. They do not ask and they would not care. It’s all about the money.
Among the other things used on racehorses, there is an assortment of pre-race injections and other substances that no one would want in their food. A few of these products include hormones, steroids, narcotics,and illegally obtained prescriptions intended for humans. There is no quarantine period for horses to allow them to detox before they are slaughtered. I have seen retired racehorses who took up to a year to fully detox from all the products given to them during their racing days. I assure you that the slaughterhouses do not hold them that long before they are ‘processed’.
The methods used to slaughter the horses range from barbaric to sadistic. Contrary to the lies often told by those who are in favor of horse slaughter, it is not humane euthanasia. When a vet comes to a farm to put a horse to sleep, the animal is given two injections. The first makes them unconscious. The second stops their heart. Horses in a slaughterhouse are not so fortunate. Neither of these chemicals can be used because that would taint the meat. The horses are fully conscious when they are killed. In Canada, they will most likely receive a gunshot to the head. In Mexico, the horses are usually stabbed in the neck with sharp knives until the spinal cord is severed. Then the ‘processing’ can begin. In the U.S., the most common method was the Captive Bolt designed for use on cattle. This involved placing the horse in a ‘kill box’ where a worker could attempt to hit the animal in the forehead with a bolt meant to render it unconscious. However, the method was meant for cattle, not horses with their longer necks. If the horses were not effectively stunned, they remained fully conscious while they were being desanguinated and dismembered. Practices like this are what lead to the closing of the horse slaughter plants in Texas and Illinois.
I cannot understand why anyone would want to eat such an unclean meat taken from a noble animal that was brutally tortured in the final moments of its life. And for what? This meat is not used to feed the starving. It is ordered up by greedy gourmands who pay handsomely for it. If Food Network wanted to showcase French cuisine, there are many other dishes that could have been used without causing so much controversy. Choosing to broadcast the episode during May, the same month designated by Canadian equine advocates as Equine Awareness month is beyond insulting. Up to this point, I have watched every season of Top Chef in the U.S., including Top Chef: Masters and Top Chef: Just Desserts. However, after this, I will never watch any part of the series again.