In 2011, about 140,000 American horses were eaten abroad. But they weren’t slaughtered in the U.S. When America closed its last horse slaughter plants five years ago, American horse buyers turned their trucks north and south to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. From there, most of the meat goes to the European Union.
But American horses are given drugs that humans should not consume. Silky Shark was one of those horses. His former owner, Ken Terpenning of Lexington, Ky., has owned over two dozen racehorses, but Silky Shark made a big impression.
“Silky Shark was everything you’d want in a racehorse,” says Terpenning. “He was vibrant, fiery, a very happy horse. On the racetrack, he was a total professional. He earned over $100,000 in his career.”
When Terpenning fell on tough times, he sold Silky Shark to a man he trusted. But then the horse was resold again, and again, eventually winding up in a Canadian slaughterhouse.
It’s perfectly legal to flip horses in this manner. But Silky Shark was given Phenylbutazone, or “Bute.” Bute is the most common anti-inflammatory drug administered to horses; it’s also a carcinogen for humans.
Sinikka Crosland, executive director of the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition, says Canada isn’t protecting consumers from tainted meat.
“Horses are not raised as livestock,” Crosland says. “They’re given drugs when they need them. People aren’t holding back.”
With Belgium, France and Italy topping the list, the European Union is the primary market for American horses slaughtered in Canada. Dan Jorgensen, a member of the European Parliament, is getting fed up with the system as it is.
“I think it’s quite concerning,” MEP Jorgensen says, “that European consumers might actually be buying and eating horsemeat that we don’t have any reason to believe is healthy.”
MEP Jorgensen says the EU’s laws are strict, but enforcement just hasn’t happened, particularly outside of the EU. He wants to pressure Canadians to stop letting tainted meat from slipping through the system.
Until that happens, more than 1,000 American horses a week will be slaughtered in Canada.
Back in Lexington, Ky., Ken Terpenning is waiting for someone to regulate the system.
“I just wish it was done. I look at [Silky Shark’s] pictures on my wall every day and I just still can’t believe it.”