This documentary explores the U.S. - Canada horse meat pipeline. Canada provides a controversial market for American ranchers who want to offload old, injured and unwanted horses.
Because the U.S. shut down horse slaughter in 2007, without first banning the live export of meat horses, additional U.S. horses now endure greater stress than they did when some were once slaughtered in America. Long international transport hauls are now a requirement for processing all American horses for meat. And according to previously released access-to-information documents, horses sometimes enter Canada dead on arrival.
It is important to tell this story now because Chris Heyde, a horse advocate, is working to pass a new bill called the SAFE Act. It would prevent the exports of live American horses to Canada and Mexico for meat purposes.
Jen Osborne (1984) is a Canadian photographer and videographer who has published and exhibited photographs internationally. Her career started in 2007 with a yearlong work contract at Fabrica’s COLORS Magazine. Her work has graced the pages of Stern, The Sunday Times, GQ, Mother Jones, Vice, Esquire, Vanity Fair Italy, The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, Maclean's and IoDonna. She has also shown at venues including Athens Photo Festival 2020, Visa pour l’Image 2016, Aperture Gallery, Perpignan, The Museum de l’Elysée, the Denver Biennial, and Arles 2010.
Director StatementI'm an equestrian. As a teenager, I competed in the American Quarter Horse show circuit with my gelding, Ozzie, in the late 90’s. But I only discovered the realities of Canada's horse slaughter industry three years ago.
The horse meat trade came as a genuine shock after I moved back to Vancouver Island from Germany in 2018. Around that time, my mother's horse Benny was diagnosed with navicular disease. He’s now unrideable and I suggested we donate him to a therapy farm. But she said Benny could end up as meat if we let him out of our watch. After conducting some basic research, I realized she was correct. Up until then, I had no idea North Americans were selling horses for slaughter.
Canadians can send their own horses to slaughter in Alberta and Quebec, where federally regulated equine processing plants operate. These abattoirs also became a dumping ground for unwanted American horses starting in 2007 after the U.S. defunded horse slaughter. Because Americans didn’t restrict the live transport of horses for slaughter abroad, Canada, along with Mexico, now provides a controversial market for American ranchers looking to unload injured, old, and unwanted horses. As a result, anywhere between 10,000-56,000 American horses are imported annually by Canadian meat processors since 2007. American horses make up anywhere between 43 to 73 per cent of the total horses slaughtered per year in Canada.
Long international transports are now involved in processing all American horses for meat. Chris Heyde from Blue Marble Strategy, a U.S.-based animal advocacy group, is currently trying to pass a law restricting the transport of American horses for slaughter to Canada and Mexico. But this comes more than 20 years after the U.S. defunded horse slaughter. And there's no clear answer as to whether or not the law will pass.
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