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Drug Records Needed For Horses That Go For Food

While no one wishes to send their pet or performance horse to slaughter, the reality is the vast majority of them eventually end up there. As of July 31, 2010 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requires that all horses sold directly to a federal plant or at auction that might later go to slaughter need to be accompanied by an Equine Information Document (EID).

It is a document that records illnesses and all the drugs used to treat an animal during the last six months of its lifetime. Selling a horse without one basically means it cannot be sold for slaughter, taking the meat buyer out of the equation and generally lowering the price.

The EID applies to domestic and export sales but the pressure for this full traceability system came from Europe where most of our horsemeat is consumed. The European Commission requires a record of identification plus traceability. We have always been diligent respecting withdrawal times for beef. If I were a consumer in these countries I would want the same diligence applied to horsemeat.

The EID recognizes three drug categories.

There are drugs with recognized withdrawal times that are cleared for horses that go into food production. This would include most if not all of the horse vaccines, dewormers, some tranquilizers and most antibiotics commonly used in horses. As most beef producers know, drug withdrawal is defined as the minimum time that must pass after a treatment before the animal is cleared for slaughter, assuming the drug is administered properly. Double the dose and you generally double the withdrawal time.

It is worth looking at the list of acceptable drugs on the CFIA web-site www.inspection.gc.ca. Many are the same as for cattle but have been accepted as safe for horses. A few are different. For example, daily penicillin usually clears in 10 days in cattle but around 20 days in horses. Cattle withdrawal times are a very good guide in most cases. In time I am sure specifi equine-withdrawal periods will be calculated for these more commonly used products. This involves pharmacokinetics, which means following the route of elimination from the horse’s body and a half-life established, which is the time taken to biologically excrete half the product.

The second category contains essential drugs used primarily by a veterinarian that have all been assigned a standard six-month withdrawal time. This should be more then enough time to clear them from the system of the animal before slaughter. While this seems like a long time, in reality most horses purchased for slaughter are generally fattened first. As long as the feeder/feedlot knows the treatment history the sixmonth withdrawal time can be maintained through to slaughter. When horses change hands before slaughter is when an up-to-date EID becomes particularly important in protecting our export markets.

Acepromazine, a commonly used sedative for horses, falls into this sixmonth category. It has a slaughter withdrawal in cattle of seven days so again as a horse owner one must recognize these differences when reading the slaughter withdrawal on the label. Most times the meat withdrawal is for cattle and milk withdrawal for dairy cattle. Hopefully charts will be printed with a lot of these common drugs and the category they fit into along with the safe withdrawal time to help get the message out to horse owners.

The final category is the most diffi cult one for the horse industry and could eventually lead to changes of how veterinarians prescribe certain medications. It covers drugs that are not permitted in horses used for meat production. Most of these are products I have never seen used. But one in particular, phenylbutazone or “Bute” as it is commonly called is often used, primarily as an anti-inflammatory drug. While it is one of the products that is not permitted in food animals, I would hazard a guess that in racing, cutting and team penning circles, or the rodeo circuit it would be rare to find a horse that has never been treated with Bute at least once in its lifetime.

Phenylbutazone is an effective relatively low-cost product very commonly prescribed by veterinarians. This posses several questions. Should veterinarians stop prescribing butazone and pull it from their shelves? Should regulatory bodies ban its production and distribution in Canada? Or, from the industry point of view perhaps a better question is, should testing be done and a defined withdrawal period be established for this product?

Beef producers should be aware of this restriction, as well, just in case anyone thinks of trying to use it for cattle. The same restrictions apply.

Other products such as Ventipulmin that contains clembuterol and is used to treat heaves, and anabolic steroids also fall into this category.

This new ruling has put more accountability and responsibility on horse owners, but no more than is required for other food producing species. Producers and veterinarians alike will gravitate to products that have recognized withdrawal periods. As new products come on line pharmaceutical companies will test excretion rates in products used for horses.

If you own horses, discuss this new policy with your veterinarian and figure out how the EID may affect your treatment of horses that further down the line may be considered for human consumption. We may not want to think about this, but the fact is horsemeat is sought as a high-quality protein source by consumers in other countries.

RoyLewisisaveterinarianwithalarge animalpracticearoundWestlock,Alta.

About the author

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Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.

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