Animal welfare advocates have launched a lawsuit against the federal government, in an attempt to end the live-export of Canadian horses to Japan and South Korea, where the horses are eaten as a delicacy. However, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is attempting to quash this lawsuit, claiming that the case is “moot”.

The group behind the legal challenge, The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC), claims that CFIA is failing to meet legal obligations when transporting the horses overseas, saying that the horses experience extreme stress during transport, so much so that several have been injured, and even died, during the journey in the past.

The CHDC says that new laws that will come into place in February 2020, which will stop horses from being segregated during transport, will put the animals at an even greater risk.

The existing regulations for horses travelling on long-haul flights say that larger horses must be segregated from one another to avoid injuries from kicking and biting and other stress-related violence. Current rules also state that there must be a minimum requirement for headroom clearance, as horses need space to maintain their balance in the air, particularly during take-off and landing.

CHDC also believe that the CFIA do not follow current regulations, saying, "Large, flighty animals are often crammed together without the adequate headroom required by law."

The new 2020 regulations will eliminate this requirement for horses to be separated, which the federal government suggests will make ‘compatible’ horses less anxious. However, CHDC lawyer, Rebeka Breder, says this will make the transportation even worse for the animals. 

"Generally speaking, the shipments are not safe for horses. We know that for a fact," Breder said. Adding, "Everybody that I speak to, they're just totally horrified when I tell them what's happening and I think the CFIA has a huge role to play here and unfortunately, in my view, they've dropped the ball.”

Canada is responsible for exporting thousands of live horses to foreign countries every year. Japan and South Korea both receive the live animals from Canada, which are then often killed and eaten for meat. The country also sends fresh, chilled and frozen horse meat to Japan, as well as some European countries.

Despite the backlash from some activists, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says that the CHDC lawsuit is based on “cultural norms” and the belief that a horse is a pet, not a food, rather than concern that the animals are not being transported safely.

In a court filing, CFIA said, "The inevitable reality is that the CFIA's to determine whether the horses are healthy for export and are being safely transported."

Speaking to Global News, Eliot Bouvry of Alberta-based Bouvry Exports, which produces horse meat for export, said the welfare of horses is a "top priority" for his company and the CFIA."Other species/livestock are transported long distances for slaughter and it's not a topic of discussion," he said.

"Although activists keep the industry accountable, we do not consider it truthful that it is an animal welfare issue. For (some) people it is an ethical problem, which is another debate."

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