Pandemic!  The Dangers of Mass Confinement
COVID-19 and the Slaughter of Horses

As communities around the world fall to their knees, we have only our abysmal treatment of animals to blame.

We have seen doctors cry and political leaders at a loss for words.  Across the globe, COVID-19 is sickening and killing more people than many of us had ever thought possible.  How surreal that this epic and tragic unfolding of events has taken command of our lives, impacting the core of our day-to-day existence, our interactions with others, and even our plans for the future. 

The irony is that this strange new world is one of our own making.

The novel coronavirus found its roots in “wet markets” of Asia, where animals of different species have been housed in cruel, filthy conditions in close proximity to one another, allowing for the spill-over and mixing of pathogens between individuals.  The epicentre of the disease was determined to be Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province.  

From Wuhan, the deadly spread began and we have seen the resulting devastation worldwide:  illness, death, social isolation (particularly of the vulnerable elderly and immune-compromised population), and threat of economic collapse.  To many, these are cataclysmic, even apocalyptic, times.  We fear for the lives of our loved ones and for the safety and sustainability of our homes and communities.

How easy it would be to cast blame solely on the inhumane and deplorable conditions of certain markets and practices in China.  We have only to look no further than our own back yard to find similar threats:  namely, the crowded factory farms scrawled across Canada’s agricultural landscape.  Avian influenza, a disease that swept through some B.C. poultry farms in 2004, resulted in the massacre of 17 million birds who had been destined for the dinner table.

In 2016, Ontario was hit with a virus invasion of commercial duck operations.  Avian flu is only one example of a zoonotic disease that has the potential to jump species barriers, mutate, infect humans and reach pandemic proportions.  What we know about H1N1 (swine flu) demonstrates how easily a disease can cross the border from the U.S., where re-assortment of genetic material appears to have occurred between influenza viruses circulating between North American and Eurasian pig herds. 

The dangers will not end when COVID-19 is under control.  Wherever animals are housed in cramped confinement, a breeding ground for disease is created.  This danger is certainly apparent at farms mass-housing pigs, chickens, turkeys and other animals who await their turn to be slaughtered for human food.

But what of horses?  What impact will the growing pandemic have on horses in Canada?

At this point in time, the equine slaughter industry appears to continue to thrive, with both live horses and horsemeat still exported as part of international trade.  Horses for slaughter are typically warehoused in crowded feedlots, whether they are destined for domestic slaughter or for export to Japan and South Korea for the same purpose.  Veterinary care is not provided for animals whose days are numbered, resulting in untreated wounds and shared illnesses.

As for transmission of pathogens specific to COVID-19, it has been recommended by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin that transporting animals be stopped.

“We must acknowledge that each exception carries risks for humans” is a statement on their website that should be taken seriously by any country importing or exporting animals of any kind during a pandemic.  Horses being flown to Japan and South Korea for slaughter are no exception. 

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, at this time, maintains that “imports and exports of plants and animals to and from Canada are not currently affected”; however, with distancing and self-isolating measures in places, it may just be a matter of time before the policy must be modified.  In fact, any positive COVID-19 test is bound to bring operations to a grinding halt, as seen recently in the case of a plant slaughtering cattle near Calgary:

It must also be remembered that numerous horses are still being transported over the U.S. border into Canada.  A recent New Holland horse auction saw shoulder-to-shoulder attendance, with New Yorkers amongst them.

Given the dire situation south of the border at this time, it is entirely possible for disease-causing organisms to be transferred to animals and then indirectly deposited into recipient hands. 

What will life be like post-COVID-19? Certainly, every country will need to take a close look at their agricultural practices and initiate steps to prevent another situation like the deadly one that is currently unfolding around us.  It is tragic that past warnings of pandemics have been ignored.  Why is a crisis required to mobilize governments to act responsibly and plan ahead?

Our hearts go out to the families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.  We realize that many of the casualties are innocent people who would never have dreamed that the callous use and abuse of animals would initiate the next major disaster after World War II.  

We realize that at least some of the victims are non-human animals who, through no fault of their own, are now without caregivers or are perhaps impacted by the financial stress imposed by the pandemic.  This resource may be helpful to struggling equestrian farms:

For individuals or businesses not qualifying for Employment Assistance, the federal government has offered the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.  The application for this will be online as of April 6, 2020:

As funds permit, Marie Dean Horse Protection Initiatives Canada, a registered charitable organization, may be able to help horse owners in need

Donations to this charity are encouraged so that its resources may continue to assist in times of crisis.

Are you ill and do you require help to feed your horses?  Through social media, CHDC is glad to spread the word and perhaps connect you with someone in your community who could assist (by maintaining a safe distance, of course, and not touching your animals).  Send us an e-mail and we will do whatever we can to help:

We wish everyone a safe journey through the tribulations caused by the pandemic.  

May this crisis pave the way to more humane treatment of horses and other animals victimized by dangerous factory farming practices.