On July 12 Actress Kim Basinger joined the animal rights group Last Chance for Animals to protest the raising of dog meat in South Korea. Although dog meat provides the livelihood for members of the Korea Dog Farmers’ Association, the rest of the world is trying to shut them down. This begs the question, is it okay for the world to pass judgment on the cultural dining practices of other nations? (1)

The answer in a roundabout way might be yes. The younger generations of South Korea have joined the fight. Therefore, it could be the natural progress of societies to phase out what would generally be considered inhumane traditions today. (2)

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, there is a little known, overlooked victim in the meat industry: the horse. Japan imported about 9,000 tons of horse meat since 2009. Where the meat comes from might surprise you. Horses shipped from the United States to Japan via Canada bypass horse slaughter laws. (3, 4)

Cherry Blossom Meat

Japan uses thin slices of horse meat to create basashi, a specialty sashimi.  Because of its deep red color, they call it “sakura-niku” meaning “cherry blossom meat.” (5) However, Japan is not the only country consuming horse meat. It is also popular in Mexico, Canada and many parts of Europe, South America, Russia, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. (6)

Unsafe for Consumption

The majority of horses shipped to Canada from the U.S. were former companion, working, or sport horses. The horses often receive veterinary drugs and other chemical substances either banned by the FDA for use in food or proven dangerous for humans. Making matters worse, U.S. horse owners don’t have to maintain treatment records, therefore the substances cannot be traced. (3)

Horse Oil Beauty Products

Horse body oils harvested from the horses slaughtered for horse meat create beauty products. Authentic Hokkaido horse oil is used in many beauty products for everything from anti-aging serums to skin conditions such as acne and eczema. Interestingly, in the U.S. it seems perfectly acceptable to tout horse products as an effective beauty product. The reasoning? The horses aren’t killed for the oil. They are killed for the meat. (7, 8)

Cruel Process

Although the slaughter of animals for food is an ongoing fight, horse meat processing seems particularly cruel. Thousands of horses sold at auction in the U.S. are transported in cramped crates from Canada to Japan. (3, 9)

On the journey, horses can be without food, water, or rest the entire time. This is because it is acceptable for horses to go without these necessities for up to 36 hours according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). (9)

Lucrative Business

Despite protests, the fact that horsemeat is a lucrative business seems to keep the industry churning. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, in 2018 3,871 horses worth $26.5 million shipped to Japan. Although shipping numbers have dropped, their value has risen. Canada also ships $29 million of fresh, chilled, and frozen horse meat to Japan each year. Millions of dollars worth more go to Europe. (10)

The Good Fight

Because of the lucrative business, the Canadian government is fighting animal rights groups from banning the practice. Despite efforts to instill new rules by the CFIA, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) finds the changes worse. (10) Current rules dictate that larger horses should have a minimum heading requirement, segregated from other horses. However, the new rules remove this requirement. The removal of the requirement allows horses to travel in compatibility to reduce anxiety. (10, 11)

Determining where the acceptable perimeters of “food” might lie is difficult. However, as long as people continue to fight for what they believe in, acceptable practices can be changed.


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