On Monday, activists across Canada took to the street to protest the slaughter of horses. Many of the protesters painted their faces white and stuck rubber Halloween-type bullet wounds on their foreheads, with fake blood dripping from the holes, to call attention to how horses are often killed. One protester, Mary Parker, described footage from a slaughterhouse showing a man with a rifle shooting a horse three times in the head to kill the animal.

Slaughtering horses for food is legal in Canada. In 2009, nearly 94,000 horses were slaughtered in the Great White North. About half of those horses were shipped to Canada from the United States. Although the slaughter of horses has been banned in the U.S. since 2007, some states have been trying to re-open their slaughterhouses, and as long as the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act remains stalled in Congress, it’s still legal to ship American horses for slaughter. International borders are no barrier to those wanting to make a few bucks from killing animals.

Much of the horse meat is exported to Europe and Asia, where the idea of people eating equines is not frowned upon. It probably should be, as horse meat can contain the chemical phenylbutazone, which can cause a toxic reaction in humans.

Like most animals killed for human consumption, horses die cruel, often lingering deaths in slaughterhouses. According to the Calgary Sun, undercover video taken at one processing plant showed several instances of the prolonged suffering of slaughtered horses and a case in which one horse, rather than being unconscious as rules mandate, was still conscious as a worker tried to slit the horse’s throat.

Despite the protests, horse slaughter in Canada looks set to continue. One proposed bill, Bill C-544, would limit, but not end, the bloody business. The bill would stop the import of horses from the U.S. to be killed in Canadian slaughterhouses and ban the export of the meat to markets in Europe and Asia.

Even this mild bill doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, as no one in the Canadian Parliament seems to want to take up the cause. That’s fine with Conservative politicians such as Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who sniffed about people “who think they have the right to tell producers what they are allowed to sell,” which of course would be wrong, as compassion shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of capitalism.

Still, the passion of the protesters would appear to indicate that this issue is not going away. The Canadian government’s inaction just shows how important it is for citizens to take a stand for animals and make sure their voices are heard. The horses can’t do it for themselves.

Photo Credit: Kevin Walsh