State suspends Quesnel Livestock license
MIDDLEBURY — On Dec. 16, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets suspended the dealer license of Middlebury livestock dealers Bernard and Louis Quesnel, who do business as Quesnel Livestock. The suspension comes at the end of a nearly month-long agency investigation of Quesnel Livestock for possession of improperly documented horses on their Route 7 North property.
An inspection by the Agency of Agriculture on Nov. 23 revealed 18 horses on the property. Two days later, when representatives of the agency returned, there were only 11 horses, state officials said. The Quesnels were unable to provide dealer records for the horses. All horses traded within the state of Vermont must have a negative Coggins test for equine infectious anemia, and none of the horses on the Quesnel property had any documentation of these tests, according to the agency.
The Quesnels informed representatives of the Agency of Agriculture of their intent to transport the horses directly to a slaughterhouse in Canada. According to State Veterinarian Kristin Haas, who is also director of food safety and consumer protection for the Agency of Agriculture, export to Canada falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and does not require the same rigorous testing.
But the agency’s suspension order reported that the seven horses that disappeared from the property had been sold within the state without the testing that they needed, and the order pointed to the specific laws violated by this action.
The suspension order went on to report that, when questioned about the missing seven horses, the Quesnels informed the Agency of Agriculture representatives that they “must not know how to count.”
After the Quesnels had repeatedly failed to provide the agency with what they felt was adequate documentation, state officials alerted them that they would come to the farm and test the horses themselves on Dec. 4. But, according to the order, the Quesnels refused to present the horses for testing that day, instead telling the Agency of Agriculture personnel that they could “catch them themselves” if they wanted to test the horses.
Agency officials quarantined the herd that day.
After the state’s initial quarantine notices and repeated efforts to test the horses to confirm their quarantine status, the Agency of Agriculture on Dec. 16 served the order suspending the Quesnels’ dealer license, which took effect immediately.
“We do surveillance often,” said Haas, who handled the case for Agency of Agriculture. “It isn’t a common occurrence that we get to this point in the surveillance. Most of the time people comply with what they are supposed to do.”
Haas said on Tuesday that the two parties had reached an “agreement in principle” before the case went to a formal hearing. She did not provide details of the meeting, but said the final written agreement would be available as soon as both parties had signed off on it.
Louis Quesnel said he didn’t have any comment on the issues raised by the Agency of Agriculture, and he directed questions to the agency.
The alleged violations involving recordkeeping on their horses are not Quesnel Livestock’s first brush with a government regulator. This year the farm was one of two companies in New England to receive a warning letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about adulterated animals sold for slaughter, according to a search of the FDA Web site. The letter, dated Nov. 23, reported that several inspections had found illegal levels of drug residue in the tissues of a dairy cow the company sold for human consumption. Among the violations, the cow had 12 times the legal limit of penicillin. The letter cited seven similar violations for various drugs dating as far back as 2000.
The letter also reported “significant violations” in the company’s documentation system, saying that the Quesnels were unable to provide documentation of the origin of the cow and were unsure of the cow’s past medication status.
Quesnel Livestock had until Dec. 8 to reply to the FDA’s warning letter, and any enforcement action would be decided after that. A spokeswoman for the New England office of the FDA said if the Quesnels fail to correct the problems, the case will be sent to the Justice Department “for further consequences.”
Around the time the Quesnel herd of horses was quarantined on Dec. 4, Cornwall resident Barbara Kaiser noticed the animals standing near the front of the Route 7 property. As she looked closer, she recognized her horse, a 22-year-old Appaloosa named Tie Dye. The horse had been on loan to a stable, which in turn had loaned it to someone inexperienced with horses but interested in caring for one. After some months, the horse had resurfaced at Quesnel Livestock. Kaiser soon discovered that the horses were being readied for shipment to Canada.
Kaiser returned with a friend’s animal trailer and proof that she owned the horse, and after an altercation with the Quesnels to which Middlebury police were called, she was able to take her horse home.
“It was sheer luck that I even found her,” said a relieved Kaiser.
But afterward, she worried about the other horses on the property.
“Those horses have been kept in his barn … in not very suitable conditions,” said Kaiser. “If my horse ended up there, there could very well be others in the same situation.”
There were many others in the community who shared Kaiser’s worries. The Addison County Humane Society and Spring Hill Horse Rescue in Clarendon have been inundated by calls from people concerned about the herd at Quesnel Livestock. Officials at both organizations said they couldn’t do anything due to the ongoing investigation.
Following the suspension of the Quesnels’ dealer license, the Agency of Agriculture cleared the horses for trade within Vermont on the condition that they be kept in quarantine until they were tested. According to state records all of the horses had been sold to new owners within the county until alternative homes could be found.
As word of the investigation of Quesnel Livestock spread among horse owners around the county, many wondered how it could happened. But to Gina Brown, owner and founder of Spring Hill Horse Rescue, this case illustrates a growing problem.
“It is just a symptom of the problem, which is horse overpopulation,” she said.
In the current economy, some horse owners simply cannot afford to keep their animals once they become injured or old. And since 2000, when she founded Spring Hill, Brown has seen a significant rise in the number of people who call her searching for a new home for their horses.
“There’s probably been a 300 percent increase, maybe more,” she said. “Back when we started, we rarely got phone calls from people wanting to get rid of their horses.”
Now she is working with the Humane Society of the United States to create a statewide forum to deal with unwanted horses in a humane way. The statewide efforts, she said, will begin in the Middlebury area, and will work on finding welcoming homes for some horses and humane euthanasia alternatives for others too old or injured.