By Alicia Graef

In 2007, horse slaughter came to an end in the U.S. when the last slaughterhouses that processed horse meat were shut down, but a recent change in the law could open the doors to this practice once again.

For the past few years the Agriculture Appropriations bill has had a prov ision that bans USDA funding of horse slaughter facilities. However, while no one was looking, Obama signed the bill in November, which reversed the previous ban, despite a 2008 campaign promise to end horse slaughter cruelty.

Even though horse slaughter is opposed by the majority of Americans, an estimated $5 million could now be allocated towards funding inspections, which will benefit foreign owned businesses and a greedy few who are already talking about opening slaughterhouses in states that don’t have a ban in place.

Proponents of horse slaughter want people to believe that this is the only solution to the problem of excess horses, and a humane one at that, which is simply untrue. Opening slaughter facilities in the U.S. is only going to provide an incentive to keep breeding, and lead thousands of horses on long journey to a gruesome death at the hands of incompetent and uncaring workers.

Some Interesting Numbers

While proponents of slaughter argue that the closure of slaughterhouses has directly led to an increase in the number of abandoned and neglected horses. Unfortunately for them, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study on the effects of end of domestic slaughter, which was published this summer. While there has been an increase in neglect and abandonment cases, the GAO doesn’t draw a direct conclusion about whether or not closure of slaughterhouses has anything to do with it, given that the timing coincides with a severe economic downturn.

However, according to the report, “The total number of U.S. horses sent to slaughter in 2006, the last full year of domestic slaughter, was comprised of horses slaughtered domestically (i.e., 104,899, as shown in fig. 2) and those sent for slaughter in Canada or Mexico (i.e., 32,789, as shown in fig. 3)?for a total of 137,688 horses. Taken together, the 137,984 U.S. horses that were sent to slaughter in Canada or Mexico in 2010 is approximately equal to the total number of horses slaughtered in 2006,”

According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, the number in 2011 was 103,179. Incidentally, during that time when Belgium-owned Cavel International was still operating in DeKalb, Ill, it was importing horses from Canada for slaughter. Supply will meet demand.

One of the recommendations offered by the GAO was that Congress “may wish to consider instituting an explicit ban on the domestic slaughter of horses and exports of U.S. horses intended for slaughter in foreign countries.”

Where Did These Unfortunate Horses Come From?

Proponents also like to make it out like they’re doing these horses a favor. The idea of slaughter may invoke images of horses too old, sick or injured to have had another life. Sadly, the USDA estimates that “92.3 percent of the horses going to slaughter are healthy and in “good” condition.” They’re also sold by the pound, which means the big healthy ones are worth more to kill buyers than the thin and neglected.

They can come from anywhere. They were pets, companions, wild horses, show horses and pleasure horses. They were found in papers, bought at auctions and unwittingly sold to kill buyers. Some were even stolen. Since horse slaughter was banned in California horse theft has dropped by over 34%, according to the California Livestock and Identification Bureau.

Equine industries also add to this problem. For every thoroughbred and standardbred that make it to the track, thousands of others are discarded as byproducts. For every mare bred in the Premarin industry, thousands of foals are discarded as byproducts. Every backyard breeder who just had to breed their mare, ending up with a foal that they have no idea what to do with, can be congratulated for adding yet another unwanted and undesirable horse to to the population.

Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand, brought home $3,777,978 and is believed to have been killed in a slaughterhouse in Japan after failing there as a stud. He didn’t even earn enough to ensure himself a retirement kicking around in grassy field. How sad is that?

Slaughter is Not Euthanasia

Current horse slaughter practices should not be equated with humane euthanasia, from grueling transport to the slaughterhouse to the actual slaughter. Many are arguing that the distance that is now traveled by horses being shipped across the border in Canada and Mexico is a large part of the problem in regards to the inhumane treatment of horses going to slaughter. That argument for opening domestic slaughterhouses doesn’t hold much water when the alternative is to ship horses around the country instead, as if knocking some miles off the trip makes everything alright. Going from Florida to Montana is probably just as terrible.

The GAO report also pointed out the lack of regulations, poor record keeping and enforcement when it comes to transportation. “APHIS does not deny authorization [to ship] horses to shippers with a record of inhumanely transporting horses intended for slaughter…., even if unpaid fines are pending for previous violations. The OIG also found deficiencies in how APHIS tags horses that have been inspected and approved for shipment to foreign slaughtering facilities.”

The report also notes that there is still no ban on double decked trailers, which are designed for cattle, not horses, who need more head room. The Horse Transportation Safety Act of 2009, which would have prevented shipping horses in stacked trailers, was introduced but never passed.

Julie Caramente, an animal abuse investigator, requested information from the U.S.D.A. under the Freedom of Information Act regarding violations of the “Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter Act.” The results can be found here, and they are from when horse slaughter was still going on in the U.S. If that’s what happened before, why would we allow it again?

The slaughter process itself, particularly the use of the captive-bolt gun has also been called into question. “To clarify, the captive-bolt gun is a mechanical method by which, in ideal circumstances, animals can be rendered immediately unconscious (not killed) through a quick blow to the brain by a metal bolt prior to actual slaughter. However, in order for the method to work as intended, the captive bolt must be administered properly. According to the AVMA’s own guidelines, the head of the animal to which the captive bolt is being applied must be restrained or still and a highly skilled individual. In the slaughterhouse none of these best case scenarios are in place: the horse is most likely panicked, its head is unrestrained, and the person administering the captive bolt is a low-paid worker who is expected to move horses through the kill line at high speed. Herein lays the controversy surrounding the use of the captive bolt in horse slaughter,” according to the Veterinarians for Equine Welfare, who is opposed to the practice.

recent investigation conducted by the Canadian Horse Defence Council uncovered some of the brutality found at slaughterhouses. One worker attempted to stun a horse, which is supposed to render them immediately unconscious, 11 times, while others were heard whinnying and moving after repeated attempts. Under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act only one single blow is allowed.

Then There’s That Food Safety Thing…

Even without the debate on whether or not it is ethical to kill horses for food, or criticizing other cultures, there is still the issue of food safety. Simply put, horses are not raised for human consumption. They’re regularly given a host of drugs, medications and supplements that are clearly labeled that they are not to be used in animals that will be eaten and pose a serious threat to human health.

A study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology highlights the fact that at least one of the drugs regularly given to horses, Phenylbutazone (bute), is not only toxic to humans, but a carcinogen.
“Dangerous and deadly side effects began to appear within three years including bone marrow suppression that was fatal in many cases and a hypersensitivity liver syndrome that could culminate in liver failure and death,” stated Ann M. Marini, Ph.D. M.D., the senior author of the study.


This year the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011 (S.1176) was reintroduced by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), which will end the slaughter of American horses and prevent them from being shipped abroad for slaughter. A House version of this bill (H.R. 2996) was also reintroduced by Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Please sign and share the petition below asking your representative to co-sponsor the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, which will end the slaughter of America’s horses once and for all by prohibiting the possession, shipment, transport, purchase, sale, delivery, donation or receipt of horses that are intended for human consumption.

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