Horse News

Contaminated Horse Meat a Health Risk, According to Study

Press Release from The Equine Welfare Alliance

Common Horse Med can cause Fatal Bone Marrow Damage in Humans

CHICAGO, (EWA) – A peer reviewed scientific study tracing race horses sent to slaughter for human consumption has found that 100% of the horses in the study group had been administered phenylbutazone, a banned carcinogen that can also fatally damage the bone marrow of humans. The findings appear to validate the European Union’s recent tightening of traceability requirements on horse meat from third countries.

The paper, titled Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: A public health risk, appeared in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology and calls into question the reliability of the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) and CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) testing programs which have consistently failed to detect the substance.

The manuscript(1), which was authored by Drs. Nicholas Dodman(2), Nicolas Blondeau(3) and Ann M. Marini(4), followed eighteen Thoroughbred (TB) race horses that were identified by matching their registered name to their race track drug record over a five year period and were given phenylbutazone (PBZ, Bute) on race day and were subsequently sent to slaughter for human consumption.

The study also traced records on sixteen TB race horses that were given PBZ on race day and would have also entered the food chain had they not been rescued. The study was limited to race horses because of the availability of drug records, but phenylbutazone is one of the most common drugs used in the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries in horses.

Because of the bone marrow toxicity caused by PBZ in humans, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set no safe levels of PBZ and bans its use food producing animals, including horses. While PBZ is but one of the numerous banned substances that are routinely given to US horses, it is one of the most dangerous.

Defenders of horse slaughter have long pointed to USDA testing records which consistently showed no positive results for PBZ. The new study shows that the USDA testing could not have been accurate. Indeed, the study uncovered a pilot test performed by the USDA in 2004 and 2005 that used a different testing technique and found 8.3% of the meat to be contaminated with PBZ. The pilot program had been subsequently discontinued.

The study estimates that sixty seven million pounds of horse meat derived from US horses were sent overseas for human consumption in 2008. If 8.3% of this meat contained phenylbutazone residues, it would translate to over 5 million pounds of contaminated meat.

Opponents of horse slaughter have long warned that US horses are not raised as food animals and mechanisms to ensure the removal of horses treated with banned substances from the food chain are inadequate at best.

Equine Welfare Alliance recently issued a discussion paper with their partners, Canadian Horse Defence Coalition on the serious drug issue concerning North American horses. The comprehensive paper covers concerns over the ability to meet compliance with European Commission regulations on food safety.

(1) Article is cited as, Dodman, N., Blondeau, N., Marini, A.M., Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: A public health risk, Food and Chemical Toxicology (2010), doi: 10.1016/j.fct. 2010.02.021

(2) Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, MA

(3) Institut de Pharmacologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire – I.P.M.C, UMR 6097,

C.N.R.S/Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis, 660 route des Lucioles, Sophia Antipolis, 06560 Valbonne, FRANCE

(4) Department of Neurology and Program in Neuroscience, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD.

The Equine Welfare Alliance is a dues free, umbrella organization with over 100 member organizations. The organization focuses its efforts on the welfare of all equines and the preservation of wild equids.

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13 replies »

  1. Isn’t the USDA the same folks who have told growers and dairy producers they have no obligation to label consumables that are genetically enhanced or modified, or indicate if milk was from cows who’d been given growth hormone?
    So it’s really no surprise such vital testing where human health & welfare is concerned would be overlooked.


    • Our dairy farmers in PA stood up to the USDA and won! They and the Public told USDA that they wanted the choice to buy milk that was produced without growth hormones. My local dairy Rutter’s label says the milk is produced without growth hormones! Score one for the little guys!


  2. Thank you for posting this!!!! The Force of the Horse is being felt! The Pro horse slaughter advocates are probably suffering from their consumption of contaminated meat, it could explain their brainless rantings. I have always been warned, it is not the knowledgeable that you should fear, it is the ignorant because they are more dangerous.


  3. This should be in every state legislator’s file folder under, “Pro-Slaughter Horse Legislation.”


    • RE: Missouri. Someone said this should be a state-wide issue due to interstate transport. If so, would emails/faxes from residents to all their state Reps & Senators be appropriate? Feds? A mighty task, but could be worth the effort. How many emails can be sent at one time before “spam” kicks in?


  4. Good grief. I knew that Bute was on the banned list but never knew to the extent the damage Bute could do.

    Fatal Bone Marrow damage?–isn’t that like Leukemia? My dear BIL died of Leukemia many years ago. It was horrid. He was 29. He died the day before his daughter turned 4 months old. And the brain damaged fools that are running this country perpeuate this on the next generation?

    When we asked how he could have contracted this we were told that no one really knew. It could have been environmental, it could have been anything.

    Now I have to wonder if the fools running my County then did this to him…????


    • No way to tell, Margaret, but I do know that when I got my first horse in 1977, just about everything I put on him or in him was labeled: Not for use in horses that are intended for human consumption.

      I was SO puzzled because then I didn’t even know humans ATE horses!


  5. I would still like to know how often horses are sold from the holding facilities to buyers taking them by the truck load. The information we need to prevent this, to even fight it is kept from us. mar


  6. Marilyn
    Horses are taken to slaughterhouses everyday in Canada. They could be horses from Canadian auctions such as OLEX in Waterloo, Ontario or just about any other livestock auction you can find. You could ask around at an auction as to who buys for horse slaughter…but be sure not to say you are a horse rescue person, the kill buyers and many auction houses do not like horse rescue people for some reason.
    If you are on Facebook you can find a number of horse rescue organizations that work daily to buy (or bail and adopt to an approved home) horses from US auction houses. Also check the website for “Another Chance for Horses” they are a great group working for this purpose in Pennsylvania.
    Horses are also transported from the US for this purpose daily, 100,000+ in 2009 alone, this is an increase since horse slaughter for human consumption was banned in the US in late 2007.


    • Piper, the first year I knew that tens of thousands of our horses were going to slaughter was in 1980 and there were 270,000 US horses sent to slaughter houses. I think that was very near the highest number though I do not have figures on that. That was another time when there was a huge number of available horses and not enough buyers. That was the Arabian Horse boom and everyone wanted to breed a champion. I am not a rescuer but just an old wild horse advocate. I have been following this for many years and had my mare stolen and likely sold at auction back in 84. I want to stop the transport and watch the horse industry adjust to taking total responsibility for their horses lives as well as their deaths. mar


  7. I’ve just looked up this drug on Wiki as used for horses:

    Analgesia: Pain relief from infections and musculoskeletal disorders including sprains, overuse injuries, tendinitis, arthralgias, arthritis, and laminitis. Like other NSAIDs, acts directly on musculoskeletal tissue to control inflammation, thereby reducing secondary inflammatory damage, alleviating pain, and restoring range of motion. Does not cure musculoskeletal ailments or work well on colic pain.

    Antipyresis: Reduction of fevers. Antipyretic qualities may mask other symptoms; therefore, should not be administered for this purpose unless a veterinarian has concluded that the horse would not be able to eat or drink without its use or that the fever might hinder the horse’s recovery.

    Is this correct? So why would horses be given this substance prior to a race and supposedly then after they lost the race or dropped down dead from injuries, were then sent to a slaughter house?

    Why are we even eating horses? There is enough livestock roaming around to sink our planet so why are we adding more animals to the food chain? Too few answers I think. I’m disgusted by this whole thing.


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