Horse News

The Way Forward on Horse Welfare

Article by Michael Markarian ~ Humane Society Legislative Fund

Irresponsible Owners Still Sending Their Horses to Slaughter

The Government Accountability Office released a new report yesterday, “Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter,” and some proponents of horse slaughter are using it as a rallying cry to re-open equine abattoirs on American soil. But the GAO report is a lot more nuanced than the horse slaughterindustry suggests, and the report provides some good insights into better policy solutions for horse welfare. And it confirms what we have long known: that shipping horses long distances in double-decker trailers and killing them for food exports isn’t good for the horses.

The report indicates that since Congress blocked the use of tax dollars for USDA to conduct horse slaughter inspections in 2005, and since state legislation shut down the last remaining plants in Illinois and Texas in 2007, there have been anecdotal accounts of an increase in horse neglect and abandonment, and a decline in horse prices. Given that this time period has coincided with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the GAO can’t conclude whether these problems are due to a closure of U.S. horse slaughter plants or to the country’s financial crisis. However, the report clearly shows that the number of horses being sent to slaughter, more than 130,000 each year, has not changed all that much since the closure of the domestic plants (due to an increase in export of horses for slaughter to Canada and Mexico), suggesting that the same number of irresponsible owners—not more—are still sending their horses to slaughter.

Industries that want to profit from horse slaughter, and the export of American horse meat to Europe and Asia, will claim that we need to re-open horse slaughter plants in the U.S. so that horses are not traveling long distances to Canada and Mexico, and that Congress should fund USDA oversight of horse slaughter, potentially adding millions of dollars to the federal budget and distracting agency inspectors from other food safety responsibilities. But when a handful of slaughter plants did operate in the U.S., horses still traveled long distances across the country in dangerous double-decker trucks, and the transport and slaughter processes involved were inherently inhumane. There’s no reason to believe that slaughter plants would spring up in every community to make the transport distances shorter, or that horses would evolve into a species that no longer has a flight response, which makes the stunning and slaughter process very difficult and clumsy. It’s like saying the U.S. should repeal its child labor laws because bad actors are using Mexican children to work in factories or transporting American children across the border to Mexico to work in response to U.S. law.

Instead, the GAO report offers a menu of options for lawmakers and regulators to consider, some of them very good: The report recommends 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.” That’s the right response for Congress to stem the tide of American horses going over our borders for slaughter in Canada and Mexico and ensure that this inhumane practice doesn’t resume in this country. That’s exactly what the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act aims to do. The Senate bill, S. 1176, was introduced this month by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The House-passed agriculture spending bill retains the current de-funding provision to block funds for horse slaughter, and we’ll be working to make sure that the right language holds up in the Senate and that key members of the Appropriations Committee don’t attempt to subvert the House position when they hammer out the final bill in conference committee. Congress needs to ban exports of horses for slaughter, not try to create a new network of U.S. slaughter plants.

The GAO report also confirms that the use of double-decker trailers in the transport of horses represents a significant threat to animal welfare, recommending that “USDA issue a final rule to protect horses through more of the transportation chain to slaughter.” Double-decker trailers are designed for animals such as cattle and pigs—shorter-necked species than horses, who require more headroom than double-decker trailers afford. Horses often throw their heads to maintain balance, and injure themselves easily in such vehicles. In 2006, a double-decker truck hauling 41 horses in Missouri crashed, killing 16 horses. In 2007, a double-decker carrying 59 horses in Illinois struck another vehicle after blowing through a stop sign. It took five hours to rescue the horses from this mangled truck, resulting in the death of nine of them; six died later due to injuries sustained. In both instances, the design of the trailers caused horses to lose parts of their legs or break their backs. A few were crushed under the weight of other horses falling on top of them.

Such a rule to prevent injury and death was first proposed by USDA in 2007, and we call on the agency to finalize it without delay, banning the use of double-decker trailers for the transport of horses to all points en route to slaughter.

In addition to policy solutions, more education of horse owners is needed. The cost of horse ownership has gone up significantly, at a time when the average horse owner’s ability to afford that cost has fallen drastically. This situation can only be resolved by greater outreach and information about the private responsibilities and expense of horse ownership, and the options available to struggling horse owners such as adoption and rescue groups. We also need a continued reduction in breeding of new horses while the economy is creating fewer, not more, horse owners—a practice that many responsible horsemen are currently following.

The horse slaughter industry, along with their allies in the agribusiness lobby and some veterinarians aligned with industry, are the ones who have blocked legislation to stop long-distance transport of horses to foreign countries for the purpose of slaughter, and have created the major problem identified by the GAO report. These horse exports exist only because of their obstructionism, and Congress can solve this aspect of the problem by passing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. It’s time for all sides to come together and act with great haste to close our national borders to the horse slaughter pipeline.

10 replies »

  1. The report did note that the USDA could currently inspect the vehicles that horses are transported in. As an example of how well USDA does their job see the recent Animals Angels investigation with trucks with gaping holes in the roof and along the sides. There is no reason to believe that USDA will do a diligent job either inspecting and pulling horses unfit for travel from the trucks anymore than they do a diligent job currently in slaughterhouses. That USDA is on the job inspecting our food sources gives me no comfort at all. We have seen that the haulers do not wish to police themselves, nor does anyone else involved in this industry. Its the horses that suffer the lack of concern of those they encounter along the way. Since from beginning to end this is a cruel and heartless industry SHUT IT DOWN!


  2. A bit off topic here…

    What the bleep is going on with BLM wanting the new new to be castrating all the studs????

    At least we stopped WY from sterilizing the mares for the time being. But you geld all the studs??? what happens when the current population dies off??? Are there wild horse breeders out there that we don’t know about??? Pushing to geld all the studs so that there horses can be sold to the government for all kinds of funds just to repopulate the horses????


    • Margaret, that’s the point! Non-producing herds so that their wild horse problem goes away and they get off the hook by not sending the horses to slaughter, their other plan that the public stands strong against.


  3. Canadian horses fare no better. Please see the results of an investigation at Natural Valley Farms in Saskatchewan – (CAUTION – GRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHS).

    This investigation reveals horses slaughtered for meat without marks of captive bolt gun, transport of pregnant mares close to term, and birth or spontaneous abortion of foals during transport. Extreme environmental waste has been documented, which challenges pro-slaughter claims that humane euthanasia and subsequent burial represents an environmental disaster relative to slaughter.

    Temple Grandin wrote – “bad things happen as soon as I leave a slaughterhouse.” This industry simply cannot be trusted to police itself and certainly its “watchdogs” fare no better. There is no such thing as “humane slaughter.” Slaughter’s ship has sunk. Time to stop re-arranging the deck chairs.


  4. I was pleased to read how this author recommended that new horse owners understand the long term commitment, but I also wish he’d address intentional, over breeding by the industry, in order to cull “the best.” I am glad though, that people are looking at modes of transportation, and doing what they can to stop the pain, torture, etc. They are things that can be controlled if there is enough exposure and enough pressure to act. Damn awful stuff.

    Admittedly I don’t own horses, but the problem of what to do when your horses get old has to be addressed. I read this yesterday and was appalled by the man’s attitude. Maybe I’m just being too sensitive:


  5. I would hope that we see new strides in all areas concerning the unwanted horses, the slaughering of horses, wild and domesticated, and the transportation of same. I am a new owner of horses. As with all my pets, (dogs), I know that there are responsibility in the ownership of any pet. I am one that believes that these pets are not “JUST” pets, but members of our familites, to be protected, loved, and taken care off. I firmly believe that the racing industry is the largest gulty industry in establishing an excess of horses. They cannot all have a “zenyatta”, but they will breed, breed, and breed hoping to get one. As these horses prove not to be the great Zenyatta, they are dumped to end up on a slaughter truck. THIS HAS TO STOP. WHAT HAS THE HUMAN RACE BECOME THAT THEY ARE SO INSENSITIVE TO THE WELFARE OF OUR HORSES IN NEED, AS WELL AS ALL THE DOGS AND CATS THAT ARE EUTHANZIED EVERY YEAR., ALSO BECAUSE OF BREEDERS THAT SHOULD BE CLOSED. Hopefully, and soon, we will see a change in the direction that our pets are taken care of the way God intended.


  6. Please watch on You tube – “Sgt. Reckless – Korean War Horse Hero”
    Perhaps this little video should be sent to our Congressmen, Senators, President, – dare I say BLM, etc. etc. – Just to remind them…….


  7. If you can look at the Animals’ Angels web site and read the section with the 96 pp.USDA document on horse slaughter, and then look your own horse in the heart still thinking that horse slaughter is an option, all I can say is may God have mercy on your soul. May He have mercy on us all if we can not stop this evil.


  8. The only thing I can say, is to add to what everyone else has already touched on. ALL horse slaughter must STOP. Whether they are transported in double decker trucks without care for their health or well-being, or, taken to local slaughter facilities, BOTH are cruel, inhumane, & something out of a horror movie!! These poor animals are treated as if they have NO feelings, that they’re NOT alive, that they are nothing more than inanimate, disposable “things”. That mentality must stop, horse slaughter must stop. When your small pets get old or sick, & it’s “their time”, a licensed veterinarian gives them a humane injection, usually after they’ve been given a sedative to relax them. Then it’s up to the owner to either take them home to bury, or have their pet cremated, with the choice of getting your pet’s ashes returned to you, or as a mass cremation. Why can’t the same be done for horses? I know it’s probably very expensive, but we owe them that last rite of compassion, to let them go, when it is truly their time, with love & dignity. Horse breeders & owners, world-wide, need to get their acts together, these are feeling, breathing, sentient beings, not disposable things!! If they concentrated on good breeding, instead of over-breeding, & good training instead of rushing horses, that, in my opinion, are too young to be pushed so hard, so fast, maybe they’d get another “Zenyatta”, or, who knows, maybe even another Triple Crown winner?? Instead of so many unwanted, throw-away horses, not just within the Thoroughbred industry, but, in all breeding farms, & research farms, & the list goes on. There have always been horses(no different than dogs or cats), that are abused, abandoned, starved, neglected, & unwanted, or, that the owner can’t care for. Today is no different than yesterday, but, we CAN change tomorrow, before it happens.


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