Common Horse Sense

Defending Agriculture

Congress takes action to address unintended consequences from the cessation of domestic horse slaughter

Published on: February 20, 2013

People care deeply about their horses. The United States Congress cares about horses. There is emotional attachment to horses, but it should not blind well intentioned individuals as to why Congress decided it had made a mistake and took action to address the unintended consequences from cessation of slaughter of domestic horses.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report in June, 2011, entitled appropriately "Horse Welfare."  It is GAO-11-228 should you want to read the facts about the lack of domestic slaughter facilities for horses in the U.S.

The igniting spark in the horse slaughter debate is a new law suit filed by Valley Meat Company in New Mexico. Valley Meat claims USDA is not providing appropriate inspections and inspectors which would allow Valley Meat to initiate horse slaughter in the U.S. which has been shut down since 2007.

Just the facts

To determine whether horse slaughter should be reinitiated in the United States, GAO staff examined the effect of the horse slaughter ban since it was enacted in 2007. GAO looked for market changes on horse welfare and on states, local governments, tribes, and animal welfare organizations. It also selected five academic experts who had published studies on the horse industry and talked to state veterinarians in 17 states.

In the fall of 2007, the last three horse slaughtering facilities in the US were closed. In the last full year of operations, two of the facilities slaughtered approximately 105,000 horses. In 1990, the number of horses slaughtered was 345,900 and that number decreased through 2002 to 42,312. Sixteen facilities operated in the 1980s and that number collapsed to two facilities in 2002.

Before the horse slaughter ban in 2007, horse meat was tested for consumption by humans or zoo animals. Horses still are used for pet food and glue because corpses of horses are now taken to rendering plants for disposal and product creation. These products are not covered by the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

Due to the ban, GAO states "…U.S. exports of horses intended for slaughter increased to Canada and Mexico,…" In 2012, Canada had four horse slaughter facilities and Mexico three.  It was determined that the number of horses going to slaughter in Canada has increased by 148% and to Mexico 660%. In addition, an interesting side business has developed where horses are sent to feed lots first for fattening before they are sent to slaughter facilities.

Since 2007, state veterinarians say fewer horse sales are occurring and owners have fewer options in getting rid of their horses. The economic downturn in the U.S. has "likely affected horse prices" because so many U.S. horses are used for recreational use and are thought to be a luxury item. One GAO study estimated that approximately 45% of horse owners have an annual household income of between $25,000-75,000 per year.

GAO states "Horse welfare in the United States has declined in 2007, as evidenced by reported increase in horse abandonments and an increase in investigations for horse abuse and neglect." GAO is careful to state that there is a lack of comprehensive national data on this assertion but 17 state veterinarians report such abandonments and abuse. The state veterinarians also report that horse welfare has generally declined and they cite the cessation of domestic slaughter in 2007 and the economic downturn as causing more abuse and neglect.

The veterinarians also point out that very few owners directly harm their horses but simply neglect feeding and providing the appropriate vaccinations for their horses.

Tribal nations are also reporting "…increases of abandonments on their land, exacerbating the overpopulation on tribal lands." GAO representatives said there is significant degradation of tribal lands due to overgrazing caused by large populations of horses which have been abandoned onto the tribal land. GAO also declares "…domesticated horses abandoned on public lands generally have poor survival prospects,…" They claim domestic horses, when turned loose on tribal lands, are unfamiliar with the wild plants which are edible and domestic horses are likely to be shunned or hurt by wild horses.

Congress has now taken action to address the unintended consequences from the cessation of domestic horse slaughter. States such as Arkansas, Oklahoma, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming are attempting to deal with unwanted, abused, neglected horses. 

The slaughter of horses as evidenced by comments on my column is a controversial issue. It is also a fact that the number of US horses going to slaughter has not decreased and the unintended consequences for these horses destined for slaughter is that they are traveling much farther to meet the same end in foreign slaughtering facilities. Congress has now acted to better protect the welfare of horses transported to slaughter. This is common horse sense!

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  4. Anonymous says:

    The reality of all this is we need to re-open US Federally and State inspected horse processing plants. The only people that cannot figure this out are those that have no "skin in the game"! The drug issue in horse meat is very minor and can be addressed very effectively. As for horse meat it is very healthy for you and is a good product!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hey a friend of mine added a comment to this post and I want to add something to it as well. Your studies DO NOT show the damages to local economies or environment damages. It also doesn't say it stinks so bad that our family had to relocate because in the summer the Illinois plant would make you vomit in your own backyard from the odor. It got in our clothing, fabric, and hair and the smell stays. The water drainage was full of blood and in intense heat smelled and had a white reddish discoloration, the bodies were often piled up and left until they could be hauled off and my children saw things they can never forget. You dont mention the horses screams or passersby in our community talking of dead or injured horses being dragged by heavy equipment and the number of requests for the plant to leave before closing. Many businesses REFUSED to locate to give us jobs so many people had to move-so if you sir enjoy seeing blood, and manure piled up in your community by all means have it in your own town-really smart people do not want this in their communities, plus the horses are tormented in plain site to get off the trailers, I know I socked one of the workers in the eye for injuring an older mare-I bought the horse from him, brought her home. She won all around horse last year for my daughter-so you people who support this garbage of what's right and wrong are stupid. Maybe the horse trader and killer buyer who said that the killer buyers were claiming they had more horses in America should quit their breeding JUST to make money-I think it's funny it backfired on them for several years! Now they blame the horses-you are so ridiculous-I also noted and hope others do to=your information you quote from the GOA is really really old and out of date. As well Most state veterinarians are agreeing because they make money slaughtering horses too-this is VERY common knowledge-not all equine vets actually like horses to begin with. So there's the real Facts. IF you love the smell of DEATH sir then by all means-offer your property for this project Im sure you will make enough money to buy a respirator and a pair of dark sunglasses. Before you back this supposed good idea=you needed to walk through a plant while they are buterching horses and get a feel for what I am saying-I held on to Quista Maria's mane all the way to the bolt told them I would not leave without the mare-when he hit he again I socked him and his gun dropped-I told him hed get to expirience it if they didnt release her to me and my crying daughter. I got her, gave her a name, and we are keeping her forever. So until you go that far into this-you have no right to say your for something.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Please! This slaughter issue is just a financial issue-the abusive horse people want to kill what they cant train. That's the bottom line. They only are looking at making money-this is about raising horse selectively because people like Duquette and Wallis cannot breed to win, The Aqha wants more money and the idiots that believe the neglected animals are killed for meat are really just ill-informed. The GAO reporting is inflated off and on to support the issue but there are no cold hard facts, I would bet my 4million dollar inheritance on the fact that most of this is just to kill them off period, and make money breeding more. A real trainer in this economy like us in Illinois we have yet to drop the price below 5000 a horse and we are still getting them sold-you all are really doing something wrong. As far as getting rid of the problem-they only want good condition horses at the EU and I found out they want clean and clear animals no meds-so that means illiness will again break out in horses, plus we have clear facts that they do not test horses for Hepatitis, Herpes, or other serious illnesses prior to slaughter, you sit in front of your computer and swear to me that you would eat a plate of Hepatitis, Herpes, infested horse meat with a side of yearly vaccines, a few bute, a dose of growth enhancers, and some racing drugs, maybe some anti-inflammatories I give my horses every day for performance issues and I will come to your side, but I dare guess youONLY like wallis and Duquette would like to just mail the meat to the foreigners and if they live through it god bless em or if they dont oh well. right?