From Mustangs roaming wild and free on the American plains to dependable farm horses to pampered ponies, horses have long been a symbol of America. But on November 18, 2011, President Barack Obama signed a bill enabling horse slaughter to become legal once again in the United States. Congress had recently removed restrictions on processing horse meat. In response, horse slaughter plants have wasted no time in taking up the reins for domestic horse slaughtering and are in the early stages of planning.
The General Accountability Office reports that during 2006, the last full year that the United States allowed domestic horse slaughtering, a staggering 104,899 horses were killed for their meat. There is a common misconception that these are old, crippled horses, but visiting a “kill lot” quickly dispels this misconception. Kill lots have horses who are young and old, trained and untrained, many of which are completely healthy and who were once beloved companions. Ex-show horses and race horses, childrens’ ponies, yearlings, and even pregnant mares await the final bid that will send them to their doom, sold by the pound and sentenced to a gruesome demise.On November 27, the General Accountability Office cited a rise in abandonment and neglect of horses accompanied by a skyrocketing raise in horses who were exported for slaughter. Entities are considering opening horse slaughter plants in multiple states, including Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Georgia, and Missouri. Slaughter plant proponent Sue Wallis estimates that between 120,000 to 200,000 horses will be killed for human consumption annually.
While Wallis said that “everyone in the horse world is excited…to turn the whole equine market around,” horse slaughter opponents cite multiple concerns. These include, but are not limited to, the slaughter of wild Mustangs, an increase in horse theft, and meat toxicity from ingesting equine medications. “They’re signing the death sentence for thousands of our American horses,” stated Oklahoma City horse advocate Stephanie Graham. “The wild mustangs in Oklahoma and every horse in Oklahoma is at risk. Horses are going to die and it’s going to be brutal.” In areas near horse slaughter plants, horses had frequently been stolen from pastures and horse shows, never to be returned. In a tough economy, all horses are at risk when their values are measured by the pound.
The pro-slaughter group, “United Horsemen,” hopes to open the first plants within several months. Lauren Silverman Simon, a federal lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States, notes that these plants will need state approval and could face courtroom delays. But at the current rate, delays won’t stop what looks to be inevitable: The mass slaughter of an American companion animal on American soil.
“People need to understand that any option other than slaughter is a more humane option. It is more humane to euthanize than to send them off to brutal, terrifying deaths,” Pasado’s Director of Operations, Stacie Martin, said. And their treatment throughout the slaughter process truly is terrifying.
(The following information is graphic and is not intended for more sensitive readers).
Those such as Wallis, who advocate domestic horse slaughter for population control, downplay the horrors of this industry. The process is far from humane. Often, horses are bashed repeatedly in the head until they are stunned and fall to the ground. Stunning the horses affords slaughterers the opportunity to catch a horse by the hind leg and hoist him or her into the air. The dazed, frightened horse dangles down by a line as a slaughterer slits their throat and causes them to bleed to death. Their deaths are slow and terrifying. Devoted friends must surely ask where their human friends are as their bodies grow cold and they struggle to breathe. This is the “solution” that Congress and slaughter advocates condone.
Being a part of this process is horrifying for many who are employed in the slaughter industry, as well. In her 1997 book, Slaughterhouse, author Gail A. Eisnitz spoke with slaughterhouse workers. One worker stated, “You move so fast [that] you don’t have time to wait ‘til a horse bleeds out. You skin him as he bleeds. Sometimes a horse’s nose is down in the blood, blowing bubbles, and he suffocates.” Surely, cruelty such as this can never be justified.
And consuming horse meat isn’t just unethical – it’s also potentially dangerous. In a recent study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, senior author Ann M. Marini, Ph.D., M.D., noted that one of the drugs regularly given to horses, Phenylbutazone (bute), is toxic and carcinogenic to humans. There is no safe level of bute ingestion for humans. With slaughter-bound horses arriving from unknown origins, it is impossible to know whether they have ever ingested this substance…or whether it would potentially be consumed by humans. “Dangerous and deadly side effects begin to appear within three years, including bone marrow suppression that was fatal in many cases,” Marini stated. “[There was also] a hypersensitivity liver syndrome that could culminate in liver failure and death.” Horse meat is no less dangerous for cats and dogs to consume, but horse meat continues to be used to feed companion animals.
Horses have not been on American dinner plates since the mid 1940s, but they have been hauled to Canadian and Mexican slaughter plants for years. According to the General Accountability Office, in 2010, almost 138,000 horses were exported for slaughter. From 2006 onward, Congress prohibited horse slaughter in the U. S. by denying funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections of horses transported for slaughter at slaughter houses. Without funding for inspections, the last three slaughter houses, located in Illinois and Texas, closed in 2007.
Representative Jim Doran, D-VA, got an amendment to pass in the House Appropriations Committee in May, 2011 that continued the ban on funding inspections. Unfortunately, several lawmakers, including Representative Tom Cole, Rep. Jack Kingston, and Senator Herbert Kohl, stripped out the amendment before the bill was finalized and recently signed into law. Representative Cole, R-OK, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, voted against continuing the ban because horse owners in his district were “pretty unanimous that they want the means to deal with an excess population” and that opponents of domestic horse slaughter “let their hearts overrule their heads.” Rep. Jack Kingston, R-GA also worked to strip out the amendment. “We wanted to allow horse slaughter again in America because of an unanticipated problem with horse neglect and abandonment,” he said.
But blaming slaughter availability on abandonment issues is inaccurate. Many point to the economic downturn as the likely cause of equine abandonment. Simone Netherlands, founder of Respect4Horses, questioned the justification for reopening American slaughter plants. “In this time when the focus of Congress is supposedly on reducing spending and creating jobs, it is a ludicrous measure to spend tax dollars in order to reinstate an inherently cruel predatory business, from which Americans stand to gain nothing. Horse slaughter plants operating until 2007 have never created a total of more than 178 jobs,” Netherlands said.
Pro-slaughter supporters have implied that the reemergence of U.S. slaughterhouses will decrease both abandonment rates and transportation rates of horses from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico for slaughter purposes. There is no guarantee, explicit or implicit, that transportation to foreign slaughterhouses will decrease once domestic slaughterhouses reopen. There is the very real risk that there will be no change in the number of horses exported for their meat and that these horses will be killed in addition to those who are killed on American soil. Assuming that the existence of domestic slaughterhouses will decrease rates of neglect is also a false premise; having more slaughter options does not change the current state of the economy, nor does it provide safety and security for horses; it only provides an easy way out for those who have neglected and abused their animals.
HR 2966 – the American Horse Slaughter Protection Act of 2011 – 112th Congress is a bill to amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, selling, purchasing, or donation of horses and other equines for human consumption and for other purposes. The bill is currently in the first step of the legislative process.
To begin to address issues pertaining to horse overpopulation, owners and breeders need to stop over-breeding their horses. Horse breeders continue to make a profit on breeding and selling their horses, but when those who buy the horses fall on hard times, the horses are subjected to a cruel fate time and again. While euthanasia is a more humane option than sending horses off to slaughter, at $800 for euthanasia and body removal, it can be too cost-prohibitive for many owners.
The thought of beating, stunning, and vivisecting alive cats and dogs is morally reprehensible for pet owners in America, so why should the standard of care be any different for horses? The reemergence of domestic horse slaughter plants raises many troubling questions. What are your thoughts on domestic horse slaughter? What could be proposed to Congress as a viable solution? Surely, sanctioned cruelty cannot be the answer. If you disagree with the legalization of domestic horse slaughter, please write to your state and national legislators.
Pasado’s Safe Haven is committed to providing rescue, rehabilitation, and educational outreach on issues pertinent to animal rescue and welfare. Thanks to the support of readers like you, Pasado’s can continue to be at the forefront of animal advocacy issues, being a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Please consider making a donation today to help us continue our important work.
Thank you – from all of the animals here at Pasado’s sanctuary and for those who still hope to find their safe haven.