In the United States, horses have never been raised for human consumption, yet for decades, our horses have been bought and slaughtered by a predatory, foreign-owned industry for sale to high-end diners in Europe and Asia. The horse slaughter industry and its supporters are working very hard to mislead the public and members of Congress. Thankfully, the facts are very easy on this cruel and predatory industry.
In 2007, the slaughter of horses on US soil came to an end when a court ruling upheld a Texas law banning horse slaughter, and similar legislation was passed in Illinois. However, failure by the US Congress to pass legislation banning horse slaughter means that American horses are still being slaughtered for human consumption abroad. Tens of thousands are shipped to Mexico and Canada annually, where they are killed under barbaric conditions so their meat can continue to satisfy the palates of overseas diners in countries such as Italy, France, Belgium and Japan.
Additionally, without the federal law, there remains the threat that horse slaughter plants may set up shop in states that have no laws against the practice. In the beginning of 2008, unsuccessful attempts were made to open a horse slaughterhouse in South Dakota and overturn the Illinois ban. It is likely that pro-horse slaughter organizations will try again elsewhere in the United States, including Texas and Illinois.
While a handful of horses are purposely sold into slaughter by irresponsible owners, most arrive at the slaughterhouse via livestock auction, where unsuspecting owners sell the animals to slaughterhouse middlemen known as "killer buyers." Despite the fact that the US plants are no longer in operation, killer buyers continue to purchase and haul as many horses as possible from livestock auctions around the country to the slaughterhouses that have now relocated to Mexico and Canada.
The suffering begins long before our horses even reach the slaughterhouse. Conditions of transport are appalling, with horses regularly hauled to our domestic borders on journeys lasting more than 24 hours. Deprived of food, water or rest, the horses are forced onto overcrowded trailers with other horses to make the long journey to slaughter.
Upon arrival at the slaughterhouse, the suffering continues unabated. Horses can be left for long periods in tightly packed trailers, subjected to further extremes of heat and cold. In hot weather, their thirst is acute. Downed animals are unable to rise, and horses are offloaded using excessive force.
When the horses are herded through the plant to slaughter, callous workers use fiberglass rods to poke and beat their faces, necks, backs and legs as the animals are shoved through the facility and into the kill box. Subjected to overcrowding, deafening sounds and the smell of blood, the horses become more and more desperate, exhibiting fear typical of "flight" behavior - pacing in prance-like movements with their ears pinned back against their heads and eyes wide open.
Conditions over the border are even worse than those at the previously operational US plants. A 2007 investigation by The San Antonio News-Express revealed that the use of the puntilla knife on horses prior to slaughter is common practice in Mexican slaughter plants, such as a facility currently owned by Beltex, formerly operating in Texas.
Footage obtained by the paper shows horses being stabbed repeatedly in the neck with these knives prior to slaughter. Such a barbaric practice simply paralyzes the animal. The horse is still fully conscious at the start of the slaughter process, during which he or she is hung by a hind leg, his or her throat slit and body butchered. Death, the final betrayal of these noble animals, is protracted and excruciating.
Wild horses are also slaughtered, since a 2004 backdoor Congressional rider engineered by then-Senator Conrad Burns (R–MT) gutted the protections afforded by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Now, the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for protecting wild horses, must sell "excess" horses (those 10 years of age or older, or not adopted after three tries) at auction. As a result, wild horses are being removed from their range at an alarming rate with some being sold for slaughter.
Although awareness has grown exponentially in recent years, the horse meat trade is still relatively hidden from most Americans, and the industry wants to keep it that way. Warren Smith, operations manager of a Canadian horse slaughterhouse, was quoted as saying to the Edmonton Journal, "Talking about horses is kind of a scary thing, especially in the West, where people think it's more of a pet than protein. When anybody starts writing about horses, everybody gets up in arms. Every time we say anything about horse in the paper, there's always an uproar, so I don't want to talk about it."
Until the US Congress passes legislation banning horse slaughter into law, show horses, racehorses, foals born as "byproducts" of the Premarin© (a female hormone replacement drug) industry, wild horses, burros and family horses will all continue to fall prey to this detestable foreign-driven industry.
The Animal Welfare Institute has answered the most common questions about horse slaughter in the Horse Slaughter Facts & FAQs. You can also click here for a list of horse organizations, rescues and industry leaders opposed to horse slaughter and in support of efforts to ban the practice. Learn more about the claim that horse slaughter solves the problem of an "unwanted horse" population in the United States, and how some horses are illegally acquired for the horsemeat trade.