Many owners are unaware that the horses they have sold will end up being sent to slaughterhouses for their meat and other uses.
While horsemeat consumption is on the rise throughout Europe, few if any, are willing to admit they are eating animals such as wild horses, family pets, race horses, or mares who had been kept pregnant for their entire lives to develop Premarin (Pregnant Mares' Urine), which is used for estrogen replacement therapy.
It is reasonable to say that most Americans would be shocked to learn of the thousands of horses, both wild and domestic, who are slaughtered in three US slaughterhouses, two in Texas and one in Illinois, every year for their meat. In 1999, 62,813 horses were dragged through these slaughterhouses on their way to satisfy culinary demand in Belgium, France, Italy, Japan and other countries. With beef consumption dropping dramatically throughout Europe as a response to BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) or "mad cow" disease, and the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, consumers are looking to other sources of meat, including horse.
Even America's wild horses, protected from slaughter by federal law, are being sold for their meat. The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that "nearly 300 federally protected mustangs were processed into meat and pet food in 1999, the most recent year data were available. Most of the wild horses slaughtered at the plants were less than 6 years old and were killed within months of owners receiving title to them." Wild horse adopters sign affidavit language, under penalty of perjury, that they have no intention of selling the horses for slaughter.
The search for horsemeat has been on the increase in England also. According to British Customs, the export of horsemeat has doubled in the past five years. "People in Britain have been horrified that their Hampshire's New Forest wild ponies have begun to disappear," according to Compassion in World Farming. The rising demand for horsemeat is also being blamed for increased horse theft throughout Italy and the BBC has reported that Germany will slaughter 70,000 horses for their meat this year.
Closer to home, Canadian horsemeat prices have almost doubled in the past two months because of increasing demand from Europe, according to an Edmonton Journal article. The article points out, however, that Claude Bouvry, owner of Bouvry Exports in Calgary, isn't bragging because "People in the horse-meat industry don't like talking about slaughtering horses for food because of the horse's almost mythical place in western culture."
Photos: Wild horse photo © by Ginger Kathrens/Taurus Productions. Slaughterhouse photo © by Gail Eisnitz/Humane Farming Association