Horse Slaughter Facts and FAQs

photo by Soledad Lorieto

Facts about Horse Slaughter

  • The former US-based, foreign owned horse slaughter companies and a handful of trade associations that support horse slaughter have contributed to the continued export of tens of thousands of America's horses for slaughter in Mexico and Canada either by physically shipping horses to slaughter or by actively opposing legislation banning horse slaughter. Slaughter is not humane euthanasia. Horses suffer horribly on the way to and during slaughter.
  • The current patchwork of state laws on horse slaughter—including statutes prohibiting slaughter in Texas and Illinois where the only domestic horse slaughter plants operated until very recently—is insufficient. A federal law prohibiting horse slaughter is imperative to ensure slaughterhouses don’t simply relocate to states with weaker laws and to prevent horses from being exported en masse for slaughter in Canada, Mexico or further abroad.
  • Passage of the Save America’s Forgotten Equines Act (SAFE) Act will reduce animal suffering, hence its wide support throughout the equestrian and veterinary world, as well as the humane community.
  • According to numbers obtained from the California Livestock and Identification Bureau, since horse slaughter was banned in California horse theft has dropped by over 34%.
  • Americans overwhelmingly support an end to horse slaughter for human consumption (recent polls from Kentucky, Texas and Utah respectively show that 82, 72 and 69 percent of those questioned oppose the practice). A recent national poll found that almost 70 percent of Americans support a federal ban. In California, a 1998 ballot initiative (Prop. 6) banning horse slaughter for human consumption passed with 60 percent of the vote.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is banning horse slaughter a states rights issue? Shouldn't the federal government not get involved?

No. Horse Slaughter is a Federally Regulated Industry. Opponents try to claim that slaughtering horses for human consumption is a states rights issue. However, this is not true. The slaughtering of any animal for human consumption in the US is a federally regulated process. This is the same for beef, hogs or other livestock (Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 603); Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 1901 note; Public Law 104-127)). In addition, since horsemeat is not consumed in the US it must be hauled across state lines and the US border which are clearly defined issues within the US Constitution’s Commerce Clause. While a state does have some leeway to ban certain slaughter practices within their state boundaries, these actions to not apply outside of their jurisdiction. For example, Texas, California and Illinois have banned horse slaughter within their states but those laws have no impact elsewhere.

Furthermore, nobody has a “right” to abuse or neglect an animal. There are laws against animal abuse, neglect and abandonment at all levels of government in the US. There are numerous federal animal cruelty statues in place now given the transitory nature of many issues.

Is it true that slaughter is a last resort for infirm, dangerous or no longer serviceable horses?

No. The horse slaughter industry makes a greater profit off of healthy horses and therefore purposely seeks out such animals.

Will horse abuse and neglect cases rise significantly following a ban on slaughter?

No. There has been no documented rise in abuse and neglect cases in California since the state banned horse slaughter for human consumption in 1998. There was no documented rise in Illinois following closure of the state's only horse slaughter plant in 2002 and it’s reopening in 2004. Since closure of the domestic plants in the earlier part of 2007 there has been no correlating rise in neglect and abuse cases. Conversely, horse slaughter engenders indiscriminate breeding and neglect by providing a “dumping ground” for unscrupulous owners.

If there is a ban on horse slaughter, will horse rescue and retirement groups have the resources to take care of unwanted horses? Should the government have to pay for the care of horses voluntarily given up by their owners?

Hundreds of horse rescue organizations operate around the country, and additional facilities are being established.  However, not every horse currently going to slaughter will need to be absorbed into the rescue community. ­Many are marketable horses who will be sold to new owners. Sick and elderly horses should be euthanized by a licensed veterinarian. It is not the government's responsibility to provide for the care of horses voluntarily given up by their owners.

If slaughter is not an option, what will we do with sick, old and unwanted horses?

Approximately 920,000 horses die annually in this country (10 percent of an estimated population of 9.2 million) and the vast majority are not slaughtered, but euthanized and rendered or buried without any negative environmental impact. Just over 100,000 horses were slaughtered in the US 2008. If slaughter were no longer an option and these horses were rendered or buried instead, this would represent a small increase in the number of horses being disposed of in this manner—an increase that the current infrastructure can certainly sustain.

However, there is no logic in suggesting that all horses currently going to slaughter would need to be euthanized and disposed of following passage of the SAFE Act. Because most horses going to slaughter are marketable animals, many of the horses previously slaughtered would instead be kept by their owners, sold to someone else or placed at sanctuaries following passage of a ban, thereby reducing any impact on the current infrastructure even further.

Additionally, humane euthanasia and carcass disposal is highly affordable and widely available. The average cost of having a horse humanely euthanized and safely disposing of the animal's carcass is approximately $225, while the average monthly cost of keeping a horse is approximately $200.

If there is a ban on horse slaughter in the United States, will there be an increase in the export of horses for foreign slaughter? Will horses suffer from longer transport for slaughter in countries where there may be weaker welfare laws?

The SAFE Act contains clear provisions prohibiting the export of horses for slaughter abroad, as well as clear enforcement and penalty provisions. Risk of federal prosecution and the high costs associated with illegally transporting horses long distances for slaughter abroad are strong deterrents. Ironically, the very organizations most critical of the recent closure of the three domestic horse slaughter plants due to the subsequent surge in horses going to slaughter in Mexico are working to defeat passage of the SAFE Act. In doing so, they are working in tandem with the companies that until recently slaughtered horses here and which now are buying horses in the US and shipping them to their plants in Mexico and Canada.

Is it true that no standards exist for horse rescue facilities that take unwanted horses?

The Animal Welfare Institute and The Humane Society of the United States published “Basic Guidelines for Operating an Equine Rescue or Retirement Facility” in 2008. These and other materials are being incorporated into an expanded sanctuary accreditation program via the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Additionally, Horse rescue groups must also provide for the welfare of horses in their custody in compliance with state and local animal welfare laws.