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Like horses to the slaughterhouse

  • Is it time to open U.S. horse slaughterhouses again? It’s a grim choice, but it may be the best one when matched with abuse, abandonment, and unregulated abattoirs.

Eating a horse is forbidden territory for Americans. You can tuck into a plate of horseflesh in Tokyo, Paris and Moscow, but it usually won’t be found on the menu in Dallas or Little Rock.

Maybe it’s a recognition of horses as companions, or possibly the view that horses are special, magnificent animals — but Americans don’t eat horses. However, when the Japanese, French, or Russians have come calling for their pound of horseflesh, U.S. slaughterhouses have always been ready to please — or at least used to be. Hides, meat, tails and hooves: There is big money in horses and it’s not all on the track.

Horse slaughter tends to bring a visceral response from most people. At worst, it’s inhumane and repugnant. At best, it’s a turn-a-blind-eye response to what many people would rather not know about.

But a question remains, regardless of one’s primal response to assembly line killing of horses: Is it necessary?

Horse slaughter ended in the U.S. in 2007. Essentially a backdoor ban, Congress cut off funding for USDA inspections of equine slaughterhouses. With no inspection, the meat couldn’t be sold, and the industry went out with a whimper. Animal rights groups were delighted until the law of unintended consequences came to collect: The number of U.S. horses exported for slaughter tripled, with 138,000 sent over the border in 2010. The shuttering of U.S. horse slaughterhouses has turned into a “Be careful what you wish for,” lesson.

U.S. horse exports are trucked to Canada or Mexico, a nightmare for animal rights activists. In America, the slaughter was monitored and the killing done with a 4-inch bolt pistol to the brain. Even the best and most reasonable arguments against the use of a bolt pistol quickly blanch when compared with gruesome accounts reported from numerous Mexican abattoirs.

Currently there are 9 million horses in the U.S., and abuse/neglect cases have become commonplace. There are over 150,000 unwanted horses in America and plenty of sources report a far higher number. The owners would not and will not pay for euthanasia or carcass disposal. Horses live about 30 years and cost at least several thousand dollars each year to feed and shelter (not even factoring in vet bills). The grim reality: Equine slaughterhouses may be the best option; at least when stacked beside the other wretched choices.

The backlash over 150,000 unwanted horses in America was a catalyst for Congress to restore USDA inspections in 2011 — but legal battles will continue, and as 2012 closes, no U.S. horse slaughterhouses are in operation.

Compounding the controversy, the U.S. horse racing industry has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the fray. Racehorses account for a small percent of the horse meat trade, and according to a New York Times report, European food safety officials have serious questions about tainted fare: “The meat of American racehorses may be too toxic to eat safely because the horses have been injected repeatedly with drugs.” The EU fears might bring on a requirement of lifetime medical records for all horses, “and perhaps require them to be held on feedlots or some other holding area for six months before they are slaughtered.”

This is not a case of the European over-regulation: A Times investigation showed that over the last three years, 3,600 U.S. horses have died during racing or training. “Since 2009, records show, trainers at United States tracks have been caught illegally drugging horses 3,800 times, a figure that vastly understates the problem because only a small percentage of horses are actually tested.”

If the European stance leads to a no-kill policy of racetrack horses, that may add thousands more to America’s growing list of unwanted horses. It’s very easy to oppose U.S. horse slaughterhouses and feel secure on moral high ground. But that moral high ground begins to creak when the number of unwanted horses reaches a crisis level, and it collapses when Canadians or Mexicans are pulling the trigger all the same.

Is it time to open U.S. horse slaughterhouses again? It’s a grim choice, but it may be the best one when matched with abuse, abandonment, and unregulated abattoirs.

Twitter: @CBennett71

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Discuss this Blog Entry 16

Vickery Eckhoff (not verified)
on Dec 19, 2012

Texas fought a long battle to declare horse slaughter illegal. The state had two slaughter houses and both of them were lawless economic predators. Dallas Crown in Kaufman drained that town economically, constantly violated state and local wastewater ordinances and refused to pay fines. The legal bills of that town were astronomical, crime spiked, there was a pervasive stench in town and constant blood spills, along with infestations of rats, snakes, roaches and vultures. It paid only $5 in taxes on $12 million in income and made the community unlivable for decades. Before you go around suggesting slaughterhouses for horses spring up in other rural communities as an excuse to "unregulated abattoirs", you need to look into how unregulated they are, what they did to the communities they preyed on. Dallas Crown was found to be a non-conforming use and public nuisance. Cavel in IL was also in constant violation of wastewater ordinances. This business has never been regulated by the USDA and the host communities, not to mention the animals, were victims. US taxpayers footed the bill: for the law suits and inspectors who did nothing to protect the animals or the public. That's not its job. Its job is to protect the industry. It does a very good job of that. If you want to learn more about this, I wrote an entire series on it for

Articles are in reverse chronological order. There are 11, including some photographic essays. The US slaughter plants are owned by the same people who run the Canadian and Mexican plants, by the way. They employ the same undocumented workers there that they did when they operated in the US.

Further, the slaughter trade itself perpetuates a cycle of overbreeding, abuse, abandonment. If you want to end these, enforce existing humane laws for violators and don't reward those who overbreed horses and then discard them. This is no different than puppy mills. If you made it legal for them to made 25 cents off their old breeding stock, you'd have more dogs being bred, not fewer. The horse slaughter business encourages all the things you think it solves. The meat is toxic for consumers and bad for US taxpayers. The way to curb these outcomes is to ban the slaughter and export to slaughter of US horses.

on Dec 19, 2012

This article talks about people against slaughter as occupying some sort of "shaky moral high ground," like it's a terrible viewpoint to reject horse slaughter on moral grounds. If you strip away all the accoutrements of the human race, what sets us apart from the so-called lesser inhabitants of this planet? It is our morals, our ethics, our ability to know the difference between right and wrong and to stand up for those less fortunate or who don't have a voice. Without morals and ethics, we all might as well be back in the Stone Age, living in caves, dragging our knuckles behind us. Do you, does anyone, want to live in a world where all that matters is the monetary value of any thing, not it's intrinsic value? Or, only view horses not as animals that have served humans well through the ages, but only see their value as from the money that can be made from the slaughter of them.

How can anyone discuss horse slaughter without any mention at all about the over-breeding that is responsible for the glut of horses. Unlike what the author of this articles believes, overbreeding by the quarter horse industry, the thoroughbred industry, backyard breeders, etc., is responsible for the horses that get sent to slaughter.

We don't need slaughter to "save" horses from abuse or from being unwanted or from unregulated abattoirs. Those conditions are still going to exist regardless of whether the US has horse slaughter or not, i.e., there will always be jerks who will abuse horses, abandon them, and the Mexicans will still have their unregulated, barbaric slaughterhouses. Those are things, at least abuse and abandonment, that have to be dealt with on their own, not that we need to have horse slaughter available in the US to keep horses from being mistreated. Is the author saying of the 9 million horses in the US, then only 150,000 are potentially being abused? So maybe if that is the case, that there are actually 8,850,000 horses that have good owners, then the horses aren't the problem but the small minority of people who abuse their horses are and they need to be dealt with, but not by killing their horses (nothing like punishing the victim), when it is obviously the horse owners who are causing this glut and all these ensuing problems. Which, of course is the case.

And what kind of a fallacy does this author want us to buy into, to say we need to slaughter horses to keep them from a worse fate than a horrible death?

on Dec 19, 2012

Fortunately, The response above was written by one of the most knowledgeable journalist in the United States on this subject. If this writer had done any research on his/her article, the extensive research on Forbes site would have been found. Disappointed in the accuracy found in this article.
I would like to further comment on two points in the article.
1. All American Horses (not just racehorses which include Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses as well as a Standardbreds and a few Arabians) are given drugs that are banned. It says clearly on the instructions of many equine medications "Not for horses intended for human consumption". This includes anti-worm medications given most horses every 3 months. Bute ( a medication that works for horses much as ibuprofen does for people), is strictly forbidden in human medicine and food, and is particularly one that is dangerous and recognized as such by the EU, but is used by most horse owners. Therefore, all US horses will fall under the ban to be put into place June 2013. Killing them in the US rather than Mexico or Canada will not change this.
2. Slaughter Houses do not want skinny, starving, abandoned horses. They want fat young horses. The truth is that over half the horses slaughtered each year are quarter horses. And the age is between 2-9 for 70%. And the number of horses slaughtered is approximately 1% of the horses in the US.. It is not a number that cannot be controlled by humane euthanization, rescues, rehoming, and most of all commonsense breeding that breeds for the current market...not the one that horse breeders wish it was.

Andie Guess (not verified)
on Feb 2, 2013

In response to the above, I would like to address your issues 1 and 2.
#1 You state "All" American Horses are given drugs that are banned. This statement is untrue, not all American horses are given banned drugs. Secondly, the requirement will be a 6 month holding period prior to slaughter of those given banned drugs. There is currently a drug that prevents the horse from slaughter and those are phenalbutazone (bute), and clenbuterol. I own 12 horses and none of the horses I have owned or ever owned have been given these drugs. I have owned alot of horses and even compete on these horses. SO your statement is false and misleading. There are many owners like me. Also the stated drugs can be easily tested at the slaughter plants and certified the horse is free from those drugs for the purposes of satisfying the EU regulations. Again killing those horses in the US will end the horrific time spent on rigs hauling them across our borders, time spent at border holding pens and the barbaric slaughter methods used outside the US. At least here we can make sure it is done humanely as possible and hauling time can be reduced- hence less suffering for the animal. Holding pens for animals contaminated with drugs will be the new scene, to certify they are drug free. That is a 6 month holding time, but once it gets up and running that will be a good thing.
Now to address #2 Slaughter houses do not want skinny, starving that will encourage kill buyers to pick up those skinny starving horses for bargain basement prices or for free, fatten them up as is the history of slaughter horses and sell them to the slaughter house. They will have to hold them 6 months anyway for drug free purposes, so they will fatten them up in that time frame and get the premium price for the horse. Of course that is what will make it worth it to them. But we, the American people, will know that horse was saved from starvation and is not a burden to society any longer. So the argument does not stand concerning skinny starving horses. At any rate, slaughter brings the value of the horse up and makes it difficult for those who shouldn't be owning horses to begin with from being able to buy one. Because that is the problem here.

ZeroSum2 (not verified)
on Dec 20, 2012

Wow. All of you write with passion about this subject. I am a newcomer to the subject and have no proposed solution. However, I am not sure you have correctly read the article. The writer does not seem to be "advocating" for a particular position. He has provided a number of facts and closed with a question: "Is it time to open U.S. horse slaughterhouses again?" His very last sentence implies that reopening U.S. slaughterhouses "may" be an option...not "must" or "should."

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 8, 2013

If you've read the replies to this poorly-researched article, you'll know that the answer to whether or not horse slaughterhouses should be opened in the US is NO. Understand that such plants resulted in horrific economic, environmental and social consequences in communities where they were located. These included: loss of other business due to stigmatization of the community; plummeting property values; horse blood backing up into bathtubs; increased vermin due to rotting flesh; dramatically increased crime rates. All of this happened in Kaufman, Texas where the Belgian-owned Dallas Crown plant was located. It took 25 years for the citizens to manage to close it. No coincidence that Texas and Illinois (where another plant was located) have laws against horse slaughter.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 20, 2013

All of you people who have commented on here are absolutely crazy. Or, rather, all of you are "city-folk" who have no earthly clue what you are talking about. These animals were not killed any differently than are cattle. No difference in the least. I am not going to argue with nonsense on here because none of you have any earthly idea what you are talking about, but I will say this- the author of this article knows what he is talking about, and has researched information. The information most of you refer to is bogus information that is made up by animal rights advocacy groups. The things that PETA, the HSUS, and wikipedia should not be taken as fact, because the "facts" that they post are not always completely true. They make a situation worse than it actually is. I also hope that all of you realize that because of the closure of our FEDERALLY REGULATED facilities, millions of children in other countries were literally STARVING because this was their main food source. And all because people felt bad for a livestock animal. Also, the closure of these facilities resulted in thousands of people without a job (kill floor personnel, truck drivers, auction houses, others working within the plant) and made these horses literally worthless within a week of the closures. I have witnessed in my own hometown where horses were turned out onto the streets in hope that the horse will find some food somewhere. As for the "overbreeding" issue, it was not overbreeding when the animals were being slaughtered. What you are seeing now is a normal course of nature with the exception of horses dying. You will see the exact same thing if people stopped shooting deer in the fall. An overpopulation of the deer will occur, ALL WITHOUT PEOPLE'S HELP. What do you expect to do with 9 million horses in this country? Run the risk of euthanizing them, burying them and allowing the euthanasia drug to get into a water supply for your children to drink? Or having the people spend money to have them burned? You are forgetting that we have tens of thousands of wild horses with the same situation now. Who is going to pay for them to be disposed of? The american people. What happened before? they brought money at the slaughterhouse to help sustain the wild horse ranches. BTW, the foreign owned slaughterhouses in the United States WERE federally regulated. Do you honestly believe that the US government would allow an operation like that to continue without their due? And how do you expect that the slaughterhouses were closed when the funding for federal inspections were cut? USE YOUR HEAD!

Eq Trainer (not verified)
on Dec 20, 2012

ZeroSum2, the author did indeed offer an endorsement for re-opening slaughterhouses by answering his own question in the last line, "It’s a grim choice, but it may be the best one when matched with abuse, abandonment, and unregulated abattoirs."

The problem with that statement is that it's not based in fact, but is instead based on unproven claims by the horse meat lobby.

Horse slaughter has never, even been shown to reduce/control/eliminate abuse or neglect. In actual fact, abuse of slaughterbound equines is routine, so it technically INCREASES abuse.

As for unregulated abattoirs, that is a red herring. The slaughterhouses in Canada are actually better regulated than were the ones in the US, and have been routinely closed for humane violations.

All the slaughterhouses shipping meat to the EU - whether they're in Mexico, the US or Canada - use the same EU approved protocols for slaughter. This is where US horses are slaughtered. And the former US equine slaughterhouses? Notoriously inhumane.

Ann M. Marini, Ph.D., M.D. (not verified)
on Jan 8, 2013

Our group published the study showing that 18 Thoroughbred race horses bought for slaughter were given the banned drug phenylbutazone (bute). Race horses are NOT the only horses given bute. Based upon the annual sales of one pharmaceutical company that sells bute for horses, every horse in the United States gets one dose. Therefore, all American horses are ineligible for slaughter because bute is banned in all food-producing animals, including horses, in Canada, the UK, the European Union and the United States.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

No statistics course in all that education? How can knowing annual sales volume allow you determine where the bute is going to? Consider that, based on ATF records of manufacturers and importers, there are 300 million guns in civilian hands in the US, roughly one per American. But that does not mean that every American, including babes in arms, owns a gun. Reliable estimates show that no more than a third of the population owns guns, but that those who do, tend to own more than one. I would expect the same thing to happen with bute: race horses would likely get multiple doses every year, but non-race horses would likely get none.

ZeroSum2 (not verified)
on Jan 8, 2013

As stated previously, I am a newcomer to this subject, but do find it interesting and important. Dr. Marini seems to draw an erroneous conclusion in her/their study. Based on extrapolated figures from one pharmaceutical company, how can you conclude that every horse in the United States received a dose of bute - and "therefore all American horses are ineligible for slaughter...?" I will assume that you are providing an average figure from that one study, but I will also assume that there are other pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. who sell bute to horse owners. Even if that makes the figures go higher, I still do not understand your logic that "...all American horses are ineligible for slaughter..."

Ann M. Marini, Ph.D., M.D. (not verified)
on Jan 8, 2013

ZeroSum2. The study showed that 18 Thoroughbred race horses bought for slaughter were given the banned drug bute. We also showed that 16 rescued Thoroughbred race horses that were being bid on by kill buyers but bought by rescue organizations were also administered bute. This means that more contaminated horse meat would have been sent to the EU if the rescues did not outbid the kill buyers. Bad enough that 9,000 pounds of toxic horse meat was sent overseas for people to eat.

It was not an "extrapolated" figure. The pharmaceutical company provided our group with the annual sales of bute for horses. If you take that figure and divide by the number of horses in the United States, every horse would be given one dose of bute which means that no horse is eligible for slaughter for human consumption. Phenylbutazone is banned by the FDA and food agencies in Canada, the EU and the UK because of the dangerous and deadly side effects such as bone marrow suppression, cancer and hypersensitivity syndromes. The FDA has sent no safe limits on bute and any animal given one dose of bute is banned from entering the food chain.

You seem to like to "stir the pot" for someone who is new and is reminiscent of other pro-slaughter types.

Why don't you state your name and provide us with your crendentials on this board?

ZeroSum2 (not verified)
on Jan 8, 2013

I have no credentials. I am not pro-slaughter, and as described in a previous post, I simply find the subject interesting and important. I fall on the side of being humane with these beautiful animals, and I happen to agree with pretty well everything you have said.

My only problem is trying to figure out how the sales numbers by one pharmaceutical company can account for every single horse in America having been administered bute. I can understand if you say "On average every horse in America...etc."- but not to state as fact that every single horse in America is a recipient of bute. In other words, yesterday I passed several pastures where horses were grazing. Am I to believe that every single one of them has been administered bute? Based on your unequivocable statement, it would be true. Please know that I am in appreciation for your contribution to the welfare of animals, especially horses.

Ann M. Marini, Ph.D., M.D. (not verified)
on Jan 8, 2013

ZeroSum2: I would be very happy to create a database of horses in every state who have been given bute at any time during their lives. If you can talk with every horse owner and their vet and get their drug history, I will create the database. My email address is:

Because vet records are not publicly available, the only way to make the calculation is by obtaining the sales information from the pharmaceutical company. This number does not include the compounded bute which can be obtained over the internet and is not tracked by the FDA.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2013

I have always said they don't care who they poison as long as they make a buck.

Here is the first warning to a horse killer from the FDA for falsified EID and the horse was positive for bute.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs - prohibited as well Phenylbutazone, known as "bute," is a veterinary drug only label-approved by the Food & Drug Administration for use by veterinarians in dogs and horses. It has been associated with debilitating conditions in humans and it is absolutely not permitted for use in food-producing animals. USDA/FSIS has conducted a special project to for this drug in selected bovine slaughter plants under federal inspection. An earlier pilot project by FSIS found traces less than 3% of the livestock selected for testing, sufficient cause for this special project. There is no tolerance for this drug in food-producing livestock, and they and their by-products are condemned when it is detected. Dairy producers must not use this drug in food-producing livestock and if it is found, those producers will be subject to FDA investigation and possible prosecution.

on Feb 17, 2014

My opinion is a big ‘NO’ to horse slaughterhouse. It is sad to see the numbers, of the horse being slaughtered a year. We Americans always considered them as best companions. So, its hard for me to see them killed.
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