Horse Slaughter Continues in U.S., Despite Recent Law
for National Geographic News
February 8, 2006
Three foreign-owned processing plants will be allowed to continue
slaughtering horses for meat, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA)
The slaughterhouses—two in Texas and one in Illinois—kill a combined
total of 70,000 to 90,000 horses each year and sell the meat overseas as
a delicacy and in the U.S. as food for zoo animals.
The USDA's decision has angered politicians and animal-welfare
activists, who say it runs counter to a measure signed into U.S. law
The law removes funding for federal inspections at horse-processing
plants beginning next month. It was supposed to force slaughterhouses to
shut down, since federal regulations require the inspections.
Instead the USDA is allowing the slaughterhouses to pay the agency's
estimated U.S. $350,000 annual horse-plant inspection costs under a
program established for processing exotic meats, like deer, bison, and
The agency says that the funding cuts do not remove its responsibility
for inspecting meat processed at officially recognized facilities to
ensure public health.
Horse-slaughter opponents say the decision undermines a major victory in
protecting the animals from unnecessary and inhumane deaths.
"It's disturbing that an agency like USDA feels it is appropriate to
obstruct a law passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in
Congress when their sole mission is to implement the law," said
Congressperson John Sweeney, a Republican who represents New York State.
Horses are supposed to be rendered unconscious prior to slaughter,
usually by a stun gun. But sometimes, welfare workers say, it takes
several attempts if the horse panics and tries to flee.
Consequently, animal advocates assert, horses are improperly stunned,
even with repeated blows, and are still conscious when their throats are
What's more, at least one of the plants—the Dallas Crown facility in
Kaufman, Texas—has been declared a nuisance because the city's sewer
system was not designed to handle the volume of waste materials from the
When stoppages have occurred over the years, blood from the plant has
backed up into area residents' bathtubs.
Charlie Stenholm, a former U.S. congressperson, is now a spokesperson
for the processing plants. He says the plants provide a safe, convenient
way to dispose of unwanted horses.
"It's a well-regulated industry that abides by humane euthanasia
practices," he said.
Stenholm argues that horse owners should have the right to decide
whether or not to send their unwanted animals to slaughter.
The industry, he says, allows owners to retain some value. Processing
plants pay, on average, U.S. $400 per horse.
Homes for Horses
Meanwhile, Congress is considering another bill related to the issue.
The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, introduced last year, would
permanently ban the sale and transport of horses to slaughter.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is actively pursuing
defeat of the legislation.
"For us, it's strictly an animal-welfare issue," said Mark Lutschaunig
of the AVMA's government-relations division.
Without meat processing as an option, many of the unwanted horses will
be donated to rescue and retirement facilities, he says, which are not
regulated by any governmental body.
Standards of care and financial support totalling 127 million U.S.
dollars would be needed, he said, to ensure proper care for the horses
affected by the bill.
Jerry Finch of Habitat for Horses, an equine-rescue facility in
Hitchcock, Texas, said there really aren't enough unwanted horses to
make this an issue.
Less than one percent of the total U.S. horse population is sent to
processing plants each year, and new owners could easily be found for
Habitat's 27-acre (11-hectare) ranch and 160 foster homes in three U.S.
states adopt about 300 horses each year.
"We're very successful in finding homes for horses," he said.
Finch is hopeful an outright ban on horse slaughter will be passed,
adding that 2006 is the fourth year in which bills regarding this issue
have been considered by U.S. lawmakers.
"We're tired of fighting, but we're not quitting," Finch said. "It's not
over by any means."
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