New View on Slaughter

by: Kimberly S. Herbert, Editor
April 2003

By the time this magazine is in your hands, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) will have released a report they commissioned to answer some of the questions raised in the industry about horse slaughter. The TRF is, of course, strictly a Thoroughbred rescue group. However, the issue of slaughter is one that touches every horse owner, so the information they provide is important to anyone who owns horses. TRF states that two of the principal arguments used by those who support slaughter are first, if slaughter is eliminated, horse neglect and abuse will increase dramatically. Second, that the legal status of horses as livestock could change, leading to problems in other areas of equine health and welfare.

The Pennsylvania group that did the report has put together numbers that have not been available before. While there is no doubt of the slant of the TRF's paper--it unapologetically pushes the message that to abolish slaughter is to help horses--this is the first time the message has been presented with facts and figures that actually make a sound and solid case that abolishing equine slaughter in the United States, and prohibiting the transportation of U.S. horses to other countries for slaughter, might not force tens of thousands of horses each year into a life of neglect and abuse.

The number of U.S. slaughter horses has declined dramatically since the 1980s, from nearly 350,000 in 1989 to 62,000 in 2001, the report noted. Estimates out of Washington suggest that 42,000 horses will be slaughtered this year in the United States, with 30,000 exported for that fate.


However, the TRF report gathered numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on how many horses are slaughtered annually in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

While Mexico has shown an increase in the number of horses slaughtered over this period, the TRF report is quick to point out that it is not an inverse relationship to the decline in the number of horses slaughtered in the United States. According to their figures, the number of U.S. slaughter horses declined by 286,400 from 1989 to 2001. The number of horses slaughtered in Mexico over the same period increased by 66,000.

Horsemeat consumption has declined in the European Union and Japan, according to the TRF report. Based on numbers from a French meat industry trade publication, total consumption in the eight largest horsemeat-consuming countries in Europe fell from 198,200 to 153,000 metric tons between 1990 and 2001. According to United Nations reports, the Japanese imported more than 51,000 metric tons of horsemeat in 1980, and only 10,000 in 2000.

But if the United States and Canada are sliding down the scale as horsemeat exporters, where are the horses coming from? According to the TRF report, Brazil horsemeat exports have risen nearly fourfold to 15,000 metric tons in the last decade, and Poland and Uruguay have boosted their horsemeat exports as well as shipping live horses directly to slaughter houses in Belgium and France. The report noted that horsemeat consumption has risen sharply in Russia, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

What about abuse and neglect? Have those numbers gone up as slaughter decreased? While there is no national reporting service on this, according to the TRF report, humane organizations report a decline in the number of equine abuse cases.

They also found no legal precedent that if this law went into effect as written, it would change the horse's status as livestock or affect tax status.

Does this change any negative opinions of ending equine slaughter? It's made a difference to me.