Horse slaughtering
Legislation Safeguards an American Icon
By Christopher J. Heyde
Published October 16, 2003

    Born on the lush bluegrass covered pastures of one of Kentucky's most famous Thoroughbred farms, Ferdinand would go on to become an American legend following his win at the 1986 Kentucky Derby and selection as the 1987 Horse of the Year. Yet, despite the lavish lifestyle and accolades afforded such a great champion, his life ended in a Japanese slaughterhouse to the horror of the American Thoroughbred industry.
    A fury ensued over how something so terrible could happen to such a famous horse. Some were outraged at the Japanese for exhibiting a disregard for our horses by allowing this to happen. However, as more people became aware of Ferdinand's fate and the issue of horse slaughter itself, they learned that despite our love for horses and distaste for this cruel industry we should not be so quick to judge.
    Last year alone, more than 42,000 horses were slaughtered right here in the United States, not for pet food, but to satisfy the human demand for the delicacy of horsemeat in countries such as France, Italy, Belgium and Japan. In fact, Thoroughbreds, quarter horses, ponies, burros and foals born as a disposable by-product of the Premarin industry are just some of the horses routinely being slaughtered in one of the two remaining foreign-owned horse slaughterhouses operating in Texas, despite a 1949 state ban on slaughtering horses for human consumption. When the state tried to enforce its own law last year, the slaughterhouses joined forces with a plant in Mexico and filed suit in federal court in an attempt to avoid State prosecution. The court has yet to rule on this case.
    Horsemeat is not consumed in the United States, and horses are not raised for human consumption, so slaughterhouse representatives, known as "killer-buyers," must take whatever means necessary to obtain a constant supply of horses as they travel from auction to auction. This may include stealing horses, buying horses from naive individuals under false pretenses, and outbidding people interested in providing a good home for the animals. Even federally protected wild horses continue to be slaughtered.
    Every stage in the horses' journey from stable to slaughter is filled with unimaginable cruelty. Stories of abuse and neglect at livestock auctions and feedlots are widespread. Guidelines albeit inadequate for the transport of horses to slaughter were developed more for the convenience of those involved with the hauling than for the horses' welfare. The regulations allow for severely injured horses to be hauled for more than 24 hours without food, water and rest. Once at the slaughterhouse, poorly trained and callous workers are known to savagely beat the terrified horses during their unloading and movement through the slaughterhouse and into a blood-covered kill box, where the lucky ones will be rendered unconscious prior to dismemberment.
    Public support for ending horse slaughter is great. A survey conducted earlier this year found 72 percent of Texans opposed to horse slaughter. Results such as this from a state which is culturally and historically identified with horses are not unexpected. But similar findings can be found in newspaper and online polls from across the country. Realizing that time is of the essence, Rep. John Sweeney, New York Republican, and John Spratt, South Carolina Democrat, introduced the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 857), which would ban the slaughter of horses in the United States for human consumption. The bill would prohibit horses from being shipped live to Canada, Mexico or Japan for slaughter. The act currently has more than 90 cosponsors.
    The horse slaughter industry operates within the bottom .6 percent and most undesirable and indefensible segment of the horse community. Until recently the horse killing industry enjoyed a protective anonymity, but that has changed forever. The few who defend slaughter are careful to couch their statements with "I don't like slaughter and I would never send my horse to slaughter, but . . . " Thus decrying any responsibility.
    In addition to national, state and local humane and rescue organizations, this issue has brought together a diverse list of organizations committed to ending horse slaughter, including Churchill Downs Inc., the Breeders' Cup, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, New York Racing Association, New Jersey Racing Commission, Utah Quarter Horse Association, Virginia Thoroughbred Association, Texas Thoroughbred Association and America's oldest Thoroughbred auction house, Fasig-Tipton Inc.
    The horse holds a unique place in American culture and history; they are an American icon to be protected and respected from the needless suffering. Please support the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.
    Christopher J. Heyde, a former Republican senatorial staffer and Army veteran, is currently with the Society for Animal Protective Legislation.