Horse Slaughter - Facts, Figures, & Our Opinion
Date: Thursday, September 11 @ 09:05:04 PDT
Topic: Slaughter News

This article will be run in the October edition of The Horsemen's Roundup, an Arkansas horse publication.   This article may be reproduced, but only in its entirety with a return link to

This article was written by Barbara Reeves and Raymond Williams.  Raymond and Barbara are Little Rock, AR residents, horse owners, and proprietors of Equine Friends, L.L.C.  They maintain a network of horse related web sites, namely and is a free photo classified web site and on-line horseman's directory. is a site for horse rescues to come together to share news, ideas, information, and inform the public of the current horse rescue situation.  Equine Friends, L.L.C. funds its rescue and advocacy efforts through the construction of interactive web sites for the horse community, such as and

If horses can't be slaughtered, where will the thousands of horses now being slaughtered go? What kind of infrastructure is in place to absorb these "unwanted" animals?

In 2002, according to USDA records 42,312 horses were killed for human consumption in the United States alone.  In addition, many thousands of live horses were transported across the borders to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. After these horses are killed, their meat is shipped to Europe and Asia for human consumption. A small percentage of the meat, that is deemed not fit for human consumption, is sent to zoos and rendering plants.

In the early 1990s, according to the USDA, over 300,000 horses were slaughtered annually in the US. Due to a decreasing demand for horsemeat in Europe, that number dropped to approximately 47,000 in 2000 and 42,312 in 2002. No special infrastructure was created to absorb the thousands of "unwanted" horses that were not slaughtered during this time. Instead, horses were kept longer, were sold to another owner or, in some cases, were humanely euthanized and buried or rendered.

The number of horses that went to slaughter in the US last year (42,312) represents less than 1% of the total horse population in the US. "Unwanted" horses who are not humanely euthanized can continue to be kept by their owners, can be sold to a new home, or placed in one of the many horse sanctuaries or rescues springing up across the country. Education within the horse community about these humane alternatives to slaughter is already occurring, and will continue to do so. Responsible breeding will help curb the over breeding problem here in the US, resulting in fewer "surplus" horses. Another option is to donate the horse to an equine rescue organization; some will take unwanted horses and find them good homes.

Who eats horsemeat?

Horsemeat is not eaten in the U.S.; it is exported to serve specialty "gourmet" markets overseas. The largest markets are France, Belgium, Holland, Japan, and Italy. The demand for horsemeat has been substantial for many years, and prices are high. The demand for horsemeat increased in 2001 after outbreaks of mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease resulted in decreased supplies of beef, pork, and lamb because horses do not contract those diseases. These countries, particularly Japan, limit the import of beef.  If we did not ship horsemeat to them they would likely import more US beef.  The Japanese have a hearty appetite for beef, but their government severely limits the availability of American beef, basically subsidizing other protein sources (soy, fish, horse). 

How do horses end up at slaughterhouses?

According to The Humane Society of The United States, most horses destined for slaughter are sold at livestock auctions or sales. Stolen Horses International, Inc. states that stolen horses also often end up at slaughterhouses.  A slaughterhouse, or auction that killer buyers frequent, is an easy way for horse thieves to get quick money for stolen horses. Like American beef consumers, people that eat horse, want fresh young tender meat, not old tough flesh. The argument that "our old and broken down horses are going to slaughter for human consumption" is a fallacy.

The cruelty of horse slaughter is not limited to the act of killing the animals. Horses bound for slaughter are shipped, frequently for long distances, in a manner that fails to accommodate their unique temperaments. They are usually not rested, fed, or watered during travel. Economics, not humane considerations, dictate the conditions, including crowding as many horses into trucks as possible. To attest to this, research recently concluded (opposed by Equine Friends) by a Dr. Friend at Texas A&M University, under a USDA grant, on the long distance shipping conditions of horses bound for slaughter.  Even proponents of slaughter, like Dr. Friend, recognize the inhumane transport methods currently being used.

Often, terrified horses and ponies are crammed together and transported to slaughter in double-deck trucks designed for cattle and pigs. The truck ceilings are so low that the horses are not able to hold their heads in a normal, balanced position. Inappropriate floor surfaces lead to slips and falls, and sometimes even trampling. Some horses arrive at the slaughterhouse seriously injured or dead. Although transportation accidents have largely escaped public scrutiny, several tragic ones involving collapsed upper floors and overturned double-deckers have caused human fatalities as well as suffering and death for the horses.

How are the horses killed?

Under federal law, horses are required to be rendered unconscious prior to slaughter, usually with a device called a captive bolt gun, which shoots a metal rod into the horse's brain. Some horses, however, are improperly stunned and may still be conscious at the time of slaughter. They are hoisted by a rear leg to have their throats cut, or they are shot repeatedly with the bolt gun. The chutes that hold the horses are not made for long necked horses. The horses are frightened and move around making it difficult to get a good shot. In addition, the general load and crude conditions in the slaughterhouse are stressful and frightening for horses. Their experience is akin to Auschwitz.

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated" --Gandhi

Which kinds of horses are affected?

Horses of virtually all ages and breeds are slaughtered, from draft types to miniatures. According to The Humane Society of The United State, horses commonly slaughtered include unsuccessful race horses, stolen horses, surplus riding school and camp horses, mares whose foals are not economically valuable, and foals who are "byproducts" of the Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) industry (which produces the estrogen-replacement drug Premarin®).

Many of the horses that HSUS investigators have seen purchased for slaughter were in good health, and bought for only a few hundred dollars or less. With the current and past horse market, many very good horses have gone to slaughter needlessly.  According to the slaughterhouses' own records, only 10% of horses processed are old, lame, or otherwise not "useable".  The current administration of the AQHA has an interest in keeping slaughter legal, as they would lose the registration fees from all of registered horses that do not sell well at auction and end up slaughtered. It seams as though they are more concerned with finances than the well being of the American Quarter Horse.

"The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? But rather, Can they suffer?"
--Jeremy Bentham, 19th century Philosopher, Oxford University

Are there any current federal or state laws protecting horses from these cruelties?

A few states (California, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia) have laws that are intended to prevent some of these abuses. Unfortunately, even in these states, enforcement is inadequate, as evidenced by the continuing use of double-deck trucks even where they are illegal. After California passed its law against slaughter and the transport of horses for slaughter, horse theft declined by more than 30% and continues to decline every year.

Congress passed the Commercial Transportation of Equines for Slaughter Act in March 1996, which directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to write regulations to enforce the Act. Those regulations were not released until January 2002. Unfortunately, the regulations allow the use of double-deck trailers for an additional five years; permit horses to be transported for 28 hours without food, water, or rest; and allow the transport companies themselves to certify the care the horses received.

Won't a ban on horse slaughter mean that there will be a rise in the number of horse neglect and abuse cases?

In 1998 California passed a law banning the slaughter of horses, the sale of horses for slaughter, and the transport of horses to slaughterhouses across state lines. Since then, there has been no discernible increase in cruelty and neglect cases in the state. There has also not been a corresponding increase in the number of reported horse abuse and neglect cases from the major decrease in horses slaughtered from the early 1990's. Opponents of HR 857 claim that the only option for some people who are unable or unwilling to keep their horse, and who cannot afford to have their horse euthanized by a veterinarian, is to sell their horse to slaughter, or to turn him/her out into the field to starve to death. While prices vary across the country, it costs on average between $50 and $250 to have a horse humanely euthanized and disposed of - a tiny fraction of the cost involved in keeping a horse as a companion or work animal. Further, it is illegal to neglect and starve a horse, and animal control agents and humane officers across the country are charged with enforcing our humane laws. HR 857 names provisions for those owners who cannot afford euthanasia and removal of the horses. There will also be assistance available for rescues that find themselves over burdened with donated and rescued horses.

Slaughter is not an alternative to humane euthanasia by a qualified veterinarian, as some would like you to believe. Euthanasia, according to an article written by Dr. Sean Bowman in the February 22, 2003 issue of Blood Horse, "is an induction to anesthesia, just like for surgery, but the veterinarian continues to overdose. The horses are not afraid; there is no fear of anticipation".

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men." --Saint Francis of Assisi

The Economic Impact of the United States Horse Industry

"Throughout our nation's history, whatever we have asked of the horse, the horse has responded. Today, the horse's role in American society is much different than it was in the early 20th century and earlier. Americans today fully enjoy their relationship with horses-a connection deeply rooted in our nation's history that was written on [the horse's] back-and are committed to enhancing their future involvement with horses, whether as a livelihood or weekend recreation." -----Amy Owens, "Force of the Horse"

Here are just a few statistics about the horse industry in the U.S.:
· $112.1 Billion in economic impact
· 7.1 million Americans involved with horses
· 1.4 million full time jobs created by the horse industry
· 6.9 million horses (representing approximately 100 breeds)
· $1.9 Billion in total taxes paid
· 3.6 million participants in horse shows
· 4.3 million participants in recreational equestrian activities
· Horses are used for racing, showing, recreation, and work such as ranch work, police, etc.

The above figures compiled for the American Horse Council Foundation by the Barrents Group LLC of Washington, D.C., the specialized economic and fiscal consulting unit of KPMG Peat Marwick LLP.

Something to ponder; if the 42,600 horses slaughtered last year were instead introduced back into the economy, the tax base would have increased by $11.4 million. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) would have increased by $69.2 million.

The pro-slaughter forces try to minimize the problem by stating that less than 1% of horses wind up being processed for human consumption. However, by making this statement, they defeat their argument "where would all the horses go?" This tiny percentage can easily be absorbed back into the population. There may be an initial drop in the price of horses.  But, as indiscriminant breeders find no place for their low quality stock, they will be forced to slow or stop their breeding.  If breeders do their part and breed only quality, the market will logically level out. Two Texas slaughter plants can't make a positive impact on the horse industry. The fact that the slaughterhouses are so close to Arkansas makes me fear that my horses could one day be stolen and sent to slaughter. Closing these two plants will not have a negative impact on the horse industry and will force us to take responsibility for our equine friends.

"I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being." --Abraham Lincoln

For more information on HR 857, The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act and horse slaughter in general please visit  If you would like to sign a petition in favor of HR 857 that is periodically sent to House Committees and your US Representatives, go to:

This article comes from Horse RESCUE NETWORK - When Time is of the Essence!

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