Horse Slaughter and Transport Fact Sheet

The foreign horse slaughter plant owners would have us believe that horses being transported to slaughter are well-protected by federal regulations.  This is anything but true.

Since 1989, about 2 million horses have been slaughtered at USDA-approved horse slaughter plants.[1] These horses are sold at auction terminals all over the country and then transported in double-deck, straight or gooseneck trailers to the two remaining slaughter plants located in Texas .[2] To attempt to ensure these horses destined for slaughter are handled and transported in a humane way, and in response to action taken by various humane organizations, Congress included in the 1996 farm bill authority for the Secretary of Agriculture to issue guidelines to regulate the commercial transportation of horses to slaughter by persons regularly engaged in that activity within the United States.[3]

The regulations issued by the Secretary of Agriculture, which were published in December 2001, are available at  The regulations make up only four printed pages.  Although Congress intended for the regulations to protect horses being sent to slaughter, the regulations are woefully insufficient and unenforced and horses continue to suffer.

Christopher J. Heyde of the Animal Welfare Institute recently visited one horse slaughterhouse and witnessed horses being unloaded after transport:

Located at the rear of the nondescript facility was a double-deck trailer fully loaded with horses. They filled both rows and were unable to stand normally, forced to keep their heads low. Despite the fact that several of the horses I could see had cuts and blood trailing from their mouths and noses, all looked healthy and fairly young. Only a few horses at a time were removed from the truck so many were still on board when I left. When some were moved off the trailer, workers poked them with long fiberglass rods through holes on the side of the trailer. The horses, typically very sensitive animals, slid and fell down the ramp only to be whipped by another worker's rod. All of the horses at the facility exhibited fear typical of "flight" behavior in horses, pacing in prance-like movements with their ears pinned back against their heads and eyes wide open.[4]

The 1996 farm bill contained language acknowledging that horses being transported to slaughter have unique and special needs.  Yet, the regulation as written is inadequate, unclear, and contains too many loopholes, and therefore, is virtually impossible to enforce.   

The regulation is insufficient in many ways, including the following:  

1.      The definition of “shipper” in Section 88.1 is too narrow.  This narrow definition exempts commercial shipments of horses to slaughter when that is “incidental” to the principal activity of production agriculture.  This loophole means that many horses shipped to slaughter are not even protected by the regulations.     

2.      The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service recognizes that transporting horses in double-deck trailers is both inhumane and unsafe.[5]  However, the regulation in Section 88.3 allows horses to continue to be transported to slaughter in double-deck trailers until 2006.  Many horses will continue to suffer serious injuries and trauma during this “grace” period.

 3.      Section 88.3 attempts to outline other standards that are required for conveyances.  Unfortunately, the requirements are vague and rely upon the subjective judgment of individuals, many of whom are motivated exclusively by economic considerations.  For example, what constitutes “adequate ventilation?” and what is meant by  “doors and ramps of sufficient size and location to provide for safe loading and unloading?”   In Section 88.4, what exactly is “enough floor space to ensure that no equine is crowded in a way likely to cause injury or discomfort?”  The specifications are too vague to be adequately enforced.  In addition, the regulation does not address vehicle and ramp flooring.  Slipping during loading and transport is the cause of numerous and serious injuries caused by the animals not being able to secure footing.  

4.      In Section 88.4, requirements for transport are again too vague to be meaningfully and adequately enforced.  While the regulation requires that horses be allowed the opportunity to rest, eat and drink for at least six hours prior to transport, it fails to provide a clear description of adequate nourishment and hydration.  Depending on how horses are grouped in holding pens, dominant and/or aggressive horses may prevent other horses access to food and water.  With no description about the quality or quantity of food and water to be provided, horses are not adequately protected.

 5.      More importantly, the only proof that such services are provided is a signed owner/shipper certificate. Allowing the owner/shipper, who is financially motivated by sending his horses to slaughter in the cheapest and quickest manner, to verify whether his own activities meet the regulations, is ludicrous.  Because no inspections by a veterinary professional take place prior to loading the horses, whether or not the conditions have been met depends entirely on the word of the owner/shipper. There is nothing to prevent falsification of documents which is in the financial interest of the owner/shipper. 

 6.      Even though the regulation provides for inspections en route (i.e., from the point of loading the horses on the conveyance to offloading them) to slaughterhouses as well as at the facilities themselves, such inspections rarely occur.  Given budgetary constraints and a USDA that is understaffed to carry out inspections, this provision is almost meaningless.  It is impossible for a USDA inspector at a slaughter facility to determine with certainty that the owner/shipper has complied with the requirements outlined in Section 88.4.  Reliance on a certificate that can be easily falsified defeats the purpose of the regulation and leaves horses at the mercy of the owner/shipper. 

 7.      Furthermore, the regulation only requires the owner/shipper to retain a copy of the certificate for one year.  This short retention period does not allow traceback of stolen horses so that members of the public who are attempting to track down lost or stolen horses can determine what happened to them.   

8.      The regulation allows the use of electric prods on horses if human safety is threatened, yet there is other more humane equipment readily available, safer and more effective for handling and controlling horses.  In fact, horses respond unpredictably to the use of electric prods, thereby potentially producing threats to human safety, yet the regulation allows this practice to continue.    

9.      The regulation also does not call for separation of horses by size.  Many horses suffer injuries caused by being knocked down or crushed when smaller and younger horses are not separated from larger, heavier horses during transport.   

10.  Based upon findings in numerous scientific studies, some of which were funded by the USDA, but curiously absent in the explanation of the regulation, the 28 hour maximum transport limit without rest and nourishment is scientifically unjustifiable.  It appears that the USDA is merely adopting the same rule that applies to the transport of other livestock despite Congress’s determination that horses being transported to slaughter have unique and special needs.  If, for example, offloading for food and water is generally recommended every four hours for privately-owned horses, it is clear that the 28 hour limit is excessive and inhumane.   

11.  In addition to allowing horses to be transported for up to 28 hours, the regulation only requires that horses be checked every six hours during transport.  This interval is simply too long.  Examination of the animals should occur at least every four hours, but the regulation does not require this.

[1] Report of the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, at

[2] See id.

[3] See id.

[4] Christopher J. Heyde , Necessary Evil or Blind Eye? Putting an End to the Cruel Practice of Horse Slaughter, Animal Welfare Institute Quarterly, Winter 2002, at

[5] “We acknowledge that some double-deck trailers are likely to cause injuries and trauma to equines.” Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter; Final 



United States

 Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, at