Horse Slaughter is Neither Humane nor American
U.S. horses have never been raised for human consumption. However, due to foreign demand for horse flesh for wealthy diners in Europe and Asia, America’s horses have been bought, stolen or acquired under false pretenses by the foreign-owned horse slaughter industry for processing of our horses in their plants on U.S. soil. American companies and trade associations that support horse slaughter because of having a vested interest in the horse slaughter trade promotes and contributes to the export of tens of thousands of America’s horses for slaughter by actively opposing federal legislation, deceiving the media by giving biased statements that are unsubstantiated, and by attempting to mislead the public and members of Congress with false claims.
The three remaining U.S. horse slaughter plants were closed in 2007 (not 2006 as was stated in your article) as a result of state legislation following the 1998 closure of California’s slaughter house. In 2007, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 1949 Texas state law, which made it illegal to sale horsemeat and the two Texas slaughterhouses were closed. The last remaining plant, located in Illinois, was closed following a ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which prohibited the transportation and slaughter of horses. In the 5th Circuit’s decision, Jude Fortunato Benavides wrote “The lone cowboy riding his horse on a Texas trail is a cinematic icon. Not once in memory did the cowboy eat his horse.” In 1998, California was successful in abolishing the practice with 60 percent of the vote. However, American horses continue to be slaughtered in Canada and Mexico for wealthy diners in Europe and Japan where their meat is considered a delicacy. The great majority of horses sent to slaughter are the by-product of the for-profit horse industry.
The argument which states that closing the plants puts a severe hardship on our horses and causes mass cruelty and starvation for those who don’t feed or properly care for them — every state has enforceable anti-cruelty laws which are designed to prevent irresponsible owners from starving, neglecting or abusing their animals. Contrary to pro slaughter claims that ending horse slaughter will result in a surplus of unwanted horses with nowhere for them to go, the National Agricultural Statistics Services stated that since the decline in the number of horses slaughtered, those horses have been absorbed into the current population through re-homing, adoption or rescue organizations. The argument that ceasing horse slaughter will result in an increase in abuse, neglect, the amount of unwanted horses or mass abandonment is unfounded and contrary to research statistics. According to the California Livestock and Identification Bureau, the state saw a 34 percent decrease in horse theft and there was no documented rise in neglect or abuse cases following California’s horse slaughter ban. In addition, since the closure of the Illinois horse slaughter plant, there has been no correlating rise in abandonment, neglect or abuse cases according to authorities. On the contrary, the horse slaughter industry promotes over-breeding and neglect by providing an easy dumping ground for careless owners, insatiable breeders and ruthless killer buyers looking for a financial gain.
The majority of horses that go to slaughter are not unwanted, but purchased by “killer buyers,” which are middlemen who work on behalf of the foreign-owned horse slaughter industry. The horses they buy are not sick, old, diseased or dying, but in good health because they bring the best price per pound for their meat. According to the USDA Guidelines for Handling and Transporting Equines to Slaughter, more than 92 percent of horses slaughtered are “in good to excellent condition.” According to a 2001 Animal Sciences Research Report by The Department of Animal Sciences, Colorado State University, titled Characterizations of Horses at Auctions and in Slaughter Plants, “…more than 70 percent were in good, fat to obese condition…” The late John Hettinger, former owner of Fasig Tipton (the second largest Thoroughbred Auction House), past Chairman of the Grayson Jockey Club Foundation, previous member of the Board of Directors of The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and NY Racing Association Trustee, stated that
7,000 to 9,000 Thoroughbred racehorses are slaughtered every year. Killer buyers frequent horse races to purchase under-performing racehorses after the races end. Thoroughbred Deputy Broad raced at Mountaineer Race Track in Chester, West Virginia on July 11, 2011 and was needlessly slaughtered one week later, not because he was “unwanted,” but because he was disposable. The famous racehorse, Ferdinand who won the 1986 Kentucky Derby, the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 1987 Eclipse Award Horse of the Year and became a highly sought-after stud horse in 1989, was sold to Japan where he was slaughtered in 2002.
Therefore, the horses that end up at slaughterhouses don’t need to be killed, but are young, healthy horses that are a result of over-breeding by those attempting to produce the “perfect horse,” to supply the horse racing industry with a constant influx of rising stars, pregnant mares, foals, riding school and show horses, wild horses, mares and foals that are by-products of the Premarin industry (an estrogen replacement drug for menopausal women), horses purchased by killer buyers through owners that are unaware of whom they’re selling their horses to and stolen horses. Although some horses are sold directly into slaughter by irresponsible owners, the majority arrive at the slaughterhouse through livestock auctions where unsuspecting owners sell their horses to killer buyers. Despite the closing of U.S. slaughter plants, the buyers continue to purchase and haul as many horses as possible and transport them to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. Many of these horses are faithful and trusting pets whose owners list them for sale in ads where killer buyers lurk. Horses are often acquired by killer buyers without disclosure from the buyer, contributing to both consumer fraud and horse theft. Horses are regularly stolen out of barns and pastures for the horse meat trade, facilitating private property rights violations since the horses are sold for a profit. The large number of horse thefts in the U.S. necessitated the creation of a wide network of individuals and organizations working together to locate stolen horses and reunite them with their owners, called Stolen Horse International, Inc. (www.netposse.com).
In addition to the Thoroughbred horse racing industry, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) is the biggest offender with regard to over-breeding. Interestingly, the Quarter horse is also the most slaughtered. The AQHA promotes a self-destructive business model of breeding as many horses as possible and disposing of those that don’t meet predetermined criteria, thereby contributing to the inhumane treatment of horses and the slaughter industry. Consequently, there are currently more Quarter horses slaughtered in Canada and Mexico than there were when the U.S. plants were in operation.
Animals’ Angels USA (www.animals-angels.org) conducted investigations of the horse slaughter system from 2007 to 2009, which included the conditions and treatment slaughter horses undergo at auctions, feedlots, during transport and at the slaughter plants. In their comprehensive report, the organization found that “…horse slaughter encompasses public safety issues, public health concerns, environmental issues as well as the obvious and very significant concerns regarding cruelty and inhumane treatment. Our investigations during 2007 to the present made clear that at the instant a horse is designated a ‘kill horse,’ handling and treatment change radically from that normally given horses. A ‘kill horse’ is treated with cruelty, with indifference at best, but more typically with violence and aggression. Cruelty increases, while safety, health and welfare – its care and humane treatment are so diminished it is virtually nonexistent. These horses are “only passing through,” say the veterinarians as well as the ‘kill buyers.’ If the ‘kill
horses’ had been normal horses under the care of a different type of owner, humane officers and police would have required, in keeping with state animal cruelty laws, proper veterinarian care and sufficient access to food, water and shelter. The ‘kill horse’ is outside the protection of cruelty laws.” Based upon their investigations, horses destined for slaughter are subjected to being transported with no rest, water, food or shelter for dangerously extended periods of time and beyond that required by law. And in fact horses are purposely dehydrated so that the slaughterhouse can obtain a more accurate weight of their meat. Horse slaughter is the leading cause of the cruel and inhumane treatment of horses, not owners who aren’t able to care for them due to economic difficulties or because they’re simply unwanted. The abuse of slaughter horses begins long before they are hit with the captive bolt, stabbed with the puntilla knife or hit with a gunshot at the slaughter plant.
The idea that horse slaughter is humane euthanasia is false based upon factual statements given by slaughterhouse workers, video footage of the slaughter process, as well as statements given by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which claims to support horse slaughter. The definition of euthanasia is a gentle, painless death that prevents suffering. Horse slaughter, however, is filled with cruelty, brutality, pain and suffering from the abuse they endure while kept in holding pens or feedlots, during transportation to the plants and the actual slaughter process. The AVMA contradicts itself in its public thesis on humane euthanasia, when it stated “Animal welfare is a human responsibility that encompasses all aspects of animal well-being, from proper housing and nutrition to preventive care, treatment of disease, and when necessary, humane euthanasia. The AVMAs commitment to animal welfare is unsurpassed.” When describing what humane euthanasia is, they stated “When the horse is euthanized, death will come quickly and painlessly. If the horse is standing when the death-inducing drug is given, the horse will become unconscious and unable to sense fear or pain while still standing. After the horse has fallen, unconscious, to the ground, death will ensue.” The AVMAs guidelines state that unless a horse’s head and neck is restrained, the captive bolt pistol or “stun gun”, which is a pneumatic device intended to render a horse unconscious prior to slaughter, is not deemed humane. However, undercover films and witness testimonies from slaughter plants in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan and Great Britain reveal a very different story.
Horses are intelligent animals that are highly sensitive and acutely aware of their environment. They react to the smell of blood, the sounds of other horses being slaughtered and react violently to death when they see the instrument or “stun gun” aimed at their heads, which drives a four-inch spike into their skulls. They make desperate attempts to flee, exhibiting typical equine “fight or flight” behavior and extreme panic and fear. They prance back and forth with their ears pinned back and their eyes wide open. That inevitably results in the instrument hitting the horse and wounding it and not rendering it unconscious, but rather resulting in repeated blows.
In addition, video evidence shows horses being beaten on their faces, necks, legs and backs; purposely blinded by bludgeoning their eyes out to get them under control, electric cattle prods inserted into their rectums to get them to move into the kill box, mares giving birth on the kill floors, and remaining alive and conscious when they were shackled and hoisted by a rear leg to have their throats cut. The horses stand in line sensing the terror and electrocuted or speared into the kill box where they shake violently, falling and unable to stand from fear.
The USDA released photos of horses with broken bones protruding from their bodies, eyeballs hanging by a thread of skin, and open wounds, all taken at former U.S. horse slaughter plants. Slaughter practices in Mexico are particularly barbaric. In 2007, an investigation by The San Antonio News-Express revealed workers using the puntilla knife to repeatedly stab horses in their necks to paralyze them prior to slaughtering. The horses were still fully conscious during the beginning of the slaughter process. The slaughterhouse in Mexico is owned by Beltex, which previously operated out of Texas.
A hidden-camera videotape taken at Beltex by the Humane Society of the United States in 1994 shows animals writhing and shuddering well after the stun gun is applied. In a sworn statement before Cook County, State of Illinois, a former employee [name withheld] of Cavel International, a horse slaughtering plant now closed but owned by the same company as Beltex and Dallas Crown, testified the following: “In July 1991, they were unloading one of the double-decker trucks. A horse got his leg caught in the side of the truck so the driver pulled the rig up and the horse’s leg popped off. The horse was still living, and it was shaking. [Another employee] popped it on the head and we hung it up and split it open. … Sometimes we would kill near 390, 370 a day. Each double-decker might have up to 100 on it. We would pull off the dead ones with chains. Ones that were down on the truck, we would drag them off with chains and maybe put them in a pen or we might drag them with an automatic chain to the knock box. Sometimes we would use an electric shocker to try to make them stand. To get them into the knock box, you have to shock them … sometimes run them up the [anus] with the shocker. … When we killed a pregnant mare, we would take the guts out and I would take the bag out and open it and cut the cord and put it in the trash and sometimes the baby would still be living, and its heart would be beating, but we would put it in the trashcan.”
Owners who for whatever reason are unable to care for or maintain ownership of their horses have many safe and humane alternatives to horse slaughter. In addition to selling them to caring individuals, owners can donate or lease them to a variety of equine organizations. There are a large number of equine rescues, adoptions, sanctuaries, retirement farms, ex-racehorse Thoroughbred organizations, pony clubs, private riding schools, equine therapy facilities, assisted psychotherapy riding programs, police or parks departments, prison inmate training programs and veterinary schools. Horse rescues, sanctuaries and farms have the ability to find them new homes, retrain horses with behavior and temperament issues due to abuse and cruelty or incorrect training, train Thoroughbred ex-race horses for new careers or provide long-term care for aging or ill horses. There are horse rescue foundations across the country and new ones continue to be established, which are either run by volunteers, non-profits or are privately funded. If horse slaughter ended, the overflow of horses could be handled by those systems already in place. There is sufficient evidence to support the fact that these horses could easily be absorbed back into the population and that over-breeding would subsequently decline as a result. Proper management of horses combined with responsible breeding programs and the efforts of rescue and adoption agencies are and will provide the solutions needed.
Horses that are sick, elderly or dying should be humanely euthanized by a licensed veterinarian using lethal injection. Following euthanizing, rendering, incineration and burial are all options for disposal of the remains, depending on state laws. Approximately 920,000 horses die each year and are safely disposed of by means other than slaughter and don’t have a negative impact on the environment. However, there were numerous legal complaints and actions against the horse slaughter plants in both Texas and Illinois, resulting in local law violations related to the disposal of blood and waste materials. Having a horse humanely euthanized is easily available and highly affordable. The average daily cost to keep a horse is roughly $7 per day and the monthly cost is approximately $200, while the average cost of euthanizing and disposing of a horse is between $40 and $225. Some rendering services will pick up the body free of charge if the owner is unable to bury it. If owners take the responsibility of having and caring for their horses, they can certainly give their horse a painless, peaceful and respectful death, not one highlighted by fear and brutality which typifies transport to and killing at slaughterhouses.
The widespread use of pharmaceuticals and antibiotics given to horses throughout their lifetimes are substances which are “not prescribed for food animals” and renders their meat potentially dangerous to human health if consumed. Drugs given to horses are prohibited for use during the life of any animal that’s destined for human food. One such drug regularly administered to horses is phenylbutazone or Bute, which is a known carcinogen and considered illegal for use in a food producing animal. Under FDA regulations, horses would not be considered safe for U.S. food supply. Canada’s Democratic Agriculture Critic Alex Atamanenko has re-introduced a Private Members Bill that was initially introduced in British Columbia’s last Parliament, and which garnered tens of thousands of Canadian supporters to end horse slaughter in Canada. This is why the sale of wild horses to the horsemeat trade is lucrative. Although domestic horses put consumers at risk of exposure to potential harm due to the drugs administered to them, wild horses aren’t subjected to the same chemicals, making their meat a special delicacy.
Horse slaughter is not a public service, but a foreign-owned business operating for profit and paid for by the wealthy. The failure to enact federal law prohibiting horse slaughter, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, has allowed for the export of American horses to Canada and Mexico, exacerbating the brutality of already cruel transport and slaughter practices. No matter how horse slaughter is carried out, it isn’t and will never be a humane way of ending a horse’s life by anyone’s standards, including that of the AVMAs. Horse slaughter is wrought with cruelty, is prolonged and excruciating and it’s man’s ultimate betrayal of the noble horse. And we, as Americans, should be ashamed.
Americans overwhelmingly support an end to horse slaughter for human consumption. Polls from Kentucky, Texas and Utah show that 82, 72 and 69 percent, respectively, oppose it. A national poll revealed nearly 70 percent of Americans support a federal ban. House Bill H.R.2966, The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA) and Senate Bill S.1176, would permanently end the inhumane and brutal slaughter of the United State’s horses for human consumption overseas, as well as prevent them from being transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.
Horses have played an indispensable role in U.S. history and assumed substantial roles in the progress of our great nation. They’ve gone with us into battle and carried us to our greatest victories merely because we asked them to. Horses are icons of the American historical heritage of which the United States is built upon. The values, ethics, beliefs and cultural significance of our country are symbolized by the beauty, grace and majestic nature of America’s horses, wild and domestic. In 1971, the United States Congress recognized Mustangs as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.”
Horses have assumed trusting and faithful roles in the industrialization of our society and they’re part of our cultural legacy. There was a time, before the automobile, when horses were essential to our nation’s prosperity and development. It was upon the backs of these great and noble steeds that our forefathers staked claim to the lands that became our earliest communities, and which enabled our 18th century communities to prosper and flourish. Unfortunately, in a consumer-driven society, horses aren’t seen as having significant economic value to commercial interests. The loyal companion that carried Paul Revere, pulled our wagons and plows, and enabled man to forge west is being slaughtered to supply the demand for horse flesh in the foreign market. The reality is that horse slaughter is not driven by a need to compete with an overwhelming population of unwanted horses, but by the foreign demand for horse flesh. The American people should not allow such atrocities against such an important part of our history. They deserve better than to be slaughtered for a wealthy diner’s dinner plate.
For questions regarding the content of this letter please contact the author, Charmaine Jens, Public Relations Representative for Americans Against Horse Slaughter (AAHS) at CharmaineAAHS@gmail.com. For additional information regarding AAHS, its mission or initiatives, please contact Debra Lopez at 262-989-0604 or Shelley Abrams at 215-932-4800.
Public Relations Representative
Americans Against Horse Slaughter
Americans Against Horse Slaughter is a non- funded, grassroots national movement comprised of supporters of a federal ban on the slaughter and the transport to slaughter of American horses for human consumption overseas. Americans Against Horse Slaughter has no other agenda, other than to stop the brutal slaughter of American horses.