Helping Hearts Equine Rescue, Inc

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Fight Horse Slaughter

 “The term euthanasia is derived from the Greek terms eu meaning good and thanatos meaning death. A “good death” would be one that occurs with minimal pain and distress. In the context of these guidelines, euthanasia is the act of inducing humane death in an animal.”

 Updated Canadian Slaughter stats -Posted on 

 The table on the left shows the total number of horses killed in Canadian slaughterhouses.  The right-hand table shows the number of horses brought in from the U.S. for slaughter.

Keep in mind, of course, that each number is a life lost.




From Animal Welfare Institute

Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act

Horsemeat Poses Serious Risks to Human Health


Bill Name:
Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (S. 541)

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)


House of Representatives

Bill Name:
Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (H.R. 1094)

Representative Patrick Meehan (R-PA)
Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)


FDA-prohibited drugs are universally used at racetracks. Photo by John Murrell."The permissive allowance of such horsemeat used for human consumption poses a serious public health risk."1

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently bans the presence of 379 common equine drugs in animals slaughtered for human consumption. However, there is no procedure in place to ensure that American horses, sold to slaughterhouses and killed for human consumption, are free of these FDA-banned substances.

There is currently no means of identifying whether a horse sent to slaughter has received dangerous, prohibited substances. When a horse is sold, especially through an auction, there is no required transfer of information regarding the substances a horse received during his or her lifetime. Therefore, there is no mechanism in place to ensure horses frequently bought at auction by killer buyers have not been given dangerous substances before they become part of the food chain.

Horses are routinely given substances that are dangerous to humans. Most American horse owners do not imagine that their horses may someday be slaughtered for human consumption, and almost universally give their horses medications, antibiotics, ointments, wormers, and other substances labeled "not for animals intended for human consumption." These substances may remain in the body for long periods of time.

Phenylbutazone (bute) can be lethal if ingested by people. A study published in May 2010 in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found that substances routinely given to American horses cause dangerous adverse effects in humans. The most serious effect of phenylbutazone is bone-marrow toxicity, leading to agranulocytosis (failure to produce white blood cells, causing chronic infections) and aplastic anemia (insufficient production of red and white blood cells and platelets). Similar blood conditions such as leucopenia, hemolytic anemia, pancytopenia, and thrombocytopenia may also occur in people who consume bute. The National Toxicology Program has determined that bute is a carcinogen. For these reasons, the FDA bans this substance for human consumption.

FDA-prohibited drugs are universally used at racetracks. The February 28, 2010 Paulick Report published a study revealing that more than 9 out of 10 racehorses are commonly administered bute before they race. Racehorses are frequently shipped to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered for human consumption when their performance flags, often within days or weeks of receiving their last dose of bute. Any consumer of this meat, which can be ground together with beef and offered to consumers without proper identification, could be unwittingly ingesting banned substances, with potentially lethal results.

The European Union has a policy prohibiting importation of the meat of any horse who has ever received bute. Nitrofurazone, the most common wound ointment given to American horses, is also prohibited for use on any horse whose meat is shipped to the European community. The United States needs to close this loophole that currently puts consumers at risk, and ensure that meat from American horses is not jeopardizing the health and lives of consumers.

POISON: It's what's for dinner when horsemeat is on the menu

POISON: It's what's for dinner when horsemeat is on the menu

Those promoting horsemeat consumption claim horsemeat is leaner (and therefore, supposedly, healthier) than beef. What they fail to point out is that, unlike cattle, horses are not raised for meat, and are given hundreds of legal and illegal drugs rendering their meat unsafe for human consumption in the United States and abroad. However, because of confusing and conflicting U.S. and foreign laws, horsemeat slips through the regulatory cracks and is consumed overseas by unsuspecting diners. The diagram shows just a few of the banned and dangerous drugs that consistently end up in horsemeat and on people's plates.

1Dodman, N., et al. 2010. Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: A public health risk. Food Chem Toxicol. 48(5):1270-4. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2010.02.021


Horse Slaughter

Every 5 minutes an American horse is slaughtered for human consumption. Stop the slaughter.In the United States, horses have never been raised for human consumption, yet for decades, our horses have been bought and slaughtered by a predatory, foreign-owned industry for sale to high-end diners in Europe and Asia. The horse slaughter industry and its supporters are working very hard to mislead the public and members of Congress. Thankfully, the facts are very easy on this cruel and predatory industry.

In 2007, the slaughter of horses on US soil came to an end when a court ruling upheld a Texas law banning horse slaughter, and similar legislation was passed in Illinois. However, failure by the US Congress to pass legislation banning horse slaughter means that American horses are still being slaughtered for human consumption abroad. Tens of thousands are shipped to Mexico and Canada annually, where they are killed under barbaric conditions so their meat can continue to satisfy the palates of overseas diners in countries such as Italy, France, Belgium and Japan.

Every 5 minutes an American horse is slaughtered for human consumption. Stop the slaughter.Additionally, without the federal law, there remains the threat that horse slaughter plants may set up shop in states that have no laws against the practice. In the beginning of 2008, unsuccessful attempts were made to open a horse slaughterhouse in South Dakota and overturn the Illinois ban. It is likely that pro-horse slaughter organizations will try again elsewhere in the United States, including Texas and Illinois.

While a handful of horses are purposely sold into slaughter by irresponsible owners, most arrive at the slaughterhouse via livestock auction, where unsuspecting owners sell the animals to slaughterhouse middlemen known as "killer buyers." Despite the fact that the US plants are no longer in operation, killer buyers continue to purchase and haul as many horses as possible from livestock auctions around the country to the slaughterhouses that have now relocated to Mexico and Canada.

The suffering begins long before our horses even reach the slaughterhouse. Conditions of transport are appalling, with horses regularly hauled to our domestic borders on journeys lasting more than 24 hours. Deprived of food, water or rest, the horses are forced onto overcrowded trailers with other horses to make the long journey to slaughter.

Upon arrival at the slaughterhouse, the suffering continues unabated. Horses can be left for long periods in tightly packed trailers, subjected to further extremes of heat and cold. In hot weather, their thirst is acute. Downed animals are unable to rise, and horses are offloaded using excessive force.

When the horses are herded through the plant to slaughter, callous workers use fiberglass rods to poke and beat their faces, necks, backs and legs as the animals are shoved through the facility and into the kill box. Subjected to overcrowding, deafening sounds and the smell of blood, the horses become more and more desperate, exhibiting fear typical of "flight" behavior - pacing in prance-like movements with their ears pinned back against their heads and eyes wide open.

Conditions over the border are even worse than those at the previously operational US plants. A 2007 investigation by The San Antonio News-Express revealed that the use of the puntilla knife on horses prior to slaughter is common practice in Mexican slaughter plants, such as a facility currently owned by Beltex, formerly operating in Texas.

Footage obtained by the paper shows horses being stabbed repeatedly in the neck with these knives prior to slaughter. Such a barbaric practice simply paralyzes the animal. The horse is still fully conscious at the start of the slaughter process, during which he or she is hung by a hind leg, his or her throat slit and body butchered. Death, the final betrayal of these noble animals, is protracted and excruciating.

Wild horses are also slaughtered, since a 2004 backdoor Congressional rider engineered by then-Senator Conrad Burns (R–MT) gutted the protections afforded by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Now, the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for protecting wild horses, must sell "excess" horses (those 10 years of age or older, or not adopted after three tries) at auction. As a result, wild horses are being removed from their range at an alarming rate with some being sold for slaughter.

Although awareness has grown exponentially in recent years, the horse meat trade is still relatively hidden from most Americans, and the industry wants to keep it that way. Warren Smith, operations manager of a Canadian horse slaughterhouse, was quoted as saying to the Edmonton Journal, "Talking about horses is kind of a scary thing, especially in the West, where people think it's more of a pet than protein. When anybody starts writing about horses, everybody gets up in arms. Every time we say anything about horse in the paper, there's always an uproar, so I don't want to talk about it."

Until the US Congress passes legislation banning horse slaughter into law, show horses, racehorses, foals born as "byproducts" of the Premarin© (a female hormone replacement drug) industry, wild horses, burros and family horses will all continue to fall prey to this detestable foreign-driven industry.

The Animal Welfare Institute has answered the most common questions about horse slaughter in the Horse Slaughter Facts & FAQs. You can also click here for a list of horse organizations, rescues and industry leaders opposed to horse slaughter and in support of efforts to ban the practice. Learn more about the claim that horse slaughter solves the problem of an "unwanted horse" population in the United States, and how some horses are illegally acquired for the horsemeat trade.


Please check out the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition:


"A Chamber of Carnage" ---

US Slaughter Statistics --


Animal Angels Expose - - Check out their website - - 

- - The Export of American Horses for Slaughter -

~~Horse Slaughter: The

 ~Three Years Investigation Shows Inherent Cruelty of the Horse Slaughter Industry:



 Is this a good death? ~~

In today's political climate, where people are arguing the merits FOR slaughter plants in our country and about the "necessity" of slaughter, let's review this remarkable White Paper written by Dr. Patricia Hogan in 2006.  She gave this Testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection July 25, 2006 in Support of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.   

It was relevant then, and it's extremely relevant now.

The full White Paper can be read at:

In Part Dr. Hogan testified:

"I have personally been to a horse slaughterhouse as a surgery resident while in Texas
and I found it to be a disgrace. I was not there on an "announced" visit as those who
defend horse slaughter were - I was there to collect specimens for a research project. In
my ignorance, I had actually never even thought much about slaughter before then. I
was absolutely revolted at the way the horses were treated and the behavior of the
people that were employed there. I have also been to a beef and a chicken slaughter
plant too. The treatment of and reaction by the horses was very much in contrast to that
of the other livestock I had observed.

I believe there is some confusion regarding humane euthanasia and horse slaughter.
We must remember that these are two distinctly different processes. Horse slaughter is
NOT euthanasia by anyone’s definition. Euthanasia is a peaceful process that most
commonly involves the overdose of an intravenous anesthetic drug administered by a
veterinarian. The horses are not afraid and there is no fear of anticipation. In most
cases, the animal is sedated and then euthanized in a familiar environment. Horse
slaughter uses a method called the captive-bolt which involves aiming a bolt gun at the
forehead of a partially-restrained horse in what is commonly termed the “kill pen”. This
pen is at the end of an assembly line of horses that are fed through the plant. If the bolt
is applied properly, the horse is rendered unconscious upon impact and drops to the
ground so that the carcass can then be bled out prior to death. There is a great deal of
room for human and technical error with the captive bolt method and the
recommendation for ‘adequate restraint’ is loosely defined and open for interpretation.
If anyone on this subcommittee would like to see videos of each process I would be
happy to provide them for you so that you may judge for yourself which is the ‘humane’
method. I am confident that the difference would be dramatic to you."

 Additionally please read on the site of the Veterinarians for Equine Welfare::  

  • Testimony of Dr. Nicholas Dodman DVM, Diplomate ACVA and ACVM before the House Judiciary Committee in support of H.R. 6598, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act on July 31, 2008.

Canadian Horse Defense Coalition-i

Graphic evidence of animal welfare violations was documented at Natural Valley Farms in April/May 2008. This footage was released to CHDC by undercover investigators, and the concerns were aired on CBC's No Country for Horses the following month: .


On "Fugly Horse of the Day, February 17, 2009:   After a three year battle, the USDA was finally required to release pictures of horses who were injured or killed during double-decker rides to the slaughterhouse.


  Putting the Horse First?, by Patricia Hogan ~


"It is the united opinion of VEW (Veterinarians for Equine Welfare) that horse slaughter is inhumane, and that it is an unacceptable way to end a horse’s life under any circumstance. One need only observe horse slaughter to see that it is a far cry from genuine humane euthanasia. From the transport of horses on inappropriate conveyances for long periods of time without food, water of rest to the very ugly slaughter process in which horses react with pain and fear, no evidence exists to support the claim that horse slaughter is a form of humane euthanasia. Rather, it is a brutal process that results in very tangible and easily observable equine suffering.

It is worth noting that the suffering of horses in slaughter is accentuated by the very fact that they are not raised for slaughter. Horses going to slaughter have largely been accustomed to close human contact whether through racing, ranch work, pleasure riding, rodeo or any of the other ways in which horses are used in this country. While some are purposely sold into slaughter by their owners most end up at the abattoir through pure bad luck: they were sold at auction and the winning bidder was a ‘killer-buyer’ working for one of the slaughter plants. To suddenly be treated as pure livestock must be disorienting and frightful, and can only compound their suffering as they proceed to slaughter.

We believe that it is an unethical and dangerous practice for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to attempt to equate horse slaughter with humane euthanasia."

From "Horse Slaughter – Its Ethical Impact and Subsequent Response of the Veterinary Profession", by Veterinarians for Equine Welfare (2008)

Please check out the website for Veterinarians for Equine Welfare - -


  The Realities of Horse Slaughter In America

Information compiled and essay written by Anne Irving, a tireless fighter against the horrors of Horse Slaughter in America.   Thank you for taking the time to read this . . .

Horse slaughter is an industry, not a charitable way for farmers to dispose of their old, sick, horses as believed by many in Congress and across the country.  It is an industry driven by demand of foreign diners in Europe and Japan who consider American horsemeat a delicacy, and enjoy the lean horsemeat, which sells for around $20.00 per pound – and costs about .39 to .49 cents per pound on the hoof at auction.  The owners of the recently closed American slaughterhouses are Belgian companies: Beltex, Cavel Intl., and Chevideco (Dallas Crown). 

Background:   In 2007, two slaughter plants in Texas and the remaining slaughter plant in Illinois were closed down due to the enactment and enforcement of state laws.  All remain closed, and horse slaughter for human consumption in Illinois and Texas remains illegal. All three slaughterhouses are foreign-owned, employed less than 200 people combined (many immigrants) and paid very few taxes.  It is also reported that they were not good corporate neighbors. Both the Cavel Plant and the Dallas Crown plants in Kaufman, Texas, had pollution problems and extensive waste-water violations which affected the municipalities and distressed the residents living near the plants.  Prior to it’s final closure, the Kaufman Board of Adjustments declared the Dallas Crown facility a nuisance, identifying public health and safety issues. It was reported that when stoppages occurred over the years, blood from the plant backed up into area residents' bathtubs. At public hearings in Kaufman, TX, citizens told of relentless odors, bones from slain horses carried around the neighborhood by dogs, blood and feces running through drainage areas and from trucks and the unsettling "noise" from horses as they were slaughtered throughout the night at Dallas Crown.  


A demand-driven business:  Kill buyers deliver the number of horses that they are asked to deliver. The majority of horses slaughtered come via kill buyers, to satisfy their contracts with the slaughter plants.  The kill buyer and slaughterhouse operation is not a service that simply disposes of excess horses.  Unlucky horses that find their way to slaughter include yearlings, very pregnant mares (their near-term foals cut out of their stomachs and discarded in a pile), Off-Track Thoroughbreds that didn’t run fast enough (many with very famous bloodlines), and Amish horses - beasts of burden their entire lives, sent to slaughter as their final reward. There are also PMU (Premarin) mares, and their offspring, stolen horses, and yes, the family horse that no longer fits “little Suzy” that is unwittingly sent to slaughter.  While some horses are knowingly sold into slaughter by their owners, many, many are not.  According to USDA, in 2006, 92% of horses they inspected were young and healthy.  The market for slaughter horses is set by the international demand for their meat in other countries, not by the number of supposedly unwanted horses.  This can be clearly seen in the fact that following the closing of the US based plants, exports to Canadian and Mexican plants increased to quickly bring the total slaughter back the same level as before the closings.


It is estimated there are approximately 9 million horses in the United States today.  The number of horses slaughtered increased over the past few years due to increased demand abroad for U.S. horsemeat.  In 2006, prior to the plant closures, 105,835 horses were slaughtered in Texas and Illinois.  The number of horses slaughtered fluctuates greatly, from a high of 348,400 in 1989, to a low of 42,312 in 2002. Horsemeat demand has been increased by the outbreak of disease, such as Mad Cow Disease, that affected the supply of other meat products from the United States. Ironically, while the EU readily imports US horsemeat, US beef is still banned. 


Horse slaughter engenders inhumane and illegal behavior.  Horses are crammed in double-decker trailers for cross-country journeys that stretch for hundreds of miles. Double-deckers are the preferred means of transportation for the slaughter business as they are more cost effective.  While horses can no longer legally ship in Double-decker trailers in the United States if they are heading to slaughter, the lack of enforcement of laws and loopholes makes it easy for shippers to circumvent this ban.  On October 1, 2008, Leroy H. Baker, Jr. (d.b.a. Sugarcreek Livestock Auction, Inc.) was assessed a civil penalty of $162,800.00 for failure to comply with the Commercial Transportation of Equines for Slaughter Act.  Baker’s violations were so serious and his culpability so great as to warrant the $5,000 maximum civil penalty per violation.  The violations occurred during commercial shipments of equines from Sugarcreek to Beltex and Dallas Crown between the years of 2003 and 2007.  Those violations included the movement of blind horses, horses unable to stand on four legs, and stallions un-segregated from the other horses, with numerous counts of horses dying en route and being kicked to death. 


In Oklahoma, a Boys Ranch took in horses as donations and then in turn sold them off for slaughter. In the spring of 2007, one of Seattle Slew’s granddaughter’s was found heavily pregnant and foundered in a feedlot awaiting shipment to Mexico.  An equine rescue was contacted by a concerned individual, and after extensive care, the mare and her filly now reside at the Oklahoma rescue.  Her former owners had no idea. In May of 2006, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the convictions of two racetrack employees turned rustlers that stole two prized Thoroughbreds from Thistledown Racetrack and sold them to an auctioneer, who sold them to a slaughterhouse. In 1998, when California outlawed slaughter horse and the interstate transportation of horses for slaughter, horse theft went down 39.4% the first year.


While hauling 59 young horses, mainly Belgians, a double-decker truck found to be grossly overweight by the authorities crashed on October 20th 2007, near Waukegon, Illinois. The horses were reportedly bound for slaughter.  42 survived, and were so packed in the truck it took the rescuers 5 hours to remove them all. Many had their slaughter tags glued on them, and many were believed to be PMU foals.  A similar accident occurred Sept. 2006 in Missouri, where 17 Cavel-bound horses in a double-decker died in a late night accident involving 42 horses.


Thirty-six months after making a Freedom of Information Request of the U.S.D.A. regarding violations of the “Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter Act”, Julie Caramante, an investigator for non-profit Animal Angels, received the documents.  "I've been an equine cruelty investigator for a number of years," said Caramante, "and I've witnessed many horrific incidents of animal cruelty. But nothing could prepare me for the images contained in the FOIA. These pictures shocked me to the core. The pain and terror these horses endured is criminal. This just should not be, no excuses.” The large FOIA document contains hundreds of photographs that graphically depict horses with open fractures, legs missing, battered and bloody faces, eyeballs dangling and what appears to be horses left to bleed to death. The document provides unimpeachable evidence for the immediate ban on the slaughter of American horses.   The photographs included in the FOIA document were taken between January 17, 2005 and November 17, 2005 at Beltex, the Belgian-owned plant in Fort Worth, Texas.   After a 1949 Texas law banning horse slaughter was upheld, Beltex closed in 2007.  Beltex has since focused on its operations in Fresnillo, Mexico where it continues to slaughter American horses.  In addition, Beltex still runs the second largest slaughter horse feedlot in the United States.  Horses from all over the country are transported to the feedlot in Morton, TX before being sent to the Beltex slaughter plant in Mexico.

Slaughter-bound horses are put through the auction, into kill pens grouped with many other horses and then shipped to slaughter over long distances in crammed conditions. The entire experience is alien to most horses, which have been well looked after their entire lives.  While this experience is exacerbated by the ban on domestic slaughter, even with domestic slaughter horses are drawn from such a large area that it would be commercially unviable to have enough slaughter plants to reduce the transport distances to humane levels. When horse slaughter was legal in Illinois, horses were still being shipped to Canada for slaughter from the New Holland kill auction. Due to geography, horses have always been shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.  Exporting horses for slaughter is happening more so now with the elimination of domestic slaughter.


The process of slaughter in the United States involved use of a captive bolt gun that requires accuracy for effectiveness. It is not designed specifically for horses, which have longer necks than cattle and typically balk away from something they fear. Additionally, the horse’s brain is located further back in the skull than is the cow’s brain.  This makes the actual slaughter process less precise, and there are many examples documented of horses not being rendered senseless by the first hit by a captive bolt gun. While the veterinarian groups of AAEP and AVMA advocate that horse slaughter is humane, many veterinarians disagree.


The conditions that American horses encounter in Mexico are even worse than those at the US plants.  A 2007 investigation by The San Antonio News-Express revealed that the use of the puntilla knife on horses prior to slaughter is common practice in Mexican slaughter plants, such as a facility currently owned by Beltex in Mexico.   Footage obtained by the paper shows horses being stabbed repeatedly in the neck with these knives prior to slaughter. Such a barbaric practice simply paralyzes the animal. The horse is still fully conscious at the start of the slaughter process, during which he or she is hung by a hind leg, his or her throat slit and body butchered. Death, the final betrayal of these noble animals, is protracted and excruciating.  The U.S. Dept. Agriculture says more than 45,000 horses went to Mexico for slaughter last year in 2008, up from about 11,000 the year before.

Not bred/raised to be a safe part of the food chain. Horses are bred for sports, work and leisure and not for the food chain, and with a few exceptions horses are humanized and are taught to trust humans as they serve our needs.  Most slaughter-bound horses have received a variety of drugs, hormones, wormers, and steroids through their lifetime.  Phenylbutazone, or "bute" as it is commonly called, is used from racetracks to ranches and is a known carcinogen - as determined by the federal government's National Toxicology Program.  It is important to note that in the European Union beginning July 2009, horses that are slaughtered in Europe for human consumption must be accompanied by documentation that they are free of drugs that would not be fit for human consumption. No such assurance accompanies the substantial amount of horsemeat exported from North America and Mexico to Europe. There is also no system in place to track horses that are slaughtered and determine their source of origin in case of a tainted food scare

Horse slaughter foes in the US became more fervent after it was learned that Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, ended up in a slaughterhouse in Japan in 2002.  As a response, the Belgian-owned operators of the U.S. plants have retained people like Agricultural lobbyist and former congressman Charles Stenholm of Texas to lobby for the industry. They also employ public relations firms, which have used the media to great effect, seeding articles that have wrongly tied horse neglect and abandonment cases to an end to domestic slaughter.  In March 2007, an AP story by Jeffery McMurray was published in more than 200 news outlets. The claims made in the story about loose horses running around Kentucky were so egregious that the Governor of the State of Kentucky released a statement refuting the claims. These stories also serve to allow politicians to justify their position on a bill without researching the voracity of the claims made in the articles.

Supporters of horse slaughter, such as livestock producers, cite the “slippery slope” argument: first horses, then cattle and hogs. They also argue that it violates their property rights.  Prominent among the opposition is the Farm Bureau, The American Quarter Horse Association, and the American Veterinary Medical Association.  Responsible breeding is a large factor in this issue and is desperately needed.  This presents a problem to the AQHA and other breed registries whose budgets depend on registration fees for new foals.  Slaughter gives the breeders a convenient outlet for those horses they do not want to keep.  AVMA’s largest constituency consists of veterinarians who service the food animal industry, such as vets who work in slaughter plants, livestock auctions, feedlots, etc. They proclaim the captive bolt slaughter method as “humane euthanasia”.  To contrast the viewpoint of AAEP and AVMA, Veterinarians for Equine Welfare (VEW) has been established to speak out against the inhumanity of horse slaughter and rigorously condemn the AVMA’s position.  The Premarin Industry is also in support of horses going to slaughter.  Premarin® is a conjugated estrogen product extracted from pregnant mares' urine (PMU) manufactured by Wyeth-Ayerst Labs, Inc.  Reliable estimates indicate there are at least 50,000 production mares on PMU farms, accounting for the births of approximately 40,000 offspring annually.  Add in the number of breeding stallions, immature mares, replacement mares, and their foals, the total is considerably greater than 100,000 horses. 


Alternatives to Slaughter:  Many horses that are slaughter-bound are not unwanted. They are simply unlucky.  It is also very important to note that the majority of horses that die each year in the U.S. are humanely euthanized, not slaughtered.  The cost of humane euthanasia and disposal vary depending on geography.  Typically that cost is the equivalent of a couple of months of keep for a horse, or even less.  There are also over 400 equine rescues in the US that daily take in horses in need.  Horses are now routinely used for therapy for returning Iraq war vets, autistic children and adults and other physically and mentally challenged people. Horses are also now being used in prisoner rehabilitation across the country.  In addition, more equine retirement facilities and rescues are being opened.  In recent years the number of equines going to slaughter has been slightly more than 1% of the overall equine population.


Unwanted Horses:  There will always be unwanted horses, or unlucky horses, with or without horse slaughter. Horses will be abandoned and neglected; this happened even while slaughter was a legal alternative.  The number of horses that are abandoned and neglected is far smaller than the number of horses that are slaughtered. It is important to note that 345,700 horses were butchered in 1990, 107,029 in 1994, and 47,134 in 2000.  In the years where the slaughter numbers are down there was no upswing in abused, neglected or abandoned horses.  A more prominent factor in abandonment, abuse, and low horse prices in the market are the recent drought and economic conditions causing the increased cost of gas, hay, feed and loss of family farmland due to urban sprawl and corporate farming. 


New legislation, HR503, is aimed at stopping the export of horses for slaughter in Mexico and Canada.  This bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Jan. 14. 2009.   HR 503, the Conyers-Burton Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, prohibits the transport, sale, delivery, or export of horses for slaughter for human consumption. It also criminalizes the purchase, sale, delivery, or export of horsemeat intended for human consumption.  Violators would face fines and/or one year imprisonment for a first offense or those involving five or fewer horses, and fines and/or three years imprisonment for repeat offenses or those involving more than five horses.  This legislation does not prevent a horse owner from humanely euthanizing their horse and does not infringe on private property rights. 


Sources of information include the following:,0,2470954.story,,

Supporters of anti-horse slaughter legislation:

Horseback News Lines~ March 24, 2009

Magazine: Tel: 281-447-0772
FAX: 281-893-1029
Internet: [email protected]


Letter to the Editor

Dear Horseback Readers,

I feel compelled to respond to the rash of state efforts ( Montana, Illinois, and North Dakota to name just a few) to re-introduce the slaughter of horses in the United States of America. As a professional economist, I find the arguments spouted nationwide to re-invite foreign owned horse killing facilities onto American soil confusing and without merit.

To paraphrase a horse rescuer I know, why is it that upon the observation of an abandoned dog or cat, people jump up and down to preserve the life of that animal, while upon the observation of an abandoned horse, some politician jumps up and down and yells that we need to slit its throat and bleed it out on American soil so that a wealthy connoisseur in Europe or Asia can have a nice horsemeat snack?

According to USDA data, approximately 20 percent more American horses are being exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter now than were being slaughtered in the US prior to the closure of the foreign owned slaughterhouses in 2007. It is clear that the option to slaughter is readily available: you simply drop off your horse at the nearest auction or make a quick call to the local “kill buyer” and he will be dispatched through the pipeline to a foreign owned slaughter house in one of our NAFTA partners. Any abandoned horse, one would have to presume, is abandoned NOT because there are no slaughter plants in the US. To add to my confusion, there is nothing but anecdotal evidence that horses are being abandoned at a higher rate now than before the closure of the US slaughter plants, and that is because no better data exists: there is no data collected at the state or national level on horse abandonment or neglect. Even if a single year’s observation were available, which it is not, it would not constitute a sample that any statistician would take seriously. And the few independent scientific studies that have been conducted over the years all illustrate the very same result: rates of horse abandonment, neglect and abuse are completely uncorrelated with the availability of local slaughter facilities.    

In some of the debate concerning the proposed bills, the idea is even being perpetrated that somehow inviting foreign horse killers back on US soil is part of the solution to the severe recession currently devastating the US economy; the invitation is touted as “economic development” in, for example, Montana. A sort of bizarre economic stimulus package, for states suffering job losses. For those unaware, Americans don’t eat horsemeat. The foreign owned slaughter houses formerly on US soil paid next to no taxes here. All profits were repatriated to the foreign owners in Europe. And agricultural output and employment in America represent 1.2 percent and 0.6 percent of GDP and employment respectively, tiny fractions of aggregate economic activity, as in any industrialized nation; indeed, that is the hallmark of a mature, post-industrial, service based economy such as the United States. You aren’t going to resurrect the US or your own state economy by killing 100,000 horses, an American icon, to satisfy the palette of some French or Japanese gourmand.

The agricultural and breeding interests that finance these new state political efforts want equine slaughter reintroduced on US soil because a) they fear that social and cultural rejection of equine slaughter might actually somehow induce American citizens to stop eating animals that ARE consumed as food here, b) they want to continue to breed for income and US slaughterhouses provide a more convenient venue for routine culling of the scores of less than perfect and commercially non-viable equine products of that breeding, and c) they represent the interests of a small percentage of US citizens who believe they have the right to dispose of their own animal however they choose, even if that involves a socially and culturally unacceptable act which is abhorred by over 70 percent of the US population according to any survey I have ever read.
My understanding is that optimal policy design requires that incentives be altered, if you are going to shift the allocation of economic resources away from the privately profitable but socially undesirable, and towards the socially and culturally desirable. In my opinion the only way that you will halt irresponsible and excess breeding of equines, and irresponsible ownership, is to completely eliminate the slaughter option. While the horse slaughter industry EXISTS because foreigners want to eat horsemeat, it provides an easy reward for those who want to breed as many horses as they choose and dispose of the excess in the manner that they want to, and for owners who will not take responsibility for their horse’s care. Take away that reward with a federal ban on slaughter and export for slaughter, and slap a good tax on the product of any equine breeder, and the politicians currently yelling that we need to kill a bunch of horses may find it much harder to spot one that is abandoned.

 We are currently being inundated with arguments that the reintroduction of equine slaughter on US soil is "necessary". The only thing it is necessary for is to fill the pockets of the big breeders and their agricultural associates, and perhaps the pockets of a “bought” politician or two. Apparently the senators and representatives of Montana who just passed a bill to introduce a new horse slaughter plant there care more about fulfilling those needs, than the fact that 85 percent of their own state citizens strongly object to the proposal. Suppose the devastated US economy is making it tough for horse owners and breeders to maintain for their animals in some states? Why is the solution to re-introduce a culturally and socially unacceptable practice with a horrendous USDA record of humane transportation violations? Why, instead, aren’t these states considering the establishment of temporary state funded horse rescues, with jobs in them that provide tax revenue, until the economy recovers and the horses can find homes? Why aren’t they providing additional funding and jobs for Humane Societies and Animal Control agencies to cope with whatever is being claimed that they are having to deal with? Why not do something that BENEFITS HORSES as well as creating some jobs? And why not impose a state tax on horse breeders to help fund it all?

Caroline M. Betts, PhD

Associate Professor

Department of Economics

University of Southern California