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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.
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 double-decked cattle trailers with ceilings so low that they injure their heads. Not only are these double-deckers inhumane, but they are also dangerous and have been involved in a number of tragic accidents.
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.
Urgent Action Needed to Save American Horses from Slaughter
As part of a broad range of efforts to help animals, The HSUS works hard to see that humane issues are advanced in the U.S. Congress. We are building support for a raft of legislation, including measures related to puppy mills, chimps in research, animal fighting, and much more.We also work to see that Congress provides adequate funding for the laws on the books, and I am pleased to report we’ve worked with our allies to secure record funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act (which bans “soring”), along with good committee report language on a range of issues from humane slaughter to animal fighting to antibiotic overuse in industrial animal agriculture. This was welcome news on top of an earlier infusion of repurposed funds for puppy mill enforcement.But there have been setbacks, too, most recently. The worst was Congress’s action, hidden within a massive, must-pass budget bill approved earlier this year, to delist wolf populations in the Northern Rockies, opening the door for sport hunting, trapping, and other forms of killing of the wolves. Populations in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming are being decimated, or will be soon.In November, we also had a setback on the issue of horse slaughter: the Congress chose not to include a ban on funding of USDA inspectors at horse slaughter plants in the United States, even though a similar provision had been inserted in the department’s spending bill for each of the past five years.Congressman Jim Moran, co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, worked hard to see the defunding language included again. He even offered an amendment in the House Appropriations Committee and won the vote, albeit narrowly. When the Senate took up the bill, Sen. Max Baucus and other western senators fought against including Moran’s measure. And when the House and Senate leadership on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hashed out their joint package, the horse slaughter provision was dropped.In the last few days, there have been dozens of news reports indicating that horse slaughter plants can now open up in the United States. That’s true, and that prospect exists because there was no defunding provision in the law. The predatory horse slaughter industry has cash signs in its eyes, and it’s unrestrained by any compassion for these creatures. Its profiteers treat the horses like commodities on the hoof.It’s a bad outcome and we’ll fight them every step of the way, but that piece was never the main battle in Congress on horse slaughter. The defunding provision has never stopped the shipment of live horses to Canada and Mexico, and that’s been going on uninterrupted since the U.S. plants closed in 2007.We need to ban the slaughter of American horses not just in the United States, but throughout North America. The way to do that is to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, H.R. 2966 / S. 1176, which would ban the interstate transport of horses for slaughter but also the live export of horses for that purpose.This is a tough fight. The HSUS is battling, but the slaughter industry, the National Cattlemen’s Association, the American Farm Bureau, and even the American Veterinary Medical Association are fighting us on the issue, along with their legions of lobbyists.If you are mad about the defunding language being discarded from the recent spending bill President Obama signed, then use that energy to contact your two U.S. Senators and urge them to cosponsor S. 1176, and contact your U.S. Representative and urge him or her to cosponsor H.R. 2966. Here are the current lists of cosponsors for S. 1176 and for H.R. 2966. If you see any of your legislators on the cosponsor list already, thank them and ask them to do all they can to get this legislation enacted quickly. And please do organize others to call and write too. You can also join our online cause. There’s no time to waste.We’ve picked up dozens of new cosponsors in the last couple of weeks, but we need many more supporters to win. The American public is with us on the issue, but that support has to be registered in the form of phone calls, letters, and other forms of persuasion. We cannot sit on our hands. We’ve got to take action!
Sites to learn from: Please just take 10 minutes to learn the facts... the 10 minutes you take can save a life! (none of these sites are graffic - but to see the slaughter of US horses will change your life forever!)
(Click on the THOMAS hyperlink at the top of the page; That will take you to a search/browse page of legislation. Then in the Search Bill Summary & Status box type: H. R. 2966 and select Bill Number, then click on Search)
Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys, NYT 3/25/12 (Play the Video -click on the play button lower left of image)