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Horses have a distinctive place under the law that is based on how they are used. Horses used in a commercial enterprise are considered livestock and subject to the same laws (and lack of protections) as a cow or pig or goat. Horses who are companion animals are considered “pets” and are included in some state anti-cruelty statutes.
Horses bound for slaughter have included pet horses, work horses, racehorses and wild horses. In the past, mares used to produce urine for female hormone-replacement drugs and their foals were often sent to slaughter after they were no longer useful, but this industry (PMU – Pregnant Mare Urine Farms) has largely been re-located to China where there is far less oversight to monitor production or provide animal welfare protection. It is estimated that tens of thousands of horses are used on PMU farms, including some still located in Canada.
Many arrive at the slaughterhouse from livestock auctions where they are bought by middlemen working for the slaughter plants. These horses may be transported for more than 24 hours at a time without food, water or rest, and often suffer from injuries during their journey. In addition, the callous treatment of horses at the slaughterhouse often results in their prolonged suffering. Slaughterhouse facilities were not designed with horses in mind and panicked horses are often prodded and beaten off the truck and into the kill-chute. Stunning equipment, also not designed specifically for use on horses, sometimes requires repeated uses on high strung horses, some of whom remain conscious during their own slaughter.
One might think that it would be good news that no slaughter plant has been in operation in the U.S. for the slaughter of horses for human consumption since 2007. Instead, horses being sold for human consumption are transported over longer distances to Mexico and Canada, where the horses are slaughtered and exported to feed the European and Asian markets. New legislative efforts focus on the fact that because horses are not raised specifically for their meat, they may have been exposed to or injected with drugs and chemicals that have not been approved for human safety. This tactic has made a ban on the sale and transport of horse meat for human consumption a matter of health safety, as the meat is deemed unsafe to eat.
It has been argued that one reason there is still support for selling horses for meat is the problem that faces the equine industry: what to do with too many horses. This problem arises as a result of over-breeding. The racing industry breeds large numbers of horses hoping for the next Secretariat or Barbaro. The horses who do not run well or win often enough are sold, sometimes to pull carriages or for riding stables, and sometimes to a slaughterhouse broker who is willing to pay something for a “worthless” horse.
The end of slaughterhouses in the U.S.
Since 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has included in its appropriations bill a provision that prohibits money being spent on federal inspections of horse slaughter plants. This provision has created a de facto ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. Without federal inspections, slaughterhouses cannot sell their meat for human consumption, and without money being allocated, the inspections cannot take place. However, when the provision was omitted from the 2012 agriculture appropriations bill, it created an opportunity for new permit applications for the operation of horse slaughter plants in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa. Initially, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stalled on issuing any new permits. However, it ultimately agreed to issue a permit to Valley Meat Company to operate a horse slaughter plant in Roswell, New Mexico after the company successfully sued the USDA, charging that the agency unlawfully failed to reestablish its equine inspection service after an appropriations rider that prevented the agency from spending money on these inspections was lifted in 2011.
Before Valley Meat or any other company moved forward on construction of a new facility, the agriculture appropriations bill for 2013 was signed, again including language to defund any activities of the USDA regarding the slaughter of horses.
A new law is needed to ensure that no horse slaughter will be allowed in the U.S. again, but even more importantly to end the movement of horses out of the U.S. for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.
NAVS’ Advocacy Center tracks legislation, regulatory provisions and appropriations activity concerning horse slaughter as well as providing an easy way for advocates to make their voices heard on behalf of horses. With the generosity of our supporters, NAVS’ Sanctuary Fund supports sanctuaries and rescue organizations who have saved horses from the slaughter industry, from PMU farms and from dire situations of abuse or abandonment.