Captive Bolt



I.         The Humane Slaughter Act of 1958


The Humane SlaughterAct ("HSA"), was first enacted in 1958, and amended in 1978 and2002.  HSA requiresslaughterhouses torender livestock unconscious before they are killed. On May13, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the "Farm SecurityandRural Investment Act of 2002" (Public Law 107-171), which includes aResolution that the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 should befullyenforced to prevent the needless suffering of animals. It also calls upon the Secretary ofAgriculture to track violations "and report the results and relevanttrends annually to Congress."  InJanuary 2004 the General Accounting Office investigated violations ofthe‘Humane Methods of Slaughter Act’ which amended theFederal Meat Inspection Actand extended the policy nationwide by requiring that all federallyinspectedslaughter establishments adopt humane handling and slaughter methods.  The results of the GAOinvestigation can befound at




7 U.S.C.A.§ 1901 Findings and Declaration of Policy


The Congressfinds that the use of humane methods in the slaughter of livestockpreventsneedless suffering; results in safer and better working conditions forpersonsengaged in the slaughtering industry; brings about improvement ofproducts andeconomies in slaughtering operations; and produces other benefits forproducers, processors, and consumers which tend to expedite an orderlyflow oflivestock and livestock products in interstate and foreign commerce. Itistherefore declared to be the policy of the United States that the slaughtering oflivestock and thehandling of livestock in connection with slaughter shall be carried outonly byhumane methods.


7 U.S.C.A.§ 1902 Humane Methods


No method ofslaughtering or handling in connection with slaughtering shall bedeemed tocomply with the public policy of the United States unless it is humane.Either of the followingtwo methods of slaughtering and handling is hereby found to be humane:


(a) in thecase of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and otherlivestock, allanimals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow orgunshot or anelectrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, beforebeingshackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut; or


(b) by slaughtering in accordance with theritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faiththatprescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss ofconsciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous andinstantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrumentandhandling in connection with such slaughtering.


II.       Captive Bolt/Exsanguination: Method of Achieving Insensibility Used inthe UnitedStates


Thepenetrating captive bolt followed by immediate exsanguination (bleedingout)has been the preferred method of achieving insensibility of equines inAmericanslaughterhouses since the early 1980’s. The mode of action ofa penetratingcaptive bolt gun is concussion and trauma to the brain. This requiresthat itbe held firmly against the surface of the head over the intended site. Becauseplacement and positioning of the projectile is critical, some degree ofrestraint is required for proper use of this device.


While thedestruction of brain tissue with the penetrating captive bolt maybesufficient to result in death, operatorsare strongly advised to ensure death by exsanguination.




It isimportant to note that in the foreign owned equine slaughterhousesoperating inthe United States, no form of restraint is used when the equine is inthe killchute or ‘knock box’ waiting for the penetratingcaptive bolt to beapplied.  In someinstances, it takesseveral attempts to effectively apply the penetrating captive bolt theequine,if this is achieved at all.  Theuse ofthe penetrating captive bolt is in violation of 7 U.S.C.A. §1902 (a) of theHumane Slaughter Act as this methodology requires more than one blowand isinefficient at rendering equines immediately insensible.


(Sources: (i)Dr. Lester Friedlander, DVM and former Chief USDA Inspector, and (ii)HumaneFarming Association video documentation at 


Use of thecaptive bolt causes extreme pain.

In a study conducted at Hanover University, EEG and ECG recordings were taken on allanimals to measure thecondition of the brain and heart during the course of slaughter andstunning.  EEGreadings showed thatalthough the animals were apparently unconscious soon after stunningwith thepenetrating captive bolt, they were experiencing severe painimmediately afterstunning.


Horsesregain consciousness approximately 30 seconds after the captive bolt isapplied.


Due to theinherent differences in skull structures of bovines and equines, eachspeciesreacts to the captive bolt differently. The brain of an equine is further back in the skullcompared to abovine.  Theequines regainconsciousness and are not insensible to pain shortly after they areshackledand hoisted.  Therefore,they are very muchaware of being butchered alive.


(Source: Dr. Lester Friedlander, DVM and former ChiefUSDA Inspector.)


III.            NoOtherMethods of Equine Slaughter Comply with the HSA of 1958


(1)      Electrocution– has been definedas 'cruel' by the American Horse Show Association in response to ownerswhohave electrocuted their horses for insurance money. Federal Courts haveupheldthe Association's contention that electrocution is cruel. Therefore, itcannotbe used as a method of humane slaughter for equines.

(2)              Drug Overdose– thismethod saturates the tissues and leaves residues thereby making themeatinedible.

(3)              Carbon Monoxide–this method saturates the tissues and leaves residues thereby makingthe meatinedible.

(4)              .22 Caliber GunShot– This particular firearm is inappropriate for equines due tothe thickness ofthe skull structure of an equine. Usingthe .22 caliber rifle does not achieve instantaneous insensibility ofequines.  Largercaliber firearms such as a 9mm or.357 are required to efficiently penetrate the skull and cause themassivebrain destruction necessary to achieve instantaneous insensibility.(Source:  Proceduresfor HumaneEuthanasia of Sick, Injured and/or Debilitated Livestock - Additionally, the horse cannot be restrained and thismethod isdangerous to workers.


IV.      The American Veterinary Medical Associationand the American Association of Equine Practitioners PositionsRegarding EquineSlaughter


Both theAmerican Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association ofEquinePractitioners deem the use of the penetrating captive bolt‘acceptable.’ TheAmerican Veterinary Medical Association 2000Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia evaluated Euthanasiaaccording tothis criterion:


(1)      abilityto induce loss ofconsciousness and death without causing pain, distress, anxiety, orapprehension;

(2)      timerequired to induce loss ofconsciousness;

(3)      reliability;

(4)      safetyof personnel;

(5)      irreversibility;

(6)           compatibilitywith requirementand purpose;

(7)      emotionaleffect on observers oroperators;

(8)           compatibilitywith subsequentevaluation, examination, or use of tissue;

(9)      drugavailability and human abusepotential;

(10)    compatibilitywith species, age, and health status;

(11)        abilityto maintain equipment inproper working order; and

(12)        safetyfor predators/scavengersshould the carcass be consumed.


The use of thepenetrating captive bolt gun does not meet the AVMA Panel's criteriaregarding"loss of consciousness and death without causing pain, distress,anxiety,or apprehension."  Unlikebovines(which the penetrating captive bolt was designed for) equines possessdifferentskull structures, are flight animals, and attempt to flee the 'knockbox' or 'killchute.' That being the case, it takes numerous attempts before theanimal isproperly stunned, if this is achieved at all.


Fromdocumentation provided by the Humane Society of the United States andtheHumane Farming Association it is clear that these equines are feelingpain dueto the number of attempts taken to stun them, and are extremelydistressed,anxious, and apprehensive.


Thisinvalidates criteria 1, 2, 3, 6, and 10 of the AVMA's criterion for'humaneeuthanasia.'


The AVMAposition regarding the use of the penetrating captive bolt is inviolation of 7U.S.C.A. § 1902 (a) of the Humane Slaughter Act as thismethodology requiresmore than one blow and is inefficient at rendering equines insensible.


The use of thepenetrating captive bolt is in violation of the Humane Slaughter Actgenerally,and 7 U.S.C.A. § 1902 (a) specifically. Any other method of slaughter as applied to equines is inviolation ofthe Humane Slaughter Act of 1958 generally, and 7 U.S.C.A. §1902 (a)specifically.


© 2005 Ellen-Cathryn Nash forManes & Tails Organization withcontributions from Vivian Farrell of the Int'l Fund for Horses& Dr. LesterFriedlander, DVM