Get the Facts on Horse Slaughter
How many horses are slaughtered each year?
In 2001, more than 55,000 horses were killed in the United States and processed for human consumption. In addition, many thousands of live horses were transported across the border to Canada for slaughter. After these horses are killed, their flesh is shipped to Europe and Asia for human consumption. Their owners are often totally unaware of the pain, fear, and suffering their horses endure before being slaughtered.
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Who eats horse meat?
Horse meat is not eaten in the U.S.; it is exported to serve specialty "gourmet" markets overseas. The largest markets are France, Belgium, Holland, Japan, and Italy. The demand for horse meat has been substantial for many years, and prices are high. But because horses do not contract mad cow or foot-and-mouth disease, demand for their meat increased in 2001 after outbreaks of those diseases resulted in decreased supplies of beef, pork, and lamb. In fact, more horses were slaughtered in 2001 than in 2000, ending a ten-year downward trend.
How do unwanted, surplus horses end up at slaughterhouses?
Most horses destined for slaughter are sold at livestock auctions or sales. The cruelty of horse slaughter is not limited to the act of killing the animals. Horses bound for slaughter are shipped, frequently for long distances, in a manner that fails to accommodate their unique temperaments. They are usually not rested, fed, or watered during travel. Economics, not humane considerations, dictate the conditions, including crowding as many horses into trucks as possible.
Often, terrified horses and ponies are crammed together and transported to slaughter in double-deck trucks designed for cattle and pigs. The truck ceilings are so low that the horses are not able to hold their heads in a normal, balanced position. Inappropriate floor surfaces lead to slips and falls, and sometimes even trampling. Some horses arrive at the slaughterhouse seriously injured or dead. Although transportation accidents have largely escaped public scrutiny, several tragic ones involving collapsed upper floors and overturned double-deckers have caused human fatalities as well as suffering and death for the horses.
How are the horses killed?
Under federal law, horses are required to be rendered unconscious prior to slaughter, usually with a device called a captive bolt gun, which shoots a metal rod into the horse's brain. Some horses, however, are improperly stunned and may still be conscious when they are hoisted by a rear leg to have their throats cut. In addition, conditions in the slaughterhouse are stressful and frightening for horses.
Which kinds of horses are affected?
Horses of virtually all ages and breeds are slaughtered, from draft types to miniatures. Horses commonly slaughtered include unsuccessful race horses, horses who are lame or ill, surplus riding school and camp horses, mares whose foals are not economically valuable, and foals who are "byproducts" of the Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) industry, which produces the estrogen-replacement drug Premarin®. Ponies, mules, and donkeys are slaughtered as well. Many of the horses that HSUS investigators have seen purchased for slaughter were in good health, and bought for only a few hundred dollars.
Are there any federal or state laws protecting horses from these cruelties?
A few states (California, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia) have laws that are intended to prevent some of these abuses. Unfortunately, even in these states, enforcement is inadequate, as evidenced by the continuing use of double-deck trucks even where they are illegal.
Congress passed the Commercial Transportation of Equines for Slaughter Act in March 1996, which directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to write regulations to enforce the Act. Those regulations were not released until January 2002. Unfortunately, the regulations allow the use of double-deck trailers for an additional five years; permit horses to be transported for 28 hours without food, water, or rest; and allow the transport companies themselves to certify the care the horses received.
What is The Humane Society of the United States doing to protect horses?
Until horses are no longer slaughtered for food, which is the ultimate goal of The HSUS, we believe that their suffering must be lessened to the greatest extent possible. The HSUS will continue to participate in the process by which the USDA develops and enforces regulations to police this industry. In addition, The HSUS will continue to assist states in the passage of effective laws that will govern the treatment of horses sold for slaughter within their borders.
What alternatives exist to slaughtering horses for human consumption?
Several alternatives exist, such as humane euthanasia performed by a veterinarian. The bodies of euthanized horses can be picked up by rendering plants for disposal. Horse owners can have their animals euthanized and bury them (where permissible) or have them cremated. Another option is to donate the horse to an equine rescue organization; some will take unwanted horses and find them good homes.
What can individuals do to lessen the suffering of horses bound for slaughter?
Individuals can support organizations such as The HSUS that work toward the goal of ending horse slaughter. One of our goals is to reduce the callous overbreeding of both sport horses and pleasure horses so that older, injured or surplus animals will no longer be viewed as expendable. A reduced number of surplus horses would result in a sharp decline in the profits of the horse meat industry because the cost of obtaining each horse would rise due to decreased availability. This would force slaughterhouses to scale down their operations and eventually shut down. Horse owners should think carefully before breeding a mare and consider adopting their next horse from an equine rescue organization.
Horse owners can plan for their animal's eventual death by setting aside funds for humane euthanasia by a veterinarian, if it becomes necessary. Menopausal women on hormone replacement therapy can ask their doctors to prescribe one of the many safe and effective, FDA-approved alternatives to Premarin®. (Contact The HSUS for a free brochure detailing these alternatives.) Finally, individuals can work within their home states to pass laws that afford stronger protections for slaughter-bound horses.
The Humane Society of the