Monday, July 15, 2013

Blog the Change: Ban Horse Slaughter in the US

I love horses second only to dogs.  I've found my heart dog and my heart horse, too.  Horse crazy since I was a kid, I've ridden horses, driven horses, worked horses, shared my whole life with horses.  So it should come as no surprise to you that I am rabidly opposed to the United States lifting the ban on horse slaughterhouses.

When I caught up with my calendar and realized that today was Blog the Change Day, it took me about two seconds to decide what cause I wanted to talk about.

I vehemently believe that horse slaughter is inhumane.  In addition, over the course of their lives, horses are given a wide variety of drugs and veterinary treatments that makes their meat toxic for human consumption.

In November 2011, the US Congress lifted a 5 year ban on horse slaughter for human consumption.  In March 2012, Wyoming based Unified Equine was planning a new horse slaughterhouse in Mountain Grove, Missouri, where they planned to slaughter between 200 - 400 horses per day.  The meat would have primarily been shipped overseas, but some was intended for specialty stores here in the US.  In addition, Unified Equine planned to raise horses specifically for slaughter.  Mountain Grove, Missouri, residents declined and the facility was never built.

Two weeks ago the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved a horse slaughter plant in Sigourney, Iowa and let it be known they plan to allow plants in Missouri and New Mexico.  Other new applications are pending for facilities in Tennessee and Oklahoma,

As I told you last Monday, this comes in spite of:
  •  the statement by Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, opposing horse slaughter.  
  • the US senate Appropriations Committee passed a ban on domestic horse slaughter as part of the fiscal Year 2014 budget.  That ban prohibits the USDA from using funds to inspect horsemeat intended for human consumption
  • the US House Appropriations Committee's vote to deny funding for horse slaughter
  • President Obama recommended the FY 2014 Appropriations bill not contain funds for horse slaughter.
In addition,  Senators Mary Landrieu and Lindsey Graham have introduced legislation that would permanently ban horse slaughter:  the Safeguard American Food Exports Act (SAFE Act - SB 541.)  The SAFE Act would not only permanently ban horse slaughter operations in the US, but it would also end the current export of more than 150,000 US horses shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter each years.  Representatives Patrick Meehan and Jan Schakowsky have introduced similar legislation in the US House.

In the United States, horses have never been raised for human consumption.  However, there is foreign demand for horse meat for diners in Europe and Asia.  Since the last horse slaughter facility closed here in 2007, thousands of US horses are shipped out of our country to slaughter houses in Mexico, Canada, and Europe.

The majority of horses that go to slaughter are purchased by "killer buyers" - middlemen who work on behalf of the foreign-owned horse slaughter industry. 

Where do most of these horses come from?  From the horse industry.  Young, healthy horses that are a result of over-breeding by people trying to create the perfect horse are ideal candidates for slaughter.

According to the late John Hettinger, former owner of Fasig Tipton (the second largest Thoroughbred Auction House), past Chairman of the Grayson Jockey Club Foundation, previous member of the Board of Directors of The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and NY Racing Association Trustee:
"7,000 to 9,000 Thoroughbred racehorses are slaughtered every year. Killer buyers frequent horse races to purchase under-performing racehorses after the races end. Thoroughbred Deputy Broad raced at Mountaineer Race Track in Chester, West Virginia on July 11, 2011 and was needlessly slaughtered one week later, not because he was “unwanted,” but because he was disposable. The famous racehorse, Ferdinand who won the 1986 Kentucky Derby, the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 1987 Eclipse Award Horse of the Year and became a highly sought-after stud horse in 1989, was sold to Japan where he was slaughtered in 2002."
In addition, mares and foals that are by-products of the Premarin industry, wild horses, stolen horses, and those purchased by killers from owners who are unaware who they're selling to.

What happens after the killers purchase the horse(s)?  They're transported.  Riding in overcrowded conditions, often for more than 24 hours, deprived of food, water, and rest.

In a sworn statement in court in Cook County, Illinois, a former employee of Cavel International, a horse slaughter plant (now closed) testimony describes what is commonplace:

"...they were unloading one of the double-decker trucks. A horse got his leg caught in the side of the truck so the driver pulled the rig up and the horse’s leg popped off. The horse was still living, and it was shaking. [Another employee] popped it on the head and we hung it up and split it open. …
Sometimes we would kill near 390, 370 a day. Each double-decker might have up to 100 on it. We would pull off the dead ones with chains.
Ones that were down on the truck, we would drag them off with chains and maybe put them in a pen or we might drag them with an automatic chain to the knock box. Sometimes we would use an electric shocker to try to make them stand. To get them into the knock box, you have to shock them … sometimes run them up the [anus] with the shocker. …
When we killed a pregnant mare, we would take the guts out and I would take the bag out and open it and cut the cord and put it in the trash and sometimes the baby would still be living, and its heart would be beating, but we would put it in the trashcan.”
If you think horse slaughter is humane euthanasia, think again.  Once in the slaughterhouse equine hell continues.  Horse slaughter is not humane euthanasia.
Animal Euthanasia - from the Greek, meaning 'good death' - the act of humanely putting an animal to death or allowing it to die as by withholding medical measures.  [Wikipedia]
Horses are intelligent animals.  Highly sensitive and acutely aware of their environment, the flight or fight instinct is strong.  According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS):
[Horses] react to the smell of blood, the sounds of other horses being slaughtered and react violently to death when they see the instrument or “stun gun” aimed at their heads, which drives a four-inch spike into their skulls.
They make desperate attempts to flee, exhibiting typical equine “fight or flight” behavior and extreme panic and fear. They prance back and forth with their ears pinned back and their eyes wide open.
That inevitably results in the instrument hitting the horse and wounding it and not rendering it unconscious, but rather resulting in repeated blows.
In addition, video evidence shows horses being beaten on their faces, necks, legs and backs; purposely blinded by bludgeoning their eyes out to get them under control, electric cattle prods inserted into their rectums to get them to move into the kill box, mares giving birth on the kill floors, and remaining alive and conscious when they were shackled and hoisted by a rear leg to have their throats cut.
The horses stand in line sensing the terror and electrocuted or speared into the kill box where they shake violently, falling and unable to stand from fear.

From 2007 to 2009, Animals' Angels USA conducted investigations of the horse slaughter system including the conditions and treatment slaughter horses undergo at auctions, feedlots, during transport and at the slaughter plants. They concluded:
  “…horse slaughter encompasses public safety issues, public health concerns, environmental issues as well as the obvious and very significant concerns regarding cruelty and inhumane treatment. Our investigations during 2007 to the present made clear that at the instant a horse is designated a ‘kill horse,’ handling and treatment change radically from that normally given horses. A ‘kill horse’ is treated with cruelty, with indifference at best, but more typically with violence and aggression. Cruelty increases, while safety, health and welfare – its care and humane treatment are so diminished it is virtually nonexistent. These horses are “only passing through,” say the veterinarians as well as the ‘kill buyers.’
If the ‘kill horses’ had been normal horses under the care of a different type of owner, humane officers and police would have required, in keeping with state animal cruelty laws, proper veterinarian care and sufficient access to food, water and shelter. The ‘kill horse’ is outside the protection of cruelty laws.”

There are many humane alternatives to slaughter for horse owners unable or unwilling to care for their horses, including equine rescues, sanctuaries, retirement farms, equine therapy facilities, and many more.  I believe that horses that are sick, elderly or dying should be humanely euthanized by a licensed veterinarian using lethal injection.

My horses are my friends, companions and working partners.  I owe them a good life and a good death.  My horses that have died, all died at home and are buried at home. I know that they all - living or waiting for me to cross over - join me in urging the ban of horse slaughter in the United States.

For more information about this issue, I recommend reviewing the positions of the ASPCA, HSUS, American's Against Horse Slaughter, Stop Horse Slaughter , Mary Nash's Horse Slaughter web site and many more.  You can sign petitions here  and  here.
July 15th is Blog the Change Day - a day when pet bloggers and pet lovers come together to blog, read, share and Be the Change for Animals!  Bloggers are encouraged to write about pet fire safety in July or about a cause near and dear to their heart. Readers are encouraged to read and share their favorite posts.  Join Team BtC on July 15th to Blog the Change for animals.


  1. Thank you for an informative if disturbing Blog the Change. I have signed both petitions. The cruelty of horse slaughter is sickening.

    1. Thanks, Amy. I know I was too wordy... but I think most people simply do not realize the cruelty involved in this industry.

  2. Thank you for participating in Blog the Change Day and for sharing this important issue. I think it's important that people are aware of what happens when horses are sold to kill buyers. This is not humane and it should not be legal.

    1. Thanks, Vicki, I appreciate your comments. Just like puppy mills, the horse slaughter industry is driven by money, and I think most people simply have no idea of the cruelty involved.

  3. Great post Sue, I admit I skimmed. There are certain things I just can't read about. Call me a coward, I'm okay with that. I did sign the petition and shared it on my facebook page. I feel like society reached a level of civilization and then started going backward again. It sucks.

    1. No worries, Jodi. Writing the post upset me more than I can say. If, indeed, how we treat animals is a measure for civility... we're in trouble.

  4. Great article. This is so disturbing, hope we can call some attention to it. Signed the petition last week!

  5. I was thinking the other day when you posted about this, "This would make a good BtC4A post." I'm glad you posted about it again!

    I signed the one petition already and will check out the other one now.

    Thank you for bringing more attention to this issue!

  6. Thank you, Sue!

    I was hoping someone would blog about this. My hometown, Hermiston, Oregon was/is supposed to also be the site of a plant. I haven't checked recently because I get so worked up about it. I wrote to the county commission, but surprise, no response. It makes me sick and furious.... I live in another part of the state now, but my parents still live there. If it goes in, I'm going to be very bitter about the town and will continue to urge my parents to move.

    Did you ever read SnarkyRider or Fugly? They had some great posts about this topic.

    You didn't mention it as alternatives, but honestly, I am also OK with a humane gunshot (by someone experienced or a vet) so that the horse can be donated as large/exotic animal food in zoos/sanctuaries.

    Another reason to be critical and outspoken of BYBers of horses, ranch/mass breeders, the BLM for their ineffective efforts of maintaining/decrease mustang herds, and the competitive horse industry for breaking (literally) horses at a young age and looking for the quickest way to dump 'em.

    1. Thank you! I was surprised but thrilled when the town not far from me told the horse slaughter company: no way! In the end, it became a ground water contamination issue.

      I've not read SnarkyRider or Fugly and will definitely check them out.

  7. Thank you for this post (and the previous one too) Sue. Horses are thoughtful and wonderful, lifelong working companions to humans and should be treated as such from beginning to end. I have signed both petitions. I've been so caught up in the wild horse round ups and slaughters that I was completely out of the loop on the slaughterhouses until you brought it up. Much appreciated!

    1. Oh... don't even let me get started about the BLM... :-0

  8. I am not a horse person, simply because I haven't really been exposed to them a lot. But I enjoy driving by a farm and seeing the beautiful horses in the fields, and I love all animals; this post just made me cry, and also made me a bit sick to my stomach. Like Jodi, I had to start skimming because it was just too difficult. Makes me want to stick my head in the sand. I suppose it never occurred to me that horses were victims of overbreeding just like dogs and cats. Thanks for opening my eyes. I'm headed to sign both of those petitions now.

    1. Jan, thank you for not sticking your head in the sand! Writing this post made me, literally, sick. However, if we never talk about these things we can't hope to end them. Very similar to the puppy mill issue. There are many dirty little secrets in the equine industry. In my opinion, this is the worst.

  9. Thanks for this post. I shared it on my Facebook page then on Twitter. Next, I'll post this link and a short blog on my Dog Leader Mysteries.

    Of course, I'll sign, if I haven't signed already.

    1. Deborah, thanks so much for the sharing and re-blogging! Not enough people know the truth about the horse slaughter industry - and it is an industry. Kudos to you for spreading the word!

  10. Are there enough rescues to take in horses people don't want? I thought the lack of rescues and the fact that many unwanted horses were starving to death was one of the reasons for lifting the ban? I am trying to learn about this topic. :)

    1. The vast majority of horses slaughtered this way are not family "pets." They are the product of an irresponsible equine industry, BLM wild mustangs, and - if the slaughterhouse businesses have their way - the product of farms exclusively to raise horses for slaughter. Think puppy mills on a larger scale. Horses starving to death have nothing to do with the lifting of the ban - it is all about money. I'll do a follow up on Friday with more information.

    2. Thanks. So how to stop the irresponsible breeding?

  11. I'm on m way to sign, but before I go, I want to thank you for so eloquently putting to words the horrors of horse slaughter.

    One of the first causes I ever wrote bout for Be the Change for Animals was to protect wild mustangs. During my research, I learned of Madeline Pickens and my awareness of this money driven industry skyrocketed from there. Roundups sound a lot like slaughter transports - often ending with the same outcome of hungry, tired, frightened and downed horses, still alive, left writhing... No amount of money is worth that.

    Thank you for being the horse lover and advocate that you are.

    1. Thank you, Kim. Many years ago we thought a lot about adopting some wild mustangs and/or some burros. Though we never did (that's a long story), we did attend a number of adoption events and did a lot of research. You are absolutely correct: "this money driven industry."

      Roundups not only sound a lot like slaughter transports, wild horses have been sent to slaughter. And a lot of folks at the BLM think that's the way to go... and make some money.

      No animal deserves this fate.

  12. A sad fate for some animals... I hope this will become an eye opener for those concerned.

  13. A heart-wrenching story for people who love animals. I don't exactly get it, this cruel treatment of horses, even slaughtering them. Should be read and heard by many.


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