Horses are our trusted companions and have never been raised for human consumption in the U.S. A symbol of grace and beauty, Americans hold horses in high esteem and believe they deserve respect and dignity. A 2012 national poll confirms that 80 percent of Americans oppose the slaughter of horses for human consumption. However, in 2014 approximately 146,000 American horses were shipped across the border to Mexico or Canada where they were brutally butchered and sold for human consumption in Europe and Asia.
Until 2007, three horse slaughterhouses existed in the U.S., two in Texas and one in Illinois. All three were foreign owned, and the meat from the slaughtered horses was sent overseas. Impatient with the federal government’s inability to ban the industry, the Texas plants closed in 2007 after Texas began enforcing a 1949 state law that prohibited horse slaughter. Illinois passed a similar law in 2007, and Congress had suspended funding for any further horse meat inspections, effectively halting horse slaughter. Funding limitations remained in place in the federal budget until 2011, when Congress failed to enact Agriculture Appropriations “defund” language that had been incorporated in previous years. With the door to resuming slaughter in the U.S. now open, horse slaughter proponents seek to bring the grisly practice of horse slaughter back to U.S. soil.
Slaughter is a brutal and terrifying end for horses and is not humane. Horses can be shipped up to 24 hours at a time without food, water, or rest in crowded trucks in which the animals are often seriously injured or killed in transit. Horses are skittish by nature due to their heightened fight or flight response. As a result, the methods used to kill horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths, and horses often endure repeated blows and sometimes remain alive and kicking during dismemberment. Before the last plant closed in 2007, the USDA documented rampant cruelty violations and severe injuries to horses, including broken bones protruding from their bodies, eyeballs hanging by a thread of skin, and gaping open wounds.
U.S. horsemeat presents a health risk to humans because of the unregulated administration of numerous toxic substances to horses before slaughter. Horses are routinely given hundreds of drugs and other substances, both legal and illegal, over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans if ingested. These substances have not been approved (and many have been specifically prohibited) by the FDA for use in animals intended for human consumption. For example, a common pain reliever routinely administered to all types of horses, Phenylbutazone (“horse aspirin”), is known to cause potentially fatal human diseases. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration does not recognize a “safe” level of exposure to Phenylbutazone in humans, which is why the drug is banned for use in food animals. Horses are gathered from random sources, and the USDA has no system in place to track medication and veterinary treatments given to horses to ensure that their meat is safe for human consumption. Due to serious food safety concerns, the European Union suspended horsemeat imports from Mexico where 87% of horses slaughtered for export to the EU are of U.S. origin.
How Horses End Up at Slaughter
Most American horses going to slaughter arrive at the slaughterhouse via livestock auctions where they are purchased by kill buyers working for the slaughter plants. The kill buyers travel from auction to auction to collect horses they can then sell to the slaughterhouses for a profit. These kill buyers have a financial incentive to outbid other potential purchasers of the horse, and many individuals selling their horses at auction are unaware that they risk placing their horses in the hands of kill buyers simply by entering them into the auction ring. Few horse owners knowingly sell their horses to slaughter.
The Remedy – Passage of Federal Legislation
The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act was reintroduced in Congress in 2017 and would prevent the establishment of horse slaughter plants in the U.S., end the current export of American horses for slaughter abroad, and protect the public from consuming toxic horse meat. The SAFE Act was introduced with a strong list of bipartisan original cosponsors.
The passage of this legislation is a priority for the nation’s leading animal welfare organizations, as well as many veterinarians and equine groups across the country, including the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and Veterinarians for Equine Welfare. To see a list of anti-slaughter supporters, click here.
What You Can Do
* Contact your elected officials
Please call or email your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators and ask them to cosponsor and support the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (H.R. 113/S. 706). To send an e-letter, or to find out more about contacting your elected representatives, click on any of the links below:
If you are with an equine rescue organization or work in the equestrian sector and wish to have your business or organization’s name added to the list of those supporting federal legislation to end horse slaughter, please send us an email by clicking here.
For more information, view Frequently Asked Questions About Horse Slaughter.
“Horse Slaughter: An Unnecessary Evil”
Published by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation in 2002.
Click here for PDF.