Horse Slaughter—An American Disgrace
Horse slaughter is the way by which irresponsible people get rid of their unwanted horses quickly and for a profit. Every year, ten of thousands of equines from the United States are slaughtered for human consumption to satisfy the taste for horse meat in Europe and Japan where it is considered a delicacy. Due to an ongoing movement by small, but powerful special interest groups that have successfully blocked passage of Federal legislation banning horse slaughter for nearly a decade, our equines continue to be transported across the Canadian and Mexican borders where they are brutally slaughtered and their meat is then exported overseas selling for between $15 and $25 per pound.
Despite the European Union banning the import of horse meat from Mexico in December 2014, we have not seen evidence that the flow of horses from the U.S. to Mexico has drastically reduced. We believe this is because the Belgian and Dutch multinationals who control most of the horse meat distribution have adjusted by importing horse meat from other, unrestricted countries, while continuing to sell horse meat from Mexico to Russia, Vietnam and other third-world countries.
“I believe there is one catch phrase which is contributing greatly to the confusion surrounding horse slaughter. That phrase is ‘unwanted horses.’ They wanted them when they bought them, didn’t they? Horses are the responsibility of their owners who owe them kindly treatment through life and a peaceful death administered by caring hands. Period! Enabling a callous and irresponsible person to walk away from a problem, pocket a few hundred dollars and feel good about it, is a disservice to our industry and the animal they profess to care about. In this they are helped by the enablers who refer to ‘processing’ rather than slaughter and ‘plants’ rather than slaughterhouses.”
John Hettinger was a successful horseman and industry leader, anti-horse slaughter activist, and the co-founder of Blue Horse Charities. Mr. Hettinger passed away in 2008.
The Will of the American People Versus Special Interests
Since 1999, special interests have been successful in blocking Federal legislation to ban horse slaughter. Those pro-slaughter groups include: the American Farm Bureau and its subsidiaries, the National Cattlemen’s Association and its subsidiaries, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the New York State Horse Council and many other subsidiaries of the American Horse Council. (The AHC claims to be ‘neutral’ on the horse slaughter issue, but many of its subsidiaries are very publicly and actively pro-slaughter.)
“The whole underbelly that horse slaughter breeds disturbs me. It’s just a scavenging type of industry. Slaughter has become the garbage can for the performance horse industry. If we don’t figure that out sometime soon, the public will condemn us. Our culture dictates that horses should not be slaughtered—I felt what was happening to these horses was appalling—the horses I care for every day.”
Patricia Hogan, VMD, ACVS
Dr. Hogan is the world renowned equine surgeon and veterinarian who treated Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and numerous other champions. She testified before a Congressional sub-committee in 2006 in favor of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.
Read Dr. Hogan’s editorial published in The BloodHorse.
History: An Industry That Operated in Secret
Slaughtering horses in the United States for human consumption started in the early 1970’s. Americans do not eat horse meat – we consider horses to be favored animals, just like dogs and cats. The idea of eating horse meat goes against our very culture. It was foreign interests that first built equine slaughterhouses in the United States and by the 1990’s, there were at least sixteen of them operating all across the country. At that time, most Americans were not aware that this industry even existed. It was a secretive business that operated through “killer buyers” (middlemen for the slaughterhouses) and other “insiders,” including horse dealers and a group of “meat men” who paid cash for Thoroughbreds who became injured or were just not fast enough to compete any more. Over the years, the industry grew largely as a result of indiscriminate and over-breeding by some people who began to use slaughter as a convenient way to get rid of their unwanted horses quickly, rather than take responsibility for them by either taking the time to place them or by paying a licensed veterinarian to put them down humanely. Over 140,000 Quarter Horses are born every year, often “puppy mill style” with the ones that are “not just right” in terms of color and/or conformation being scrapped conveniently for slaughter.
Slaughter is a horrifying end for horses. The ordeal begins at the slaughter auctions where the chaotic environment causes excessive stress for the animals, some of whom are already injured. Young and healthy horses are sent to slaughter regularly; it is pure propaganda by the opposition that only sick and aged equines go to slaughter. Nothing could be further from the truth. At these sales, horses are transported under extremely cruel and inhumane conditions, sometimes traveling thousands of miles in overcrowded carriers with little to no food, water or rest. Some arrive at the slaughterhouses severely injured from being kicked or trampled by other frantic horses. Some cannot walk after the trip and have to be dragged to their deaths. Others arrive dead. Once at the slaughterhouse, traumatized and terrified horses are forced into the death chute leading them to the “knock box” where they are supposed to be rendered unconscious. However, the methods used to slaughter the horses are indescribably horrific—many horses are still conscious as their throats are being slit.