EarthTalk: US Horse Meat?

Dear EarthTalk: What is the status of horse slaughter in the U.S., which is done primarily to export the meat to Europe? — J. Worden, Monroe, CT

Much to the delight of horse lovers everywhere, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 503) in September 2006 outlawing the sale and transport of horses for slaughter for human consumption. A related bill, S. 1915, is currently under review by the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which will recommend whether or not to send it up for debate and a vote. Animal advocates are optimistic that the Senate will follow the House’s lead and make the bill the law of the land in 2007.

Long a revered symbol of the American West, horses have enjoyed special status among domestic animals for many decades. The horse in North America was once considered just a form of livestock to be utilized for farm work or transportation, but today it stands as a status symbol for those wealthy enough to own and board one. And TV and movie Westerns, along with the popularity of modern horseracing, have changed their image from faceless beasts to individual pets with unique physical and personality traits.

According to the International Fund for Horses, about 65,000 horses — racehorses, workhorses, wild stags and family steeds — are slaughtered each year in the U.S. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) pegs the number closer to 100,000. Meanwhile, Agriculture Canada reports that about 62,000 horses are slaughtered annually in Canada, 40 percent of which are sent across the border from the U.S. Most of the meat processed is sold in Europe and Asia, while a small amount is used to feed zoo animals domestically.

HSUS says that conditions in the slaughterhouse are stressful and frightening for the horses, and that the slaughtering process itself, which is similar to that for cows and pigs, causes unnecessary duress for the animals. Also at issue is the way horses are transported prior to slaughter. The Equine Protection Network is seeking to ban the use of double-deck trailers to transport live horses. The trailers are designed to move pigs and cattle, and don’t provide horses with the headroom to stand comfortably. The U.S. Department of Agriculture created rules governing horse transport in 2002, but animal advocates say they failed to outlaw the trailers outright and still allow horses to be transported for up to 28 hours with no food, water or rest.

The National Horse Protection Coalition promotes a number of alternatives to slaughtering horses, including establishing retirement farms and developing programs to donate, sell or lease unwanted animals for therapeutic riding. Horses could also be sold privately, they say, under binding legal agreements that they not be sold for slaughter. The organization says that even humane euthanasia performed by a veterinarian is preferable to subjecting horses to the cruelties of transport and slaughter.

A few U.S. states — California, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia — have taken it upon themselves to outlaw or regulate horse transport and slaughter, though limited enforcement budgets have hampered the effectiveness of most efforts. Meanwhile, animal advocates are hopeful that the U.S. Senate will come to the rescue with an outright ban and that Canada will eventually follow.

CONTACTS: Equine Protection Network,; HSUS Equine Protection Program,; International Fund for Horses,; National Horse Protection Coalition,

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