Note: Some pictures in this article are graphic and may be disturbing to some.

Controversial issues bring up strong emotions regardless of which side an individual stands.  The 2007 decision by the US Congress and President Obama to lift the ban on funding for the inspection of slaughterhouses has once again brought up the gut-wrenching question: should horses be slaughtered for human consumption of horse meat?  (update: April 2013 Obama has included eliminating funding once again in the 2013 proposed budget.  This hasn’t eliminated the debate).

In the Beginning…

In the 1970s slaughterhouses were operating in the United States, mostly under foreign interests. Most American’s consider horses a companion or work animal, much like a dog or cat.  By the 1990s, there were at least sixteen facilities in the U.S. that killed horses and processed the meat for zoos or export for human consumption.[5]

In 1998 California passed Proposition 6 which banned the slaughter of horses for human Horse Slaughterhouse; Source: Treehuggerbarbie.comCredit: Source: Treehuggerbarbie.comconsumption.  This brought the industry into the light on a national level.  In 2003 a bill which would ban the sale, transportation and slaughter of horses for human consumption was introduced in the House of Representatives.  The bill, H.R. 857, was sent to a subcommittee of the Committee on Agriculture and subsequently stalled.[5]

In 2006 the US Congress passed a bill which no longer funded the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for inspections of equine slaughterhouses.  In effect, this ended up closing the doors of the three plants in the United States still slaughtering the animals; two in Texas and one in Illinois.  They could no longer slaughter equines for human consumption because meat destined for human consumption must be inspected.  All three plants were foreign owned and operated.[3]

As technology advanced and machinery replaced many of the horses’ jobs, fewer people had contact with them.  Yet, the question of whether or not they should be killed for human consumption is still a sore subject for most Americans. 

While President Obama’s signing of the new spending bill does not specifically set aside monies for inspections of these types of facilities, the Billings Wyoming Gazette reported the USDA confirmed if a slaughterhouse was to open, the agency would conduct inspections.

Supporters of Horse Slaughter

The Government Accountability Office (GOA) say the ban caused many unintended consequences.  According to a GOA report more horses were abandoned by owners who could no longer care for themAbused Horses; Source: Source: and those who wanted to sell their animals for slaughter had to pay to have them shipped to Canada or Mexico where killing them is legal. This resulted in depressing equine prices in the United States.  Some in the equine industry believe the ban on slaughter has hurt the industry.

Advocates for slaughter cite the large number of unwanted horses due to the downturn of the economy.   An accurate number of unwanted equine is unknown but the Unwanted Horse Coalition estimated there were 170,000 unwanted equine in the U.S. in 2007.  This number included mustangs in the BLM adoption process and the unadopted wild mustangs housed in BLM facilities.  The GOA estimated 138,000 horses were sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico and the total unwanted figure would be higher.[6]

Supporters claim the industry would generate millions of dollars to the economy.  Though Horse Meat; Source: TuesdayHorseCredit: Source: TuesdayHorsehorse meat is not consumed in the United States, in Europe and Asia it is eaten frequently, especially in Japan, Belgium and France.  Before closing, one of the Texas facilities reported $65 million in revenue according to the GOA report.

Many organizations support horse slaughter as a viable option for controlling the population of unwanted animals and keeping the equine industry healthy.  It is costly to maintain the care of the animals. Many rescue facilities are turning away horses because they have reached their limits.  Included in the list of advocates for slaughter is the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the American Farm Bureau and its subsidiaries, the United Horsemen, and the National Cattlemen's Association and its subsidiaries.[3]

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are supporters but with a caveat. AVMA makes it clear they do not disregard any solution until there are no longer any unwanted horses.[2]  PETA opposes the slaughter of horses for meat, but says allowing U.S. slaughterhouses to reopen may ultimately reduce the suffering of the animals.

"PETA was always worried about the horse-slaughter bill, fearing that it might cause more suffering while the option existed to ship horses on a frightening, long, and miserable journey to Canada or Mexico to meet their end in slaughterhouses there," the animal rights organization said in a statement released to The Los Angeles Times.

The statement adds: "This transport of live horses -- often in vehicles with low ceilings in which horses must hunch over, slipping and sliding on their own waste ... is an indictment of the horse-breeding and -ranching business. To reduce suffering, there should be a ban on the export of live horses, even if that means opening slaughterhouses in the U.S. again. But the better option is to ban slaughter in the U.S. and ban the export of live horses so that no one is slaughtering America's horses."

Wyoming Representative and vice-president of Horsemen United, Sue Wallis, estimates an annual killing of 120,000-200,000 equine if slaughterhouses were reopened.  She advocates supporting this endeavor and would like to see a facility opened in Wyoming.[11]

Opposition to Slaughter

Horse Meat for Sale; Source: Animal Law CoalitionCredit: Source: Animal Law CoalitionOn the other side of the fence are those who are horrified by the thought of these animals being slaughtered for their meat.  Many Americans believe the United States was built on the backs of horses and the thought of eating them is quite disconcerting. They advocate for Congress to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011 (S. 1176 and H.R.2966) . Organizations who advocate for a ban of not only slaughterhouses but the export of horse meat for human consumption as well, include, The Human Society of the United States, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Equine Advocates, and Americans Against Horse Slaughter.[3]

Refuting the notion all horses that end up in the killing plants are broken down nags, sick or injured, these organizations cite documented cases of healthy animals being transported to their deaths.   Third party buyers (called kill buyers) attend horse auctions and buy healthy animals that are consequently sent to Mexico or Canada for processing.[3Headed to the Slaughterhouse; Source: Serbian Animal’s VoiceCredit: Source: Serbian Animal’s Voice]

The transporting of the horses is often abusive in itself and even when the plants were open in the U.S., the animals still had to be transported long distances.  These trips are often made with no water or feed, jammed into two deck trailers designed for other animals, and with no stops for rest.

The methods of killing are often inhumane.  Chemical euthanasia is expensive so plants resort to other methods.  Gunshot or penetrating captive bolts are physical alternatives to chemicals.  Slaughter after Death by Shotgun; Source: Animal AidCredit: Source: Animal AidMost plants do not use gunshot as it is considered risky and less safe to humans and other animals. The captive bolt is most often used. There are two types, penetrating and non-penetrating. The penetrating captive bolt fires a rod into the brain of the horse.  The non-penetrating captive bolt stuns the animals and causes a severe concussion, but does not necessarily kill it.  It is not considered humane, yet it is still used in plants in Mexico as well as spikes that are thrust into the back of the euine's head until the spine is severed.  Slaughterhouses also simply slit the throat of the animal, hang it by its back leg and let it bleed out.

Opponents also cite the culture of America is not to eat horses as they are often thought of as companion pets or animals.  Horses are designated as livestock and many opponents of  Companion PetsCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldonslaughter seek to change their status to companion animal.   Horses not raised specifically for consumption are given a wide variety of medications and substances over their lifetime that can be harmful for humans.

Those who desire to see horses kept safe from the killing plants challenge owners and breeders to be more responsible in caring for their animals.  Why breed more when economy is down and people are abandoning the horses they buy?   They believe educating prospective new buyers on the cost and dedication in caring for a horse is essential to the health of the equine world.

What is the Answer?

There is no easy answer to this controversial issue of horse slaughterhouses.  Emotions and greed are forefront and common sense and logic is often a step behind.  Can a person love Companiion Pets; Photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: Photo by Cheryl Weldonhorses yet still see the value of killing it?  Can someone who only sees the business side see the emotional and perhaps moral value of finding a different alternative to unwanted equine?  Should these animals be considered as cows and sheep bred and raised for their meat?  

Regardless which side an individual lands; the slaughter of horses is highly controversial and evokes a multitude of emotions and feelings.  The horse has served in many capacities, but is it necessary for it to become the main course? 


The copyright of the article The Slaughtering of Horses is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

A Horse's Nightmare (graphic footage)