America's Horse Slaughter Controversy
An Animal Rights Article from


Dr. Michael W. Fox
February 2014

horse slaughter Michael Fox

I urge all concerned persons to contact their legislators immediately to support bills H.R.1094 and S.541, known as the “SAFE Act” to prohibit the sale, transport, import or export of equines or their parts, to be slaughtered because various drug residues make them unfit for human consumption.

Tell Your Members of Congress to Pass the SAFE Act

The year of 2014 is China’s Year of the Horse, where the price of horse meat is listed on the nation’s consumer price index. Consumers in Europe were outraged in 2013 at the discovery of horsemeat in their beef hamburgers, some of which probably originated from the U.S. The last two government inspected horse slaughtering and processing facilities were closed in 2007. (1)

But still, America’s racing, working and pleasure horses, variously owned by the rich and the hard-scrabble, by corporate conglomerates of faceless investors, devoted teenagers, mounted police, cattle-branding cowboys and calf- roping rodeo clowns, (as well as the thousands kept to produce replacement hormones for the drug industry), are being denied a peaceful end to their lives.

Since this in-country slaughter ban they have been transported to Canada and Mexico (where humane practices are not monitored). A reported 104,899 horses were slaughtered in the U.S. in 2006 before this ban. In 2010 almost 138,000 horses went out of the U.S. to be slaughtered.

As an Honor Roll member of the American Veterinary Medical Association I voice my opposition to their concerted opposition to some animal welfare organizations moving to outlaw horse slaughter in the U.S. Of course, we do not, as a culture, condone the eating of horse meat, nor do we consume the flesh of the millions of dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters, while other cultures regard such fare as ethically acceptable food.

But the consequence of such limited horse protection without banning exports to Canada and Mexico has meant that hundreds of thousands of spent horses from the U.S. were sent to slaughter across the borders, enduring untold suffering while being collected, corralled, and then transported vast distances to be killed and processed, and even being held in beef-cattle-like feedlot fattening facilities prior to slaughter.

The irony that horses should suffer such an ignominious end to their lives, some blaming the government for cutting funds for USDA horse slaughter inspections and the intervention of animal protectionists who should have called for on-site humane killing under veterinary supervision and transport of the bodies to regional rendering plants, or burial/composting, boggles my mind and breaks my heart. The presence of veterinary medications and of euthanasia drugs in particular from injection-killed horses, identified in pet foods are a significant concern. (2)

Speaking at the World Horse Welfare Conference in November 2013, Princess Anne, a former Olympics equestrian, said that attitudes to the horsemeat trade in the UK may have to change in light of the current numbers of horses being abandoned and mistreated.

“Should we be considering a real market for horsemeat and would that reduce the number of welfare cases, if there was a real value in the horsemeat sector?” she asked. (3) My response, having used a stun gun approved for cattle slaughter on horses in emergency, is that this is not a humane, reliable or safe device with which to kill horses. Mass killing of horses for human consumption can never be humane.

American horse lovers must answer this same question and not abdicate their responsibilities to ensure a humane death administered in situ by veterinary personnell rather than subjecting these animals to the stesses and terrors of long distance transportation to some distant, in-country or out-of country and out- of- mind slaughtering facility. Thousands of spent horses are being rescued by local animal shelters that are now going broke in the process of caring for these animals. Nor should this tragedy be capitalized upon as a financial opportunity for those who seek to justify establishing horse slaughter plants in the U.S. that will only add to the blight across this great, but greatly endangered nation of democratic rule of law and civilized constraint. (4)

I urge all concerned persons to contact their legislators immediately to support bills H.R.1094 and S.541, known as the “SAFE Act” to prohibit the sale, transport, import or export of equines or their parts, to be slaughtered because various drug residues* make them unfit for human consumption. (These Bills, still in Committee, seek to prohibit the sale of horse meat because equines raised in the United States are frequently treated with drugs, including phenylbutazone, acepromazine, boldenone undecylenate, omeprazole, ketoprofen, xylazine, hyaluronic acid, nitrofurazone, polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, clenbuterol, tolazoline, and ponazuril, which are not approved for use in horses intended for human consumption and equine parts are therefore unsafe within the meaning of section 512 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.) 

  1. See Melinda Larkin, Closing of US Slaughter Plants Still reverberates. JAVMA NEWS August 15th, 2011
  2. Linda Bren, Pentobarbitol in dog food FDA Veterinarian Newsletter May/June FDA Consumer Volume XVI, No III, 2002
  3. Cited by Nicky Lyons in “ Princess Anne Adds Bite to Meat Debate”, Gazette & Herald, Nov 27th, 2013
  4. Cited by John M. Glionna in “New Mexico City Divided Over Plan to Slaughter Horses”, Star Tribune, Jan 28th, 2014

For more details visit Vets for Equine Welfare

Dr. Michael W. Fox is a well-known veterinarian, former vice president of The Humane Society of the United States, former vice president of Humane Society International and the author of more than 40 adult and children’s books on animal care, animal behavior and bioethics. He is also a graduate veterinarian from the Royal Veterinary College, London, whose research lead to a PhD (Medicine) and a DSc (ethology/animal behavior) from the University of London, England.

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