Horse slaughter

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Horse slaughter is the practice of slaughtering horses to produce meat for consumption.

Human beings have consumed horse meat since the earliest days of human history: the oldest known cave art, the thirty-thousand-year-old paintings in the Chauvet Cave of modern France, show horses prominently alongside other wild animals hunted by humans.[1] The later domestication of the horse is widely held to have been initiated for the purposes of raising horses for slaughter for human consumption.[2]

In modern times, horse slaughter has become controversial in some parts of the world, based on a various of concerns: e.g. whether horses are or can be managed humanely in industrial-style slaughter; whether horses not purpose-raised for consumption are likely to yield safe meat; whether it is appropriate to consume a creature that has become a companion animal.

Horse Meat Production Levels
as of 2009[3]
Country Tons per year
Mexico 78,000
Argentina 57,000
Kazakhstan 55,000
Mongolia 38,000
Kyrgyzstan 25,000
United States 25,000[4]
Australia 24,000
Brazil 21,000
Canada 18,000
Poland 18,000
Italy 16,000*
Romania 14,000
Chile 10,000
France 7,500
Uruguay 8,000
Senegal 9,500
Colombia 6,000
Spain 5,000*
* Including donkeys.


In most countries where horses are slaughtered for food, they are processed in industrial abattoirs in a similar fashion to cattle.[vague]

The horses are typically held and confined in a small room with no room to move before they are penetrated with the bullet. Due to this, before the horse is even stunned with a bullet they are already extremely stressed. Horse welfare need to consider this issue with more concern as the stress that the horses are put under goes against their animal welfare rights.

Typically, a penetrating captive bolt gun or gunshot is used to render the animal unconscious. The blow/shot is intended to either kill the horse instantly or stun it,[5] with exsanguination (bleeding out) being used immediately after to ensure death.[6] Saleable meat is removed from the carcass, with the remains rendered for other commercial uses.

Horse welfare advocates have raised concerns that the particular physiology of the horse cranium means that neither the penetrating captive bolt gun nor gunshots are reliable means of ensuring that a horse is in fact killed or stunned, and that the animal is more likely to be only paralyzed. Unless properly checked for vital signs, the horse may remain conscious and experience pain during skinning and butchering during the final phase of the slaughter process.[7][8][9]


Horse meat traditionally was a source of meat during times of desperation, such as early 20th-century World Wars (see war horse). Before the advent of motorized warfare, campaigns usually resulted in many tens of thousands of equine deaths and both troops and civilians ate the carcasses, since troop logistics were often unreliable. Troops of Napoleon Bonaparte's Grande Armée killed almost all of their horses while retreating from Moscow in order to feed themselves.

During World War I, Sir Fredrick Hobday reports in his biography Fifty Years a Veterinary Surgeon that with the arrival from France of his British Army veterinary field hospital at Cremona in Italy in 1916, he was the subject of a heated bidding war eventually won by horse meat canners in Milan for all the carcasses the horses that did not survive, but that were still in reasonable condition.

During World War II, the less-motorized Axis troops lost thousands of logistic trained horses in combat and the unusually cold Russian winter. Malnourished soldiers devoured the animals, often going as far as shooting the weaker horses and eating them right away. In the 1840s, Henry Mayhew described how horse meat was then used in London Labour and the London Poor. The different parts fetch different prices in Paris and London.[10]


In many countries, horses are widely perceived as companion animals, or deserving of humane consideration because of their roles as working animals and for sport. This perception may be greater in other countries where horses are not bred or raised for food. A 2012 MORI survey found that 50% of respondents in France, 51% in Belgium and 58% in Italy thought that it was acceptable to eat horses.[11]

Several equine and animal welfare organizations oppose slaughter or support a ban on horse slaughter[12][13][14][15] and people involved with the horse industry.

Several animal organizations and animal agriculture groups support horse slaughter. Temple Grandin, a leading expert in livestock slaughter, argues that horse slaughter can be humane provided such facilities are well-designed and managed properly.[16] Included in the animal agriculture groups supporting horse slaughter are organizations representing the interests of traditional food animal industries, such as cattle, sheep and pigs, who are concerned that banning any animal for slaughter will lead to outlawing all meat production.

Horses have been illegally sold to auctions, where they are bought by kill buyers and shipped to slaughter. Auctions provide a means of selling horses without the consent of the owner, either through theft[17] or misappropriation.[18]

Long-distance transport[edit]

One concern about the welfare of horses being slaughtered is the long distances the horses are sometimes transported to the slaughter house. For example, in 2013, 32,841 horses were slaughtered in Italy of which 32,316 had been transported from other states in the EU.[19]

United States[edit]

Food safety[edit]

Horses in the United States are not bred, raised or treated as meat. Almost all equine medications and treatments are labeled "not for horses intended for human consumption." In the European Union, horses intended for slaughter cannot be treated with many medications commonly used for U.S. horses.[citation needed] For horses going to slaughter, there is no period of withdrawal between the time it leaves home and the time it is butchered.[citation needed]

Meat from American horses raises a number of potential health concerns, mainly due to the routine usage of medications in horses banned in food animals, and the lack of tracking of this usage in horses. Unlike livestock raised for food, where all potential medications are tested for withdrawal times; approved or banned for usage, and vigilantly tracked for each animal, there is no way to guarantee which medications have or have not been used in a particular horse. In fact, The European Commission Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) found serious violations during inspections conducted in November and December 2010 of EU regulated plants in Mexico slaughtering horses for human consumption.[20] Most American horses destined for slaughter end up at EU regulated plants in Mexico and Canada. Horses, unlike traditional food animals in the United States, are not raised or medicated during their lifetime with the intent of one day becoming human food. Because American horses are not intended for the human food chain, throughout their lives they will often have received medications that are banned by the FDA for use at any time during the life of food animals.[21] There is also a concern that horse meat will be mixed in with ground-beef products[22] and sold improperly labeled in the US, as during the 2013 horse meat scandal in Europe.


Several equine and animal welfare organizations oppose slaughter or support a ban on horse slaughter[23][24][25]

Horses have been illegally sold to auctions, where they are bought by kill buyers and shipped to slaughter. Auctions provide a means of selling horses without the consent of the owner, either through theft[17] or misappropriation.[18]

According to California Livestock and Identification Bureau statistics, the 1998 ban on horse slaughter in California was followed by a 34% decrease in horse thefts.[26][27]


Prior to 2007, three major equine slaughterhouses operated in the United States: Dallas Crown, Inc. in Kaufman, Texas; Beltex Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas; and Cavel International, Inc. in DeKalb, Illinois, all with Belgian ownership, although Multimeat NW had also been listed as French and Dutch owned. Velda NV owned Cavel, Multimeat NV owned Beltex and Chevideco owned Dallas Crown. These slaughterhouses exported approximately 42 million dollars' worth of horse meat per year, with the majority of that money going to the foreign-owned exporters overseas. Of the horse meat supplied by the three equine slaughter houses that operated in the US, about 10% was sold to zoos to feed their carnivores, and 90% was shipped to Europe and Asia for human consumption. In 2006, The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to end horse slaughter, but the bill never came to a vote before the Senate. In 2007, the two horse slaughter plants in Texas were ordered closed following protracted battles with their local municipalities, who voiced objections over the slaughter houses' financial drain on the municipalities without providing tax revenue, ditches of blood, dismembered foals, and reek of offal and waste in residential neighborhoods.[28] Later that year, an abattoir in Illinois, reported to be the last horse meat abattoir in the US, was also closed following local community action.[29]

The director of Equine Protection for the Humane Society of the US subsequently reported seizing large numbers of horses and that horse rescues were taking in more horses than ever before, despite the record number of horses shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.[30][31][32][33] The saturation of the horse market was only exacerbated by the continued breeding of horses.[34]

In March 2012, Wyoming state Representative Sue Wallis proposed building a new horse meat processing plant in Missouri or Arkansas. She claimed to have $6 million to invest and support by Belgian horse meat buyers.[35] In May 2012, Wallis sought local investors in Wyoming to help finance the plant, which she said could cost between $2 million and $6 million which would process up to 200 horses a day for sale abroad and to ethnic markets within the US.[36]

In 2013, the Obama administration proposed a move to remove funding for US Department of Agriculture inspections of horse slaughter plants in the 2014 financial year.[37]

Legal proceedings[edit]

Horse slaughter[edit]

There have been efforts to create a Federal law, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, designed to stop the slaughter of American horses for human consumption.[38] On September 8, 2006, the House of Representatives passed a bill which, had it also passed the Senate and been signed by the President, would have made killing or selling American horses for human consumption an illegal practice in the United States.[39]

Two bills, H.R.503 in the House and S.1915 in the Senate, were introduced in the 109th Congress to prevent the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States. H.R. 503 was passed in the House on September 7, 2006, by a recorded vote of 263–146.[40] S.1915 was read twice, and referred committee, and not reported out for a vote.[41] Both bills died at the end of the 109th Congress. The bills were reintroduced in the 110th Congress on January 17, 2007, as H.R.503 and S.311.[42] S.311 was reported out but not taken up for a vote.[43] The bills were not reintroduced in the 111th Congress. Two bills were introduced in the 112th Congress, HR 2966 and S 1176, American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011.

Transportation of horses for slaughter[edit]

The Department of Transportation has officers at the enforcement points to ensure proper transportation of horses, but has no jurisdiction beyond transportation matters. Horses that "are severely lame or disabled are not accepted at the plants".

A 1998 survey commissioned by the USDA/APHIS to determine where welfare problems occur during horse transport to slaughter found severe welfare problems in 7.7% of the transported horses, with a majority from conditions caused by owner neglect or abuse rather than transportation. The report recommended fining individuals who transport horses unfit for travel.[44] However, despite those recommendations, in an April 2011 Report on Equine transport violations, of 458 violators and 280 cases reported since February 1, 2002, only 51 of these 458 violators have received fines. Total fines assessed were $781,350.00. The highest fines imposed were $230,000.00 (Charles Carter, CO), $162,000.00 (Leroy Baker, OH) and $77,825.00 (Bill Richardson, TX). It is unknown at this point how much of these assessed fines actually has been paid. Violators continue to operate business as usual.[citation needed]

Horses experience animal welfare concerns at all stages of the slaughter process in North America, from auction to feedlot, transport, and to the slaughter process itself. Documentation by Animals' Angels USA indicates overcrowded pens, aggression, rough handling, transport with no rest, untreated injuries and no water or food for extended periods (which is required each 28 hours by law) and [45]

On February 22, 2007, Rep. Robert Molaro introduced a bill, HB1711, to the Illinois General Assembly to prohibit the transportation of horses into the State for the sole purpose of slaughter for human consumption.

There are US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations governing the transportation of horses,[46] but the USDA has said it does not have the resources to enforce the regulation.[47] In 2009, a bill which would have prohibited interstate transport of live horses in double-deck horse trailers passed out of committee in the House of Representatives and placed on the Union Calendar.[47] The bill died at the end of the 111th United States Congress.

On July 9, 2011, Sen. Mary Landrieu, (D-LA) and co-sponsor Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced Senate Bill S.1176 The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011 to amend the Horse Protection Act (15 U.S.C. ch. 44) to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption.[48]

On November 18, 2011, the ban on the slaughter of horses for meat was lifted as part of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012.[49] However, that ban was reestablished by Congress on January 14, 2014 with the passage of the Fiscal Year 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Act.[50]

On March 12, 2013, Sen. Mary Landrieu, (D-LA) and co-sponsor Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced S. 541, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act of 2013. The SAFE Act amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to deem equine (horses and other members of the equidae family) parts to be an unsafe food additive or animal drug. The SAFE Act also prohibits the knowing sale or transport of equines or equine parts in interstate or foreign commerce for purposes of human consumption. An identical version of this bill, H.R. 1094, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and co-sponsor Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).[51]

Judicial rulings[edit]

On January 19, 2007, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned a lower court's 2006 ruling on a 1949 Texas law that banned horse slaughter for the purpose of selling the meat for food on grounds that the Texas law was invalid because it had been repealed by another statute and was pre-empted by federal law. However, a panel of three judges on the 5th Circuit disagreed, saying the law still stood and was still enforceable.[52] On March 6, 2007, without comment or dissent, the 19 judges of United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected a petition by three foreign-owned slaughter plants seeking full court review of a three-judge panel's January 19, 2007 decision.[53]

United Kingdom[edit]

According to The Daily Mail, as of 2007 up to 5,000 horses were being slaughtered annually in the United Kingdom — not, they report, for domestic consumption but rather for export, mostly to France.[54] According to that 2007 article, UK law "effectively forbids" the export of live animals for slaughter.[54] The RSPCA listed horses among the animals exported from Ramsgate port since its reopening for live animal exports in 2011.[55]

The 2013 horse meat scandal was a scandal in Europe where foods advertised as containing beef were found to contain undeclared or improperly declared horse meat – as much as 100% of the meat content in some cases.[56] A smaller number of products also contained other undeclared meats, such as pork.[57] The issue came to light on 15 January 2013, when it was reported that horse DNA had been discovered in frozen beef burgers sold in several Irish and British supermarkets.

France and Belgium[edit]

The Daily Mail reported in 2007 that 100,000 horses were then being transported annually into and around the European Union, for human consumption in France and Belgium, where horse meat is eaten.[54] In 2011, Belgian and Dutch consumers were shocked to learn of widespread horse slaughter-related cruelty in North and South America. Undercover video footage aired on three major news programs showed horses designated for slaughter are routinely starved, dehydrated, injured and abused. Within hours of the story's broadcast, supermarkets responded with promises to investigate. Delhaize, the second largest retailer in Belgium asked their supplier to remove affected meat from their shelves. Two other major grocers have told consumers they do not import horse meat from outside Europe.[58]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ Early Domestication of Horse, Lilian Lam, Swarthmore College Environmental Studies, retrieved May 9, 2012
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  7. ^ Use of the 'Penetrating Captive Bolt' As A Means Of Rendering Equines Insensible For Slaughter Violates The Humane Slaughter Act Of 1958, Manes and Tails Organization, retrieved May 10, 2012
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  14. ^ "Horse slaughter". Animal Welfare Institute. Retrieved September 20, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Horse slaughter". American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 
  16. ^ Grandin, Temple. "Answering Questions about Animal Welfare during Horse Slaughter". Retrieved 29 January 2016. 
  17. ^ a b Rhapsody vanishes into ether of slaughter market, The Topeka Capital-Journal, October 15, 2011, retrieved 2011-11-27 
  18. ^ a b Kill buyer once arrested in Marfa, now on the run from more charges, The Big Bend Sentinel, September 15, 2011, retrieved 2011-11-27 
  19. ^ "Facts and figures on the EU horsemeat trade". Humane Society International. 2014. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  20. ^ In a report filed by the FVO (Food and Veterinary Office), a number of serious violations and actions taken were cited, including these noted by Animals’ Angels: * Two out of five establishments failed to meet EU requirements relating to slaughter hygiene and water quality. Additionally, there were non-traceable carcasses, a number of which were in contact with EU eligible horse meat. No export certificates will be issued until these issues are satisfactorily resolved. * Random samples taken from horse meat processed in 2008, 2009 and 2010 tested positive for EU prohibited drug residues. * Sworn statements made by horse owners on veterinary medical treatment histories were not authenticated and proven false, including cases of positive results for EU prohibited drug residues. * From January and October 2010, of the 62,560 US horses shipped to slaughter 5,336 were rejected at the border due to advanced pregnancy, health problems or injuries. * In a visit to one US export pen, 12 of the 30 horses held there were rejected.
  21. ^ Drugs prohibited for use in horses intended for human consumptionVeterinarians for Equine Welfare
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  45. ^ report
  46. ^ 9 CFR 88.3 - Standards for conveyances,
  47. ^ a b H.R. 305 Passes House Committee,
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  57. ^
  58. ^ Blow to European Horse Meat market expected to hit the US

External links[edit]