Jump to: navigation, search

Horse slaughter

Horse slaughter is the practice of slaughtering horses for meat. (See article at horse meat.) These animals come from auctions, private sellers, and from wild herds. Sometimes these horses are sick and injured[1] but they can also be for sale by their owners. Most are brought to the slaughterhouses by contract buyers who collect horses from all across the country, also known as kill buyers. Horses that are killed for reasons other than human consumption go to the renderer's(US) or the knacker's yard (UK) to make food for pets, carnivorous animals in zoos, etc.

Slaughter of horses is sometimes disapproved of, horses being perceived as companion animals like cats and dogs, or deserving special status like sacred cows in religions such as Hinduism.[2][3] Horse meat is often praised for its relative low cholesterol content and high iron content, low fat content,[4][5][6] even suggested as red meat for people with heart problems.[7][8] Horse meat is a quite dry meat to cook, it is common to add some extra fat from other animals (like bacon) to increase its softness when roasted.

If horses are slaughtered, alternatives to meat packing for human consumption would include rendering, burial and cremation.



In 2009, a British agriculture industry website reported the following horse meat production levels in various countries:

as of 2009[9]
Country Tons per year
Mexico 78,000
Argentina 57,000
Kazakhstan 55,000
Mongolia 38,000
Kygyzstan 25,000
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 a similar fashion to cattle, i.e., in large-scale factory slaughterhouses (abbatoirs). The animals are rendered unconscious by being shot in the brain with a metal rod, using a captive bolt stunner - pneumatically or cartridge driven. In the UK a captive bolt is rarely used. They are usually killed using a free bullet from a bell gun. The skull is too hard to use a captive bolt the bell end to the gun prevents the bullet ricocheting and injuring the slaughterman. They are then killed by being exsanguinated ("bled out") by severing the jugular vein or carotid artery while suspended by the rear leg by a heavy chain shackle. Horse slaughter is similar to beef slaughter except for the fact that the overhead rail that the dressed horse carcasses ride on during process is two feet higher than a feedlot beef dressing line to suit the varying sizes of the carcasses. These are then butchered, cut into smaller pieces for easier handling. The residue may be rendered to make the fats usable.

Blood of the Beasts (Le Sang des bêtes) is a 1949 short French documentary film written and directed by Georges Franju featuring the slaughter of a horse (and other animals).

In Kazakhstan villages, horses are still slaughtered by local butchers in a pre-industrial way[10].

United States

Sale and consumption of horse meat is illegal in California and Illinois.[11] Horse meat supplied by three abattoirs in the U.S. was sold to zoos to feed their carnivores, and was exported to Europe and Japan for human consumption. In 2007 two horse meat abattoirs in Texas were ordered closed. Later that year, an abattoir in Illinois, reported to be the last horse meat abattoir in the U.S., was closed.[11]

There is an effort in the United States to create a law, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, designed to stop the slaughter of horses for human consumption.[12] 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 horses for human consumption an illegal practice in the United States.[13]

Most people in the US are not aware that horses are slaughtered there for human consumption in other countries. According to some of these polls, in New York, 64% of people polled believed that slaughtering horses for meat was illegal, while in Indiana, 91% believe that horse slaughter should be banned.[14] In Texas 89% of voters are unaware that horse slaughter was then going on in their own state.[15]

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 has also been listed as French and Dutch owned. Velda NV owns Cavel, Multimeat NV owns Beltex and Chevideco owns Dallas Crown.

The slaughterhouses exported approximately 42 million dollars worth of horse meat per year. Since the human consumption of horse meat is generally considered unacceptable by the majority of the United States populace[citation needed] (see Taboo food and drink) and is illegal in several states, most of the horses slaughtered for this purpose in the United States were exported to other countries, such as France, Belgium and Japan, where the meat is considered a delicacy.[16] As prominently stated on their website, Dallas Crown “provides Carnivore Diet for zoos and wildlife centers across the United States”.[17]

The Department of Transportation have officers at the enforcement points to ensure proper transportation of the horses, but has no jurisdiction beyond transportation matters. Horses that are severely lame or disabled are not accepted at the plants. Haulers are supposed to be fined for horses that arrive with any sign of abuse. Horses are transported in trailers that are straight, gooseneck or double-decked[18][not in citation given] meant for cows and pigs, making it impossible for the average sized horse to stand properly.[citation needed] 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.[19]

Most Americans oppose the slaughtering of horses for meat consumption.[20]

The underlying issue in the United States

Legislation in the United States

There are US Department of Agriculture (USDA) laws governing the transportation of horses to processing plants.

Two bills, H.R. 503 in the House and S. 1915 in the Senate, were introduced last session 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. The bill was anonymously blocked from a vote in the Senate, so both bills died at the end of the session. H.R. 503 and S. 311 were introduced January 17, 2007. The text of the bill reads:

A bill to amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, and for other purposes.

A separate bill ensures that none of America's wild mustangs are sent to slaughter.

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.

On March 28, 2007, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that it was illegal for horse slaughterhouses to pay the USDA for their own health inspections. The next day USDA pulled their inspectors from Cavel, effectively ending slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States.

Judicial Ruling in the United States

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.[21] 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.[22]

In June of 2007, a federal judge refused a request from the nation's last operating horse slaughterhouse, located in Illinois, to remain open. As of July of 2007, a legal dispute over an Illinois state ban on killing horses for food remains unresolved .[11]

The last remaining horse slaughter plant in the country was effectively shut down Sept. 21 when a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled an Illinois law banning horse slaughter for human consumption is constitutional.

The ruling comes four months after Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the law, overwhelmingly passed by the Illinois State Senate earlier this year.

Belgian-owned Cavel International immediately filed a federal lawsuit contesting the ban. While the lawsuit was pending, the slaughter plant was allowed to operate, rendering hundreds of horses a week.

Cavel has the option to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, but it is likely that the justices will refuse to hear the case, as they did earlier this year when two Texas slaughter facilities appealed their respective closures.

As of September 2007, bills introduced in the U.S. Congress (H.R.503 and S.311), known informally as the "American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act", are being considered by congressional committees.[23] The description of these bills is "To amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, and for other purposes." These bills can be viewed and their status tracked via a Library of Congress to follow Legislation in Current Congress.

According to the AVMA, banning slaughter will require an additional 2700 rescue facilities to care for the between 90,000 and 100,000 unwanted horses that will no longer be able to be slaughtered, the first year alone. With the current policy, horses must also travel outside the protection of national regulations to be slaughtered. Such travel can happen without food or water for days, and packed tightly in large trailers places enormous levels of stress on the horse.[24]

Controversy in the United States

There are 200 organizations that oppose the proposed ban on horse slaughter. Included in this group are the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the largest breed association in the world; the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP); the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA);[24][25]; and numerous animal agriculture groups. Included in the animal agriculture groups are organizations representing the interests of traditional food animal industries, such as cattle, sheep, and pork, who are concerned that banning any animal for slaughter will lead to endangering their industries.

An argument is that abuse would multiply if the horses were not slaughtered. According to a report from UC Davis referenced in a 2002 issue of Horse Illustrated, there was no increase in cases of horse abuse in California when horse slaughter was banned.[citation needed] However, the director of Equine Protection for the Humane Society of the US subsequently reported in the LA Times seizing large numbers of horses and the horse rescues were taking in more horses that ever before, despite the record number of horses shipped to Mexico for slaughter. This leads into another argument that banning horse slaughter in the US will result in that the horses instead have to endure a long trip to either Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered.[26]

There are many organizations such as the Animal Welfare Institute and Sterling Silver Farm Equine Rescue that support the abolition of horse slaughter. The Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industry strongly oppose horse slaughter. Other equine organizations in favor of the slaughter ban are the National Show Horse Registry, National Steeplechase Association, Palomino Horse Association, Int., and United States Eventing Association. Many equine adoption and rescue groups also oppose slaughter for human consumption.

Horses in the United States are not 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. For horses going to slaughter, there is no period of withdrawal between the time it leaves home and the time it is butchered. Because of this higher risk of contamination horses that go to American Slaughter facilities are stringently monitored by the USDA for drug residues and disease, and are held to the same quality standards as any other food animal.

Since the closure of the USA's facilities, more horses are now sent to Canada and Mexico. While some local slaughterhouses in Mexico are only subject to local regulation, those that ship to the European Union meet EU regulations.

Lobbying Efforts to Stop Horse Slaughter in the United States

American Oilman T. Boone Pickens is a strong opponent of the slaughter of horses for human consumption.[27] Pickens lobbyied for the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (HR 503) which would prohibit the slaughter for human consumption and the trade and transport of horseflesh and live horses intended for human consumption.[28] NBC5 reported on November 9, 2006 that Pickens was among those who opposed the slaughter of horses.[29] "The whole thing, it's a boondoggle on the American people," said Pickens.[29] "People that are for the slaughter should be forced to go down on that kill floor."[29] Equestrian Magazine reported on July 24, 2006 that Pickens would be testifying on July 25, 2006 to support the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503).[27] "The brutal slaughter of horses for consumption by wealthy diners in Europe and Japan cuts against our moral and cultural fiber -- it's just plain un-American," said Pickens.[27] During his testimony before Congress Pickens criticized Texas for being home to two horse slaughter plants.[30] "This is a black eye on our state and nation that demands action," Pickens said.[30] Pickens added that nearly all the horses sent to the plants are healthy young horses that the USDA has classified in "good to excellent" condition.[30]

Time Magazine reported in its July 25, 2006 issue that Pickens was pushing for passage of the bill to bar the slaughter of horses for human consumption and that he was being opposed by many of his friends in the cattle business.[31] "I don't like it," says Pickens, "and I'm going to do everything I can to stop it."[31] Pickens says that many horse sellers have no idea that their horses are going to be slaughtered after they are sold.[31] "They're thinking their horse will go to some nice family. But those killer buyers, when they buy at auction, it's just a matter of hours before the horse is slaughtered," Pickens says.[31] "You know they are killing a lot of stolen horses."[31] Pickens finds it even more outrageous that the three horse slaughterhouses in the United States are all owned by a Belgian businessman.[31] "We don't eat horsemeat here, so it does seem peculiar that someone from Belgium owns the kill plant and the meat is sent to Europe," Pickens says.[31] "Why not in their own countries? Why come to America to do the dirty deal?" Pickens also notes that the USDA spends millions of dollars supervising the slaughterhouses.[31] "Paula Bacon (the mayor of Kaufman, Texas) told me the kill plant had $12 million in gross revenues and only pays $5 in taxes but it clogs the sewage system up."[31]

Unintended Consequences

As of 2010, horse values have dropped significantly since 2007, when the ban went into effect.[citation needed] Some people attribute this to the ban on slaughter, but it also coincides with the drop in the overall economy in 2008-2009.[citation needed] There is also a correlation to a continued practice of breeding too many horses for a declining market. In addition, a drop in the economic status of horse owners can result in the inability to provide their horse an appropriate standard of care. Eventually, there may be a need to sell a horse which has become a financial hardship. If unable to sell, these owners may not have the financial resources required to have their horses retrained for an alternative use and might not be financially able or willing to bear the cost of euthanasia and disposal of the horse. The cost on average is $500 to humanely euthanise a horse and have it buried.[32] This situation has also led to an increase in the number of horse abandonment and cruelty cases.[33][34][35]

In order to put things into perspective for the idea that the ban of slaughter results in unwanted horses: Currently there are 9.2 million horses in the U.S. Each year, less than 100,000 go to slaughter (which is about 1 percent.) This number has remained stable for many years.[citation needed]

United Kingdom

According to The Daily Mail, up to 5,000 horses are slaughtered annually in the United Kingdom — not, they report, for domestic consumption but rather for export, mostly to France.[36] UK law effectively forbids the export of live animals for slaughter [36].

Rest of European Union

The Daily Mail reports that 100,000 horses are transported annually into and around the European Union, for human consumption in France, Italy, Belgium and other countries, where horse meat is commonly accepted.[36]


Horse meat traditionally has been an important source of food in wartime. (See war horse.) Before the advent of motorized warfare, campaigns usually resulted in many tens of thousands of equestrian kills and both troops and civilians gorged on the carcasses, since troop logistics were often unreliable. Composer Ludwig van Beethoven survived the siege of Vienna during the Napoleonic wars by eating a horse leg and liver he salvaged from a shrapnel-stricken artillery horse.

Troops of Napoleon Bonaparte's Grande Armee killed almost all of their horses while retreating from Moscow to be able to feed themselves.

During WWII the less-motorized Axis troops lost thousands of logistic train horses due to 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.

Henry Mayhew describes how the horse carcasse is used in London Labour and the London Poor. The different parts fetch different prices in Paris and London.[37]

See also


  1. Americans squeamish over horse meat, St. Petersburg Times, http://www.sptimes.com/2002/09/04/Columns/Americans_squeamish_o.shtml 
  2. Deseret News: Editorial: They eat horses, don't they?
  3. Secretary of State of South Dakota: Sacred Horses
  4. Clarifying the notion of horsemeat, Viande Richelieu Meat, http://www.vianderichelieu.com/en/cheval/content.htm, retrieved 2008-02-20 
  5. Horse Meat, Europmeat (Italy), http://www.europemeat.it/prod-uk.html, retrieved 2008-02-20 
  6. Food Safety of GOAT and HORSE, International Generic Horse Association, February 1997, http://www.igha.org/USDA.html, retrieved 2008-02-20  (republished USDA report, now obsolete and withdrawn)
  7. Once an ersatz beef of the poor, horse meat has morphed into a high-end fare of discerning European carnivores., February 1, 2005, http://www.tristateobserver.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=3566&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0, retrieved 2008-02-20 
  8. Carnitine: Have a Taste of Nature’s Medicine, November 1, 2007, http://wfcinc.com/?p=98, retrieved 2008-02-20 
  9. Argentina-Horse Meat world production figures, Farming UK, January 17, 2009.
  10. New York Times article
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Tara Burghart (June 29, 2007). "Last US Horse Slaughterhouse to Close". The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20070629/horse-slaughter/. Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  12. Animal Welfare Institute: American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act
  13. Science.qj.net: New US Bill Makes Killing Horses for Meat Illegal in US
  14. Equine Protection Network - Polls
  15. Society for Animal Protective Legislation: Survey Shows Texans Strongly Oppose Horse Slaughter
  16. Time: Horse—It's What’s for Dinner
  17. Dallas Crown, Inc.: Carnivore Diet Products
  18. FSIS Docket 98-074-2 issued Dec 7, 2001 made transport of horses in double deckers illegal as of Dec 7, 2006 U.S. Department of Agriculture Veterinary Services: Horse Transport (from internet archive)
  19. Dr. Temple Grandin: Survey of Trucking Practices and Injury to Slaughter Horses
  20. Poll Finds Most Americans Against Horse Slaughter
  21. BELTEX CORPORATION; DALLAS CROWN, INC., v. TIM CURRY, District Attorney Tarrant County, 05-11499 (January 19, 2007).
  22. "Federal Court of Appeals Affirms Ruling Declaring Horse Slaughter Illegal in Texas". The Humane Society of the United States. March 6, 2007. http://www.hsus.org/press_and_publications/press_releases/federal_court_of_appeals.html. Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  23. Illinois Ruling Stops Horse Slaughter in U.S. | bloodhorse.com
  24. 24.0 24.1 Unwanted horses and the AVMA's policy on horse slaughter - Frequently asked questions, AMVMA, http://www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/unwanted_horses_faq.asp 
  25. Testimony of Bonnie V. Beaver American Veterinary Medical Association: Testimony of Bonnie V. Beaver, DVM (archived from the original on 2007-11-29).
  26. Chicago Sun-Times: Don't ban horse slaughter in Illinois
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Equestrian Magazine. "T. Boone Pickens Takes on Horse Slaughter Issue with Congress" July 24, 2006.
  28. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/nation/4171519.html
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 NBC5. "Illinois Horse Slaughter Makes Way To Senate" November 9, 2006.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 CBS11.tv "T. Boone Pickens Joins Horse Slaughter Fight" by Brooke Richie. July 25, 2006.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 31.5 31.6 31.7 31.8 Time Magazine. "T. Boone Pickens To the Rescue" by Cathy Booth Thomas. July 25, 2006.
  32. The Unintended Consequences of a Ban on the Humane Slaughter (Processing) of Horses in the United States, Animal Welfare Council, Inc.
  33. HSUS Responds to Rumor of Horse Abandonment in Ky., Calls it an Act of Desperation from the Foreign-Owned Horse Slaughter Industry, March 16, 2007, Humane Society of the United States
  34. Amy Hamilton, Horse Abandonment Rises, January 24, 2010, trib.com
  35. Cases of horse neglect, abandonment growing in Colorado, January 24, 2010, Colorado Springs Gazette
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Tom Rawstone (May 19, 2007). "The English horses being sent to France to be eaten". Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=455953&in_page_id=1770. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  37. vol 2 p 7-9

External links


Premier Equine Classifieds


Subscribe to our newsletter and keep abreast of the latest news, articles and information delivered directly to your inbox.

Did You Know?

Modern horse breeds developed in response to a need for "form to function", the necessity to develop certain physical characteristics in order to perform a certain type of work... More...

The Gypsy Cob was originally bred to be a wagon horse and pulled wagons or caravans known as Vardos; a type of covered wagon that people lived in... More...

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Arabian horse bloodline dates back 4,500 years. Throughout history, Arabian horses spread around the world by both war and trade.... More...

That the term "Sporthorse" is a term used to describe a type of horse rather than any particular breed... More...