When Horse Slaughter Comes to Town: Opposition to Horse Slaughter


Thin Gray Line

by JANE ALLIN | March 2010

Thin Gray Line

Ultimately, horse slaughter is opposed by the vast majority of Americans (and Canadians), and opening a horse slaughter plant would be highly contentious, giving the community a seedy reputation, negatively impacting tourism and other spending.

State and nationwide polls taken in the past have shown that the greater part of the North American population is strongly opposed to horse slaughter:

In 1995 – A national call-in TV poll resulted in 93% of callers demanding that “the killing of horses for meat be banned.”

In 1997 – A state-wide poll taken in California revealed that 88% of those questioned were opposed to horse slaughter.

In 1999 – A poll conducted in New York State yielded the following results:

  • 91% considered horses companions, recreational or sporting animals –
  • 72% would never eat horse meat –
  • 73% believed that the manner that horses are slaughtered is cruel and inhumane –
  • 81% personally opposed the practice of horse slaughter.

Over the past decade these numbers have not changed significantly.

Most of the people in this country want to see slaughter ended,” notes Karen Pomroy of Equine Voices, an Arizona-based organization that rescues horses abused by the pharmaceutical industry and slated for slaughter. “The newest polls say 85 percent. For years we’ve been trying to get laws through, but too many pockets are being lined in Washington while foreign companies are making millions of dollars by killing our horses.”

A legislative vote will serve as an example.

On September 7, 2006, Bill H.R. 503, a comprehensive proposal to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption as well as the transport for slaughter elsewhere passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives by roll call vote. “The totals were 263 Ayes, 146 Nays, 23 Present/Not Voting.” Unfortunately, the bill died as it was held up by pro-slaughter Senator Conrad Burns and was not allowed to come before the Senate for a vote.

No longer a Senator, Burns’ Montana 2006 milestones include being selected by Time Magazine as one of America’s Five Worst Senators, and in September 2006 as one of The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

H.R. 503 currently sits in the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. The Subcommittee scheduled a Hearing of H.R. 503, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, for Tuesday, February 2, at 4:00 p.m. but was postponed due to more urgent matters requiring attention (e.g. terrorism).

Despite the protests to end slaughter some states in the U.S. have attempted to re-open horse slaughter facilities. In May of 2009, a new Montana state law, HB 418, was passed that invites private investors to develop horse slaughter facilities in that state. However, it faces many challenges, one of which is the opposition to horse slaughter by state residents, and veterinarians together with other issues such as legal, environmental and economical. An excerpt from an Equestrian Magazine news release is a measure of the distaste within the communities of Montana:

Tens of thousands of humanitarians across Montana are opposed to horse slaughter. Survey after survey has shown that more than 70 percent of all Americans oppose the practice, where living horses have their throats slit and are dismembered while hanging upside down as they bleed to death to feed Frenchmen hungry for their poisonous chemically tainted meat. A poll on a respected on-line paper in Montana on the day of the vote reflected 76% of readers against building a plant.”

And from Caroline M. Betts, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Economics at the University of Southern California:

We are currently being inundated with arguments that the reintroduction of equine slaughter on US soil is ‘necessary’ ” The only thing it is necessary for is to fill the pockets of the big breeders and their agricultural associates, and perhaps the pockets of a bought politician or two. Apparently the senators and representatives of Montana who just passed a bill to introduce a new horse slaughter plant there care more about fulfilling those needs, than the fact that 85 percent of their own state citizens strongly object to the proposal.”

Dr. Lisa Jacobson DVM had this to say:

As a Montanan and practicing equine veterinarian, I strongly oppose HB 418. I am a member of both AVMA & AAEP; however, these organizations misrepresent the views of their members. Their pro-horse slaughter stance is not based on a member survey.

“Equine slaughter plants are documented to be very inhumane. Documents recently released by the USDA regarding horse slaughter in the U.S. make clear the unmistakable brutality inherent to the commercial slaughter of horses. Contained in the 906 page document covering eleven months of 2005 are 800 photos, showing horses with their eyeballs dangling, their legs ripped off, and even newborn foals.”

(See FOIA documents at http://www.kaufmanzoning.net/)

Finally, as former Sen. Burns learned, the aggravated and enraged citizens in opposition to horse slaughter are part of the voting population and will go to extremes to defeat the politicians who vote to bring it back into legislation. “We are motivated, we can raise millions in small donations, and we will use it.”

There are countless reasons to oppose horse slaughter as taken from citations of information presented during hearings on the 2008 Anti-Horse Slaughter Bill. The following are just a few of the many accounts of the horse slaughter industry.

Liz Ross, federal policy advisor to the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C., told the subcommittee:

Dozens of horses were already in the kill-pens destined for slaughter. Of those horses that went through the auction ring I was able to purchase three, all of whom undoubtedly would have otherwise gone to slaughter. One was in such bad shape that she should have never been brought through the ring and we had her euthanized on the spot. The other two were placed at an equine rescue facility in New Jersey where they still live today. The pure animal suffering and terror I witnessed that day at New Holland was … fundamentally disturbing as was everything I subsequently learned about the horse slaughter industry.

“In slaughter, horses suffer long before they reach the slaughterhouse. Crammed onto double deck trailers designed for cattle and sheep, horses travel in a bent manner for more than twenty-four hours without food, water or rest. In fact, so paltry are current regulations and so brutal is the trade that heavily pregnant mares, blind horses and those with broken limbs are regularly sent to slaughter.

“It is also noteworthy that in Mexico the captive-bolt gun is often passed over in preference to the ‘puntilla’ knife which is used to stab the horse in the spinal cord to the point of paralysis before the animal is strung up and quartered, often while still alive. In fact, one of the Mexican plants that was the subject of an undercover investigation exposing this horrific practice employs lobbyists who work the halls of Congress to defeat this bill. Mr. Chairman, this is pure animal cruelty, through and through, and it must end.”

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Professor, Section Head and Program Director of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts, was very blunt:

Horse slaughter has never been considered by veterinary professionals to be a form of euthanasia. Congress and the general public must hear from veterinarians that horse slaughter is not and should not be equated with humane euthanasia. Rather, the slaughtering of horses is a brutal and predatory business . . . . One need only observe horse slaughter to see that it is a far cry from genuine humane euthanasia.”

Dodman goes on to say:

In the slaughterhouse none of these scenarios is in place: the horse is often panicked, his head is unrestrained, and the person administering the captive bolt is a low-paid worker who is expected to move horses through the kill line at high speed. Herein lays the problem with the use of the captive bolt in horse slaughter.”

He takes the chilling scene one step further:

I personally had the opportunity in June of this year to review hidden camera video of many horses being slaughtered at the Natural Valley Farm horse slaughter plant in Saskatchewan, Canada – a plant known to slaughter imported American horses. I found the slaughter process inappropriate, inhumane, unsupervised, and in total disregard of the animals welfare. Particular problem areas included:

  • Horses being driven into the kill box were, for the most part, terrified. I believe this was because of the way they were being treated (horses are accustomed to being led, not driven); the use of prod sticks; the cacophonous clamor of the place (clanging, compressed air sounds, yelling); the attitude of the stunners; and the general atmosphere of inevitability/doom.
  • The floor of the kill box was slippery so that when the terrified horses tried to run or jump their way out of their dreadful dilemma they often slipped and fell on the bloody metal floor or their feet would spin around as if they were trying to run on an ice rink.
  • The sides of the kill box were not high enough to prevent them from seeing the disturbing sights of other horses being hung, bled out and butchered.
  • The kill box was too wide and too long, allowing horses to back away from the stunner’s access site.
  • Because of the unsuitability of the slaughter setup, captive bolt operators were often trying to hit a moving target and in some cases were unable to locate the kill spot on the horses forehead because the horse had turned around, slumped down, or moved backward in the kill box. When the stunner is trying to hit a brain the size of an orange in a skull the size of a suitcase any movement is likely to lead to incomplete stunning. I observed several horses being improperly ‘stunned’. Mouthing, tonguing, and paddling of the feet were not uncommonly seen as horses were dragged away to be hung up and bled out. Some of these horses were likely still conscious as they were being bled. This experience is not significantly different than often occurred at horse slaughter plants operating in the U.S.
  • Captive bolt operators and their assistants seemed impatient and were unkind to the horses, hitting them repeating, cussing at them, and generally showing no signs of empathy.
  • Disturbingly, the foot cutter (amputation device) was next in line after the horses throats were slit (on one side only). It is possible that some may have had their feet cut off while semiconscious.”

On any given day there is no shortage of horses needing rescue. The obligation of horse owners and opponents to slaughter is to find alternative conduits for those horses destined for the auctions is vital to shutting down the industry. Unfortunately, with the high demand for horse meat in foreign markets fetching great monetary rewards to those who deal within the industry makes it extremely challenging.

The USDA claims that more than 90,000 American horses were purchased in 2009 by kill buyers. The majority is not actively sold to slaughter by their owners, but instead arrives at the slaughterhouse via livestock auction, often sold by owners unaware of their ultimate fate. Those purchased at auctions by individuals known as “killer buyers” may then be shipped on trailers for as long as 28 hours without water, food or rest. Ultimately, there is a general lack of awareness due to the relative absence of media exposure on the subject of horse slaughter.

Apart from the horror and suffering that takes place at the hands of the grim reapers of horse slaughter, there will also be animal rights groups and horse advocates continually working to shut down your operation using tactics such as lawsuits, negative press, petitions and rallies, for example. These groups of individuals work tirelessly to recruit all animal lovers and animal advocates “asking them to rise up against this brutal practice of horse slaughter by voicing their concerns to their Congressman and their two U.S. Senators and asking them to co-sponsor The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act; House Bill H.R. 503 and Senate Bill S. 727.”

I think the recent press about the wild horse roundups has shed light on our country’s dirty little secret, horse slaughter”, said Shelley Abrams, co founder of AAHS. “The wild horse advocates and organizations that have worked for so many years to protect the wild horses have done a wonderful job of creating mass awareness to the general public through the media and that has inspired the lay person to learn more.” Abrams added.

Although a lot of the current focus is on the BLM’s round up of wild horses, horses of virtually all ages and breeds are slaughtered, from draft types to miniatures.

Horses commonly slaughtered include unsuccessful race horses, horses that are lame or ill, surplus riding school and camp horses, mares whose foals are not economically valuable, and foals cast off by the Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) industry, which produces the estrogen-replacement drug Premarin®. Ponies, mules, and donkeys are slaughtered as well. A vast majority of horses purchased for slaughter are in good health and bought for only a few hundred dollars.”

Out of all of the bad things about horse slaughter, some good does befall those who are dedicated to the unremitting campaign to save the horses. In mid July of 2009, an Associated Press story was posted on the internet citing attempts to reintroduce horse slaughter to the U.S. by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon. The headline, “Groups Push to Slaughter Horses for Meat Possibly in Oregon” sped across the Internet like wildfire. In response, numerous petition sites and horse advocacy organizations began to campaign to convince the Tribes to reconsider.

Ultimately a prominent equestrian author, R.T. Fitch exposed the information reported in the article as bogus. The story written by Richard Cockle was contested after several days of investigation and calls to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs which delivered specifics that countered effectively everything Cockle reported.

No, we are not making any plans to build a horse slaughter plant on any reservation“, stated Tim Outman, field representative for the Warm Springs Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources.

Putting all cultural and moral conflicts aside, Outman said:

Who would invest $8-10 million into building a facility where there is absolutely no market? Shipping horse meat is against Federal Law. We have no idea what, where or who, is perpetuating this misinformation. “This sort of journalism does nothing to further the cause and public relations of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs”, stated Outman.

This ploy was yet another example of pro-slaughter proponents trying to reintroduce slaughter to the United States. Chris Hyde of Washington’s Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) refers to the ruse as:

misleading claims put forward by individuals more interested in abusing horses than advancing the truth . . . . It is a shame that Mr. Cockle, Sue Wallis and others continue to exploit the truth and suffering of horses just to make a name for themselves nationally.”

When will it ever end?

Horse slaughter is nothing more than abuse and it is being inflicted upon an animal who has never historically been considered a food animal, but rather a working partner and friend to man. An animal used primarily for pleasure, work, recreation and sport. The lies of the horse slaughterers can’t stand up to the graphic footage of the realities.

Thin Gray Line

Sources and Notes:– “When Horse Slaughter Comes to Town” is a 24-page, fully-referenced document for use in lobbying against horse slaughter. We are serializing the document in five parts on Tuesday’s Horse to educate the public about the significant negative impacts should horse slaughter come to their community.

Access “When Horse Slaughter Comes to Town” in its entirety for lobbying purposes here. pdf

Please help us send this report to state legislators pushing to return horse slaughter to America by putting a few dollars in our tip jar. Thanks! Click Tip Jar to Donate Online

© Int’l Fund for Horses

1 thought on “When Horse Slaughter Comes to Town: Opposition to Horse Slaughter”

  1. This is one of the most factual articles that I have seen yet exposing the truth about horse slaughter. I was an animal cruelty investigator for several years, and part of my job was to attend horse auctins, where kill-buyers were in attendance. They are parasites of opportunity, buying horses that were indeed not intended to be sent to slaughter. They take advantage of a market created by greed and ignorance. I did attend a horse auction in Indiana that posted a sign that kill-buyers were not welcome. The prices of the horses sold there were higher, and the horses brought there were in great condition. More background information was given about each horse brought into the ring. It was incredible the difference between that horse sale and the sales where kill-buyers were present.
    The presence of US slaughterhouses will absolutely encourage the theft of horses. Especially larger horses of a good weight, which will bring more money. I do believe that anyone who supports horse slaughter should be willing to accompany the owners of stolen horses and see the process of trying to search for and recover thier stolen horses. They will be allowed to through a stack of hides to try and identify their horse, this is of course a way to get closure, after the fact and not a true recovery. If the slaughterhouses are among us there will not be time for true recovery, horses will cross state borders in transport, and will suffer neglect and horrific conditions during transport. Once again greed will encourage as many horses be hauled as possible, creating increased possiblility of accidents, and a threat to the public safety on our interstates, where they will travel.
    There will be unwanted horses in the US regardless of whether the slaughterhouses are present. Slaughter is not the solution, but it will add to the problems. Overbreeding and lack of responsibility of horse owners are problems that need to be addressed. There needs to be more education about horse care and the commitments of horse ownership. Noone is forced to own a horse. If a decision is made to own a horse, perhaps a special fee should be collected by the government upon purchase and put into a special fund for humane euthanasia by a skilled vet, and would also be used to cover humane disposal of the body. If a person could not pay for such a reserve fund, then they can’t really afford a horse, because there are many costs involved in caring for a horse. Most people seem willing to pay for those costs, but oddly there will be others who will pay more money for a new pair of western boots, then it would cost them to give thier horse a humane end to its life, so most of the problem seems to be priorities and planning for the cost of care.
    Breeders need to focus on quality rather than quantity, and study more carefully their target markets.
    Poor training technique is another reason that many horses are discarded. The methods of natural horsemanship currently being taught by some of the top trainers in our country, offering clinics nationwide are helping to remedy some of this problem.
    Responsible horse ownership is the answer, sanctioning slaughter of our nation’s horses in foreign owned slaughter houses is not.


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