Photograph: Denis Doyle/Getty Images.

When Horse Slaughter Comes to Town: Legal Implications

Legislation and government oversight activities have failed to protect horses from the cruelties inherent to slaughter or toxic horse meat from entering the human food chain.

LEGISLATION banning the domestic slaughter and export for slaughter of American horses for human consumption has a long history, and continues to be pursued at both the State and Federal levels.

The first legislative action banning horse slaughter and the export for slaughter began at the state level in 1998 in California when Proposition 6 passed with nearly 5 million voters approving the measure.

The first legislative action banning horse slaughter and the export for slaughter began at the federal level in 2001 in the 107th Congress. Similar bills have been re-introduced in successive Congresses since then, including the current one. None of these bills have been successful, blocked in various Committees.[1]

Legislation to ban horse slaughter and export for slaughter is lobbied against vigorously by powerful factions of the animal agriculture industry. It is just as vigorously lobbied for by a strong majority of constituents seeking to bring the slaughter of horses to an end.

Success at the State Level

The slaughter of horses for human consumption finally ended on US soil when laws were enacted at the state level shutting the three remaining plants – Beltex and Dallas Crown in Texas and Cavel International in Illinois – in 2007. These laws, however, do not prevent the live export of horses for slaughter.

Success at the Federal Level

Funding for USDA Inspections Cut from the Federal Budget

During the 109th Congress, sponsors of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503/S. 311) successfully sought enactment of a rider in the Agriculture budget bill denying funding for USDA inspections of horse slaughtering operations under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. §§ 601 et seq.). Such inspections are required for the marketing of meat considered fit for human consumption, including horse meat.

The funding prohibition was originally enacted in 2005 as part of the FY2006 Agriculture Appropriations Act. However, the USDA responded by adopting new rules that allowed the slaughterhouses to pay for the inspections themselves. A 2007 court ruling ordered the USDA to stop these inspections, thereby ending the possibility of horse slaughter.[2]

This USDA defunding measure was continued in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill for each following fiscal year until FY2012. See more below.
Funding for Necessary Inspections Sought by States

Following the federal funding cuts for USDA horse slaughter inspections, state legislators began introducing bills to pave the way for the return of horse slaughter to US soil at the urging of the pro-horse slaughter lobby. Their goal was to find a way to bypass federal law by creating their own state horse meat inspection programs.

Federal agriculture officials called that presumption into question, stating that the restrictions that ban USDA inspectors from overseeing the killing and processing of horses also apply to all state inspection programs.

“There is no possibility under the current law for a state-inspected meat plant to ship any meat, interstate or internationally, for human consumption,” said USDA spokesman Neil Gaffney.[3]

Thwarted at the state level, the pro-horse slaughter lobby returned to Washington to seek what they wanted.

Federal Funding for Inspections Reinstated

The spending cut for USDA inspections necessary to export horse meat for human consumption came to an abrupt halt in 2011 when President Obama signed the Agricultural Appropriations Bill for FY2012 into law. The provision was removed, reinstated and removed again from the bill in Committee by Tea Party Republicans using the “closed door session” trick at the behest of the horse slaughter lobby.[4]

However, the Agriculture Appropriations bill did not allocate any new spending to pay for horse meat inspections which opponents claim would cost taxpayers $3 million to $5 million a year. In order to pay for these inspections, the USDA would be forced to find the money in its existing budget at a time when Congress and the White House are constantly seeking ways to reduce federal spending.

The fiscal year for the Agriculture Appropriations bill ends September 30, 2012. Legislators favoring a ban on horse slaughter are determined to see the funding for USDA inspections necessary to export horse meat for human consumption cut once again for the next fiscal year. There is every reason to believe they will be successful.

Live Export of Horses for Slaughter Continues

It is important to note that none of the legislative activities cited above ended the live export of American horses across US borders for the purposes of slaughter but increased it dramatically. Latest government reports show that approximately 150,000 American horses are killed each year in Mexico and Canada, virtually the same number as when plants were in operation on US soil. This includes live export of young horses to Japan to be slaughtered for their meat.

Other Federal Activity

GAO Report

On June 22, 2011 the long-awaited United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report[5] requested by the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2010 was released for public scrutiny. The GAO was asked to investigate and report on any inadvertent consequences that arose as a result of the cessation of horse slaughter on US soil in 2007. (i.e. the effect on the market, market changes on various organizations and challenges in the transport and welfare of US horses exported for slaughter).

By all accounts the first intimation of deceitfulness, later confirmed, evolved with a statement made by paid horse slaughter/meat packing lobbyist Charles Stenholm months before its release that alluded to the fact that the findings of the GAO survey would be favorable from a pro-slaughter perspective.[6]

While the way the information was gathered and whom it was gathered from is disturbing, the most important aspect of the GAO report is its recommendations. The GAO’s principle recommendation was:

“Congress may wish to consider instituting an explicit ban on the domestic slaughter of horses and export of U.S. horses intended for slaughter in foreign countries.”

The GAO’s secondary recommendation was:

“. . . . that Congress may wish to reconsider restrictions on the use of federal funds to inspect horses for slaughter”.

Although these two recommendations are contradictory in nature, it is important to note that the GAO’s principle recommendation is to institute an “explicit ban” on the slaughter and export for slaughter of American horses. This was based on the conclusion that the USDA did not conduct their monitoring duties properly.

The GAO’s second recommendation was to restore the USDA inspections necessary to export horse meat. This would potentially open the door to the return of horse slaughter in the U.S. This has not turned out to be so, not is it ever likely.

FDA Petitioned to Remove Horses from Human Food Chain

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is being petitioned to prevent former companion, working and competition horses from entering the human food chain.

Front Range Equine Rescue and The Humane Society of the United States say the FDA does not adequately regulate what they describe as potentially toxic meat from these sources. Their petition says some drugs given to these horses throughout their lives are banned by the FDA because of their risks to humans.

“Using these horses for human consumption creates an unacceptable and illegal public health threat under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act,” the groups said.”

The petition requests that the FDA certify all horses and horse meat from American horses as “unqualified” for human consumption.[7] If successful, this has the potential of ending the slaughter of all American horses.

European Sanctions Regarding American Horse Meat

EU Quarantine of American Slaughter Horses Bound for Canada

Apart from the obvious legal ramifications in North America, there is yet another reason to avoid re-opening horse slaughtering facilities.

In 2009, the Int’l Fund for Horses began alerting the European Parliament of the fact that “horse meat exported from North America to EU member countries where it is eaten, is adulterated because of the presence of Bute[8] and other prohibited medications routinely given to horses in the United States and Canada.”[9]

The Int’l Fund for Horses were proven justified in doing so.

Decades of USDA studies asserting Canadian horse meat is chemically harmless have been branded bogus by a new peer reviewed scientific study.

The paper, titled “Association of Phenylbutazone Usage With Horses Bought for Slaughter: A Public Health Risk” appeared in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.[10]

This study questions USDA and CFIA horse meat testing capabilities. USDA and CFIA programs have consistently given horse meat exported for the dinner tables of Europe and other destinations a clean bill of health despite containing residues of Bute and scores of other dangerous chemicals potentially toxic to humans.

The EU responded with a new directive that equines from North America must be quarantined for a period of six months prior to slaughter for human consumption. Equine owners would now be required to record medical conditions and treatment history if they intend to present their horses for slaughter for human consumption.

The required records are in the form of an Equine Information Document (EID) that must be presented for each equine processed for edible purposes in a CFIA inspected processing facility start on July 31, 2010 forward.[11] This rigorous enforcement of food safety regulations closely follows the current regime in Europe wherein EU countries use a “passport system” for slaughter animals that serves to document what substances animals have received over their lifetimes with the purpose of banning meat tainted by drugs. In the instance of horses, this would include those commonly given to horses, such as antibiotics, wormers and Bute, among others.[12]

Any country that intends to export food animals to the EU must have proper documentation and procedures in place that parallel those in the EU.[13]

The Int’l Fund for Horses, unhappy with the CFIA’s response to the EU directive states:

“The CFIA have devised a system of merely reporting horse health histories, instead of quarantining them, as ordered by the European Union’s recent directive regarding slaughter horses in North America.

“Moreover, in 2007, a Wisconsin woman “has been fined for selling horses without testing them for disease and forging documents claiming the tests had been done.” Although this took place before the EU mandate, this is an obvious warning that the CFIA cannot rely on the integrity of its Equine Information Document.”[14]

In an interview with Henry Skjerven, a former director of the Natural Valley Farms slaughter plant in Saskatchewan, Canada, the truth behind horse slaughter becomes apparent:

“Unfortunately, North America, and Canada, were never geared for raising horses for food consumption. The system as it stood when we were killing horses was in no way, shape or form, safe, in my opinion.”

Skjerven states further:

“We did not know where those horses were coming from, what might be in them or what they were treated with. I was always in fear – I think that it was very valid – that we were going to send something across there [to the EU] and we were simply going to get our doors locked after we had some kind of issue with the product.”[15]

Implementation and Enforcement of EU Sanctions

Since the execution of the new EU directive in Canada as of July 31, 2010, the enforcement of these new regulations appears to be comparatively lax.

The flow of horses across the border from US livestock auctions and killer buyers to Canada has not waned, nor has anything been reported on refusal of loads at the slaughter plants. Seemingly then, the EU continues to import drug-tainted horse meat.

Over 50% of the horses slaughtered in Canada for human consumption come from the US. Most, if not all, have received many of the drugs banned from the food chain and will not be quarantined for the requisite time frame for these drugs to have been eliminated from their systems.

In particular, Bute is administered on a regular basis to relieve pain, particularly in sport horses, and is inappropriately likened to the term “aspirin”. In fact, any animal that receives Bute is banned from ever entering the food chain as it is a known carcinogen thereby completely eliminating them from human consumption.

Even more alarming, some kill buyers have indicated that they are unconcerned about the new regulations and will simply falsify the required Equine Information Document (EID) paperwork themselves. This is a common occurrence for other test certificates (e.g. Coggins) which are routinely anecdotal. The question then remains. How will the CFIA and EU regulators verify compliance?

Canadian Horse Defence Coalition Investigation

In early December 2011, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) released footage and photos obtained by an anonymous source at Les Viandes de la Petite-Nation in St. Andre-Avallin, Quebec.[16] This is the third such investigation in recent years at other Canadian slaughterhouses that has uncovered countless problems relating to both animal welfare and fraudulent documentation regarding the drug history of horses sold to slaughter.

Alarming from a food safety perspective and compliance with the EID regulations was the disturbing inconsistencies and missing information on the EID forms where all documents examined revealed omissions to varying degrees. This ranged from incomplete owner/agent information to several instances where the accompanying photographs failed to match that of the horse. Moreover, it was found that as many or more than six were racehorses, one of which had competed just three months prior to slaughter. This is in complete violation of the EU and Canadian regulations given that undeniably these horses were administered Bute which unquestionably identifies the fraudulent practices conducted by the CFIA.

Not only were there glaring inconsistencies in documentation but the anonymously-captured footage revealed inhumane stunning practices that failed to render at least 40% of the horses immediately unconscious with some still alive during the slaughter process. In one extremely disturbing scene, a large Belgian horse received an unbelievable 11 stunning attempts.

In any case what is unfathomable is that the CFIA persist in contributing to heightened food safety risks while allowing the importation of US horses without proper documentation. Indeed, how can this continue, especially in light of the stringent new regulations that are to be implemented by 2013?[17]

EU Inspection of Mexican Horse Slaughter Plants

In May of 2011 a report was released by the European Commission Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) regarding inspections of EU regulated plants in Mexico slaughtering horses for human consumption during the latter part of 2010.[18]

The objective of the FVO was to verify the consistency and accuracy of meeting EU requirements for importing horse meat for human consumption.

In the report filed by the FVO a number of serious infractions and actions taken were cited. Some of these violations that failed to meet EU regulations included; hygiene and water quality provided for the horses, non-traceable carcasses some of which were in contact with EU eligible horse meat, presence of EU prohibited drug residues, falsified sworn statements regarding veterinary medical treatment histories including cases of positive results for EU prohibited drug residues; as well as the transportation of horses in advanced stages of pregnancy, with health problems or illness that were rejected at the border.

No doubt if similar inspections were conducted in Canada the same findings would prevail. It is beyond comprehension how these fraudulent practices continue particularly in light of the serious implications of food safety for human consumption and is nothing more than criminal.

Introduction of Enhanced EU Sanctions

While the current system may be inadequately implemented, this initiative is only the first in a series of new regulations that by 2013 are expected to generate an electronic database with full medical histories wherein the EID is to be an implanted microchip in each and every horse destined for slaughter. Any horses flagged for banned substances will be considered ineligible.

How then will the current enforcement of these regulations develop to guarantee this happens? It is doubtful they will comply or adopt any formal procedures to provide sufficient information for the completion of a Canadian EID.

Collapse of Horse Meat Market Anticipated

The market for North American horse meat may be on the verge of collapse.

Many European importers have promised customers that they will no longer purchase horse meat from the North American supply chain. This stems in part from the realization of the extreme cruelty of the slaughter pipeline in North America and Mexico, as exposed by GAIA, a respected animal welfare in Belgium, and Animals’ Angels USA,[19] together with the growing awareness that horses in North America are not subject to the restrictions that apply to traditional food animals and have been administered otherwise forbidden drugs.

Canadian Legislation to Ban Horse Slaughter

Additionally, Canada tabled first time legislation banning horse slaughter.

On June 16, 2010, Canadian Parliament by MP Alex Atamanenko (NDP Agriculture Critic) tabled a Private Member’s Bill, C-544[20], banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

The underlying basis of the bill is directly related to food safety as horses in North America are not primarily raised for human consumption.[21] Moreover, it is an explicit response to the current EU regulations given that the majority of slaughter-bound horses cannot be in compliance with the EU quarantine mandate due to enforcement failures.

C-544 did not advance before the Session adjourned. However, thousands of signatures were gathered on petitions in nearly every province. On October 5, 2011 the bill was re-introduced as Bill C-322[22] in the current session and the signed petitions carried forward. The bill currently sits in its first reading in the House of Commons.
[1] Int’l Fund for Horses; Horse Slaughter Legislative Timeline; ; 1998-2011.

[2] New York Bar Association, Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals; ; undated.

[3] Young, JoAnne; Federal law would not allow horse meat to be shipped out of state; Lincoln Journal-Star; ; Feb. 28, 2011.

[4] Eckhoff, Vickery; How many politicians does it take to screw a horse?; Forbes Magazine; ; Dec. 21, 2011.

[5] ; pdf, 68 pp; Jun. 22, 2011.

[6] Long, Steven; Key Government Report Leaked; Horseback Magazine; ; Jun. 3, 2011.

[7] See Petition at .

[8] Dr. Bob Wright – Veterinary Scientist, Equine and Alternative Livestock/OMAFRA; Phenylbutazone (Bute) Use in Horses; ; Dec. 1, 2004.

[9] Int’l Fund for Horses; Canadian Food Inspection Agency readies for new EU directive on slaughter horses; Tuesday’s Horse, ; Jan. 31, 2010.

[10] Nicholas Dodman, Nicolas Blondeau and Ann M. Marini; Association of Phenylbutazone Usage with Horses Bought for Slaughter: A Public Health Risk; ; Feb. 17, 2010.

[11] Horse Industry Association of Alberta; Proposed regulations for horses going into the food chain; ; 2010.

[12] Vets for Equine Welfare Fact Sheet: Medications and US Horse Meat; ; Feb. 2007.

[13] Explanatory memorandum to the horse passport regulations 2009 No. 1611; Office of Public Sector Information, UK; ; Jun. 2, 2009.

[14] Int’l Fund for Horses; CFIA reporting system for slaughter horses flawed and unenforceable; Tuesday’s Horse; ; Feb. 9, 2010.

[15] Ibid.


[17] Ibid.

[18] Int’l Fund for Horses; Inspectors Find Serious Violations at EU Regulated Horse Slaughter Plants in Mexico; ; May 3, 2011.


[20] House of Commons Canada; Bill Text C-544; ; Jun. 16, 2010.

[21] Int’l Fund for Horses; Atamanenko moves to ban horse meat for human consumption in Canada; Tuesday’s Horse; ; Jun. 17, 2010.

[22] Open Parliament; Private Member’s Bill C-322; 41st Parliament, 1st Session;


“When Horse Slaughter Comes to Town”, Int’l Fund for Horses Special Report; Written and Researched by JANE ALLIN, Edited by VIVIAN GRANT FARRELL.

Part 1: Environmental Impact | Part 2: Economic Growth, Employment and Community Welfare | Part 3: Legal Implications | Part 4: Opposition to Horse Slaughter | Part 5: Alternatives to Horse Slaughter | Part 6: Conclusion

— Download Full Report (pdf, 25 pp):
When Horse Slaughter Comes To Town-March 28, 2012

© Int’l Fund for Horses

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