Government Accountability Office releases report on horse slaughter

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Horse in fogEither allow domestic horse slaughter in the United States or ban it and the export of horses to foreign countries for slaughter. This is the recommendation made by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in the long-awaited report on horse slaughter. Click here to read the full report.

Officially titled, “Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter,” the report explores if and how horse welfare has been affected by the de facto ban on horse slaughter beginning in 2007. While slaughter is not technically illegal, the USDA is prohibited from funding inspections of horse meat or horses for slaughter, effectively eliminating the practice. Some of the aspects of horse welfare taken into consideration for the GAO report are rates of neglect and abandonment, sale prices of horses, and welfare of horses being transported to slaughter.

The report finds that horse welfare in the United States has declined since the closure of the American slaughterhouses, although that decline appears to be due in part to insufficient regulations protecting horses and not simply the lack of a domestic slaughter option. In fact, one of the GAO’s proposals is to explicitly ban horse slaughter and the export of horses to slaughter for human consumption. The report’s final recommendation is as follows:

 

“…to allow USDA to better ensure horse welfare…Congress may wish to consider allowing USDA to again use appropriated funds to inspect U.S. horses being transported to slaughter. Also, Congress may wish to consider allowing USDA to again use appropriated funds to inspect horses at domestic slaughtering facilities…Alternatively, Congress may wish to consider instituting and explicit ban on the domestic slaughter of horses and export of U.S. horses instead for slaughter in foreign countries.”

 

Some of the report’s findings:

  • Prices for low- to mid-priced horses decreased as much as 21% due to the end of domestic slaughter with the lowest-priced horses being affected the most. The sale prices on high-end horses were not significantly affected. The GAO used horse prices from three large auctions that deal in both loose (unbroke horses typically sold for meat) and riding horses and therefore do not include any data from private sales. The median sale price from the data used was $1,400.
  • At the same time, the economic downturn depressed horse prices by around 5% at all price levels, including high-end horses. In other words, while slaughterhouse closures had a much greater impact than the economy on low-end horses’ sale prices, any decrease in selling price for higher end horses was likely a result of the recession. For the purposes of this research, high-end horses are those that sold at auction for more than $1,750.
  • In interviewing state veterinarians and animal welfare associations, the GAO found widespread but anecdotal reports of an increase in horse neglect and abandonment since 2007. No official statistics exist, however.
  • Horses being shipped to slaughter now travel more than 200 miles farther than they did prior to the closure of the American slaughterhouses. Furthermore, the U.S. laws for humane transport no longer apply after the horses have crossed the border into Canada or Mexico.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) transport regulation was established in 2001 to protect the welfare of horses being shipped to slaughter. Among other things, the regulation states that shippers must provide adequate food, water and rest, trailers must have sufficient space and ventilation, stallions and aggressive horses must be segregated from others, and horses must not be blind in both eyes, unable to bear weight on all four legs, or nearing their foaling date. The GAO report found that the current system has some gaping holes preventing enforcement of the transport regulation.

  • When horses are transported to slaughter, they may stop at feedlots along the way and aren’t designated as “for slaughter” until the final leg of their journey. The transport regulation only protects horses with that designation, so APHIS has no power to enforce regulations until that final leg of what is often a very long trip.
  • Because the USDA is prohibited from funding horse inspections, the officers charged with ensuring that drivers taking horses to slaughterhouses cannot actually examine the horses, only their documentation. APHIS proposed an amendment to fix this loophole in 2007, but the USDA has not yet implemented the change.
  • The transport program has insufficient funding with only two staff members and a limited travel budget. Because of this, they are unable to provide enforcement at the many Mexican and Canadian border crossings that horses are shipped through.

In response to the GAO’s recommendations, the USDA has agreed to work to implement the APHIS’s proposed amendment to expand the transport regulation. The USDA has also said that they will train additional personnel to enforce transport regulations and work with officials from Canada, Mexico, and the Texas Department of Agriculture to ensure consistent handling of slaughter horses throughout the shipping process.

Horse slaughter will continue to be a highly controversial issue within the horse industry and the federal government. Earlier this month, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced SB 1176, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would outlaw sale or transport of horses or horse meat for human consumption. The bill is currently sitting in committee and has not been scheduled for a vote.

Further Reading
How Humane is Horse Slaughter?
Horse Welfare: Action needed to address the unintended consequences from cessation of domestic slaughter

21 COMMENTS

  1. Lets not forget that horse meat is poisonous.
    Horse meat is unfit for humans to eat. Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 48, Issue 5, May 2010, Pages 1270-1274
    Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: A public health risk
    Nicholas Dodman, Nicolas Blondeau, Ann M. Marini http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T6P-4YF5RB0-1&_user=10&_coverDate=05%2F31%2F2010&_alid=1317753422&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_cdi=5036&_sort=r&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=4&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=2f8a2c55a559e5963d0f1e02b682319c
    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – prohibited as well Phenylbutazone, known as “bute,” is a veterinary drug only label-approved by the Food & Drug Administration for use by veterinarians in dogs and horses. It has been associated with debilitating conditions in humans and it is absolutely not permitted for use in food-producing animals. USDA/FSIS has conducted a special project to for this drug in selected bovine slaughter plants under federal inspection. An earlier pilot project by FSIS found traces less than 3% of the livestock selected for testing, sufficient cause for this special project. There is no tolerance for this drug in food-producing livestock, and they and their by-products are condemned when it is detected. Dairy producers must not use this drug in food-producing livestock and if it is found, those producers will be subject to FDA investigation and possible prosecution. http://www.saanendoah.com/prohibiteddrugs.html

  2. Its funny how pro slaughter groups knew the results before the reports were out.. Funny how the GAO did NOT mention the economy as it has affected car sales, home sales, vacations, etc everything has been affected by this economy. Also funny how the GAO did NOT mention the (FOIA) Freedom of informations acts. which clearly shows a page report of abuse and what kind of people were rewarded at the plants. The GAO did NOT mention how history shows pro slaughter have NO RECORD of helping, promoting or donating to any Horse rescues in the US. Horse slaughter is merely a reward for criminals and irresponsible people who are making money PERIOD… The GAO has failed responsible people’s trust.

  3. I feel the decline of horse welfare is not do to closing slaughter houses but rather the down fall in our economy. If people were more well off financially and capable of keeping their equines, there would be far less horses headed to auctions and then the unfortunate ones heading out of the country to be tortured to death and then eaten. Just because you can’t physically feel their pain in this doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Slaughter will not be the correction for this problem. Our govt should pass the anti slaughter bill introduced by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) SB 1176, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. We need to get this bill out of committee and passed in the Senate. The House did the right thing, they passed it.

  4. WHAT A SAD ISSUE. I REALLY HATE THE THOUGHT OF HORSES (ALL ANIMALS FOR THAT MATTER) SUFFERING DUE TO HUMAN IGNORANCE, BUT WOULD PUTING A STOP TO THE EXPORTING OF HORSES FOR SLAUGHTER, OR RE-OPENING THE SLAUGHTER HOUSES HERE REALLY FIX THE UNWANTED HORSE PROBLEM? I THINK ONE OF THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS WITH UNWANTED HORSES IS OVERBREEDING BY EVERYONE. RANCHES AND BACK-YARD OWNERS ALIKE. THE SECOND BIGGEST REASON TO ME IS THE FINACIAL SITUATION THAT MAJORITY OF PEOPLE ARE IN. I AM CONSTANTLY HEARING OF PEOPLE WANTING TO DOWNSIZE BECAUSE OF NOT BEING ABLE TO AFFORD CARE FOR THE MANY HORSES THEY HAVE. I JUST HEARD THIS WEEK OF OVER 50 HORSES GETTING READY TO BE TURNED LOOSE BY A MAN WHO ISNT ABLE TO CARE FOR THEM ANYMORE IF HOMES ARENT FOUND FOR THEM ASAP. NO ONE CAN REALLY AFFORD THESE SKY-HIGH CARE COSTS ANYMORE. SO THEY JUST WANT OUT OF THE HORSE BUSINESS. I’VE EVEN DOWNSIZED MYSELF OVER THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS, TO ONE GELDING I RIDE, AND A MINI GELDING AS HIS PASTURE MATE. I HAVE PEOPLE ALL THE TIME WANTING TO KNOW IF I WANT ANOTHER HORSE. A FREE HORSE DOESNT MEAN FREE CARE AND FOOD. I JUST CANT AFFORD ANYMORE AT THIS TIME. BOTTOM LINE….THE FACT IS….TOO MANY HORSES AND NOT ENOUGH MONEY TO CARE FOR THEM ISNT GETTING RESLOVED. ITS JUST A SAD SITUATION, THAT PROBABLY WONT GET RESOLVED EITHER.

  5. Thanks for this info. Is this going to be their excuse to re-open horse slaughter in US. Or will they just accept better inspections and conditions on the way to die in Mexico. Or… will there be a total ban. Does this answer these questions, or are the questions still there, just as before. Ban transport and slaughter of horses. Americas Shame!!

  6. I agree with the others. The decline in horse welfare and prices has nothing to do with the closing of slaughter houses. It has to do with the economy. I wish these idiots in the congress would open their eyes to the big picture. So the rise in foreclosures has to do with too many houses being built? Give me a break. Its about the welfare of the horses and thats the only thing that matters. They are living breathing animals with feelings. Over breeding is a serious cause. Backyard breeding should be banned.

  7. I ride a formaly wild Mustang and love him more than anything. If horse slaughter is passed then they will try to murder hundreds of wild Mustangs. I dont like horse slaughter to begain with, ignorince is the only motive. And if they do sluaghter the wild Mustangs, then they will be slaughtering the spirit of the American west, killing of our own icon and many people’s future horses. The Nez Perce Tribe, which I am desended from, managed thousands of horses, sometimes with as many as 10 horses per 1 person in the family band. If we could do it then so can they. I would hate to look into my Mustang’s eyes and tell him his breed is dying in slaughter houses, for no reason other then ignorince and people’s unwillingness to share the land with them. My Mustang has such a spirit, he is the most loving, protective, smartest, and defenetly one of the best trail buddy horses around. Yet everywhere we go people fear and disrespect him when they see the brand. I dream of the days when Mustangs will be loved and respected, both wild and domestic, and the sluaghter houses would kill that dream. Lets partner with and respect the land and all its creatures. Its the money issues and people probloms that are negleacting the horses that would go to sluaghter. We caused this issue, and we should fix it, but as always death is not the answer.

  8. I HATE HATE HATE horse slaughter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Horses are beautiful animals and AWESOME friends!!!!! I want with all of my heart for it to be illegal to slaughter horses in America and to ship them to other countries to be killed!!!!! Horses (acually no animal) deserved to be treated this way!!! PERIOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Lets put it this way.. Anti slaughter folks do NOT get paid for lobbying and speaking out for the abolishment of horse slaughter. People who support slaughter get paid to Lobby and speak out for slaughter. These people are AG,Farm Bureau, Cargil, AQHA, APHA, HCI, AVMA, AAEP, Beef,Pork industry. Why these people because of the lies we will stop their business too. All these people get paid your taxes to support horse slaughter and None of them have a history of promoting or donating to any horse rescues in the US.

  10. Horse slaughter has its place in the equine world. I have seen more unwanted starving horses since the closure of the plant than I have ever seen. I say reopen them.

  11. Ok, heres how I see it:
    Its ok to slaughter and eat horses AS LONG as they have been killed/euthanized humanly! Because once they are killed they don’t know that they are being eaten.

  12. Horse meat is not healthy for humans, it is not meant to be eaten. If breeders, of all breeds, would be more diligent and not so much on the money angle there wouldn’t be so many unwanted nor uncared for horses. The economy definately has an affect on the horse industry. I wish breeders would reconsider less breeding. Horse slaughter plants are an unwanted industry in the USA. We do not need another nonpaying tax commodity that not only is not only uncaring to horses but cruel and enviromentally destructive, to the land and most important the water. And where do you think all the unuseable parts of an animal go by these horse slaughter plants. Piled high on the ground, blood in the waters. Fines and penalties don’t effect that business, they just ignore them.
    I agree with one comment, it’s an easy out for the BLM.

  13. While I don’t like horse slaughter and would never let my horses succumb to it, I do see it as a necessary evil in some cases.

  14. No surprises here. The world has changed since 2007. The economy has gone down the drain. People have less disposable income. The horse industry has been affected. What industry hasn’t? What American has been untouched? The report fails to address several key things:
    1. Horses are not raised as a food animal. They are given lots of supplements, grains, wormers, fly sprays, vaccines, steroids etc. The majority of these items are marked “not for use on animals intended for human consumption” We are shipping poisonous chemically enhanced horsemeat to Canada and Mexico. For that reason alone, this should be a non-debate. It isnt healthy to eat things that cause cancer in humans and compromise internal organs.
    2. While the report notes that low end horses have been affected in price, it fails to put 2 & 2 together. People have less disposable income. People who can afford horses are being more selective at what they purchase. Young, untrained horses make up 90% of kill buyers loads. Where are these horses coming from? Breeders culls, drug companies byproducts and some back yards. Almost exactly same numbers of horses are being sent to slaughter today as in 2007. It does not take a million taxpayer dollars to figure out that there are individuals still choosing to produce quantity over quality, and now it is coming back to bite them. Before slaughter was the industries dirty little secret. Not any more.
    3. The GAO report also fails to address the environmental impact of slaughter plants. Let’s just say, it isnt green. Google “Paula Bacon and Slaughterhouse” or “when horse slaughter comes to town”
    4. The GAO report makes recommendations, but neglects a key one. Since the recession began, every major industry that hopes to survive has downsized. The auto makers, home builders & airlines did it to name a few. Now they are back on their way to recovery. The horse industry could do this too. Low cost gelding clinics for horses that are not breeding quality should be offered by groups including the breed associations. Not only will the horse numbers go down, the quality will go up. Higher end horse prices did not decrease, so this is a win win. The breed associations should also help provide safety nets for their horses. Examples include training mentor programs so untrained horses are being dumped into the market. Low cost euthanasia should be made available as well. (Slaughter and euthanasia are NOT the same thing) There should also be programs offering support for owners who may have hit a rough spot. There are food pantries for humans, the same should exist for the animals. The amount of money spent on this report alone could have set up many of these options.
    What can you do? Contact your states senators and tell them that you support sb 1176 and want them to support it too.

  15. If you read the GAO report, you will find that the majority of the report deals with the lack of compliance, the ommission of required documents, the mistreatment of equids during transport, the failure of government to police what they are charged to and lastly, the lack of ANYONE along the line (whether here in the US, in transport over the border or at the slaughterhouses) to step in and say STOP, this is wrong and against the law! That is where the third recommendation comes in: The recommendation that Congress permanently ban slaughter of American horses.
    I support the permanent ban (S.1176 does that) and ask that anyone who cares to live a moral and ethical life do the same.

  16. It seems that the lack of responsibility our society has succumb to has truly leaked into every phase of our human lives. I hope that we as a whole can find a way to instill humanity in our childrens hearts as it should be. True humanity is for all living creatures, because it all creatures that bring some form of enrichment to our lives. I will do what I can in my community, what will you do in yours?

  17. I think every slaughterhouse in the world should be destroyed. It is inhumane and disgusting.
    The slaughter people and Kill buyers are complete Jerks. If you promote horse slaughter your no different than one of those kill buyers.
    Good Work Recue Farms!!!!

  18. I HATE it when people kill horses for pet food and they should not be in slaughter what did the horses do to them?some one should stop it soon i can probley stop it from all this if i can?i`ll try to help them and all the wild mustangs and the horses in the slaughter horses.

  19. Horses are a beautiful part of God’s creation. They have plenty of things on their useful list and this is crazy. I would hate to be feeding a horse, dog , or cat to my dogs. so they now eat food I make and are all the better for it

  20. Horse slaughter is not only cruel and inhumane to horses, it is harmful to humans as well. In its lifetime, a horse is given medications and other toxic substances that would be harmful to humans and animals that consume its meat. Horse meat is not sold in the United States, but it is exported to other countries.
    Horses are beautiful, intelligent animals that bring joy and friendship into our lives. We need to protect these sensitive animals from being killed.
    Horses can’t speak for themselves, but we can be their voice. Let congress know that Americans won’t stand by while these precious animals are butchered.
    Please don’t be a bystander, be a rescuer! Follow this link to act today:
    http://act.wildhorsepreservation.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=13157

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