Trojan Horse Slaughter

As Americans watch Europeans condemn the discovery of horsemeat in their Ikea meatballs, we can take some solace in the fact that, for once, we’ve sidestepped an industrial food-related travesty. Our complacency, however, could be short-lived. Although less dramatic than horse DNA adulterating ground beef, another horse-related scandal is about to implicate U.S. citizens in a scheme that will send tainted horsemeat into foreign markets while enriching U.S. horse slaughterers with taxpayer dollars.  

The last U.S.-based horse slaughterhouse closed in 2007. The phasing out of horse slaughter in the United States ended the exportation of U.S.-produced horsemeat to Canada, Europe, and Japan. This development, among other accomplishments, spelled the decline of a niche business that profited from a product that American taxpayers financially supported (through USDA inspection of horse slaughterhouses) but were loathe to consume (plus, it’s illegal to sell horsemeat in the U.S.). 

Over the past six years, though, a small cohort of national lobbyists and state representatives has worked to reopen U.S. horse slaughterhouses. Five states—Oklahoma, Montana, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Iowa—have already taken legislative steps in that direction. Their collective justification for doing so is that U.S. slaughterhouses are better for the welfare of horses. Without them, they argue, an endless stream of retired race horses will inevitably head to Mexico for slaughter, a terrifying prospect for animals who, advocates further contend, will meet an especially gruesome south-of-the-border death. 

On the surface, this argument seems to make sense. Why slaughter horses abroad when we can do so at home? A closer look, however, reveals three problems, each of which suggests that any claim to reinstate horse slaughter on welfare grounds is simply a cynical ploy to dupe Americans into supporting a business most of us find abhorrent.  

First, advocates of U.S. horse slaughter—the very people who insist they care about shortening the distance a horse travels for slaughter—opposed legislation restricting the distance horses could travel in the aftermath of the American closings. Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state representative and the most vocal proponent of reopening slaughterhouses (they call her “Slaughterhouse Sue”), wrote in 2009 that, “A key early initiative is to muster resources to oppose bills now pending in Congress that would ban the transportation of horses to other countries for the purpose of slaughter.” The intent here was as simple as it was sinister: to normalize long horse hauls to foreign soil and then highlight its inherent cruelty, thereby buttressing the case for a more “humane” local option.

Second, the claim that Mexican slaughterhouses are comparatively inhumane is equally problematic. Plants where U.S. horses have been slaughtered in Mexico are owned by the same European Union companies that once owned horse slaughterhouses in the United States. Supporters of local slaughter suggest that U.S. horses are being killed in an especially cruel and unregulated manner in Mexican-owned slaughterhouses, mainly by stabbing them in the spine. In fact, EU companies deploy standard procedures, using (most notably) captive bolt guns to stun horses before bleeding and processing them, just as they do in Europe and once did in the U.S. Ironically, the only documented cases we have of horse slaughterhouse cruelty and abuse come from the U.S. (back when slaughterhouses were legal).

Third, advocates of U.S. horse slaughter insist that, without the reinstitution of slaughter at home, an unmanageable number of horses will continue to suffer the indignities described above. But the numbers don’t support this claim. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. horses die of natural causes or are euthanized at home. Bill Bullard, a California state representative and supporter of U.S. horse slaughter, says that the horse industry is desperate for “a way to dispose of our old, diseased, lame horses.” In fact, that problem has already been solved for the overwhelming majority of horses. They die the way our pets die—more often than not with quiet dignity.

Duplicity is one thing. But the upshot of this manufactured crisis is even worse: an impending public health disaster of global proportions. What supporters of U.S. slaughter never tell us is that the 150,000 or so U.S. horses that are annually slaughtered for export are bombarded daily with a hit list of toxic drugs, most notably phenylbutazone (“bute”), a common painkiller. While innocuous for horses, bute can cause, even in trace doses, aplastic anemia, agranulocytosis, thrombocytopenia, leucopenia, pancytopenia, and hemolytic anemia in humans. Eating U.S. horses, according to Tufts Veterinary professor Nicolas Dodman, “is about as healthful as food contaminated with DDT.”  The USDA currently has no program to regulate these substances.  

In other words, lost in all the discussions about horse slaughter and horsemeat is a fundamental point: horses are not raised for food. They are, in essence, an industrial product. For Americans to recycle them into an edible but toxic by-product for foreigners to eat, doing so with taxpayer dollars and through an underfunded USDA, would be bad for everyone involved, most notably the 150,00 horses a year who’d be much better off not being used as Trojan horses to hide the profits of those who claim to care about them.


Many of the claims made in this article are either ignorant or sadly misinformed. Abandoned and starving horses are a huge problem in many parts of the country. I know several people involved in horse rescue, and some of the most vocal proponents of horse slaughter in the US come from the very people who see every day what happens when families can no longer afford to feed their horses due to a job loss or other setback.

VIckery Eckhoff

How many abandoned/starving horses are there, Douglas? I'm looking for a number to back up your assertion of a "huge problem."

No one else has come up with one; perhaps you know something even Skye McNiel and the Oklahoma lawmakers who passed HB1999 don't?


Ms. Eckoff, I don't think exact numbers of horses which are suffering is the key statistic. I think the fact that equine rescue organizations are operating above capacity and must regularly turn away horses is extremely important. If people don't want horses slaughtered for human consumption, then they need to come up with another solution, putting their time and money where their mouth is. Equine rescue organizations, especially in poorer and more economically distressed parts of the country cannot meet the demand.

Sheri Ellenbecker

I own quite a few horses (right now down to 10) so I feel my opinion bears some weight. To think that horse slaughter is equal to other domestic animal slaughter on a FSIS or USDA inspection basis is faulty logic. Horses are never foaled with the intention of going to consumption slaughter in this country. From the age of 6 weeks they are wormed (usually every 8 weeks). If they get a cut or anything that breaks the skin they get treated with an ointment (nitrofurazone) which is banned in animals for human consumption. If the cut is very bad they get bute to reduce the pain and the swelling. Bute is also banned in animals for human consumption. All of this ocurrs on a regular basis but is never recorded--a vet does not usually do this-the vet has RX'd the bute in a 100 tablet bottle for the herd for use as needed. The ointment is bought at the farm store but the label clearly says "by Federal Law not for animals intended for human consumption" These are just a few examples.
When someone presents cattle for butcher they can tell you where these cattle have been and what they have gotten. If one of their cattle is sampled post mortem and it turns up with drugs they get in trouble (and so does their vet). The carcass is condemned and they do not get paid for that carcass.
IT is not that way with horses--cattle are killed before 30 month of age mostly. At 30 months of age most horses have not even begun their work career. You can't compare them but I know that almost all horses have had things not permitted in the food chain.



As a taxpayer, responsible horse owner, and part of the 80% of Americans that strongly oppose equine slaughter, I do not want one cent of my hard earned taxpayer dollars diverted from USDA inspections of American consumed products. It is not okay to poison foreign consumers just because Mexico and Canada do it. If you want to eat horses, you are welcome to travel to another country and enjoy your bute.
If slaughterphiles would stop abusing/neglecting/starving horses, overbreeding, and treating them like disposable lighters, equine abuse would be greatly reduced. Seems majority of animal cruelty cases involving horses are committed by pro-slaughter maggots who are repeat offenders. I favor stiffer penalties for criminals. 900 pages of USDA FOIA documents prove equine slaughter is inherently inhumane and so is the slaughter pipeline, animal welfare and slaughter don't go in the same sentence together, so don't even go there. They are all a bunch of upstanding, ethical, and responsible citizens! Yeah right!
All forms of animal neglect increase in hard economic times, did you not hear about the economic collapse of '08? Irresponsible overbreeding by breed associations (like AQHA) that are paid per registration, have not helped the market stabilize. Millions of dogs & cats are euthanized each year because of irresponsible breeding, what's next? slaughter them and export as food product?


LB Allen

Excellent article, clearly written, and right on the money (pun intended).

Linda F

This is the best article I have read o nthis issue. You have succinctly covered the reasons to ban slaughter and shipment out of country for that purpose. In the same article you have pointed out with perfect accuracy the hidden agenda of a small group of people who have only their self-interest at heart at the expense of people and horses. Kudos.


Canada regularly proves access to horse slaughter has absolutely no affect on whether or not horses will be starved. Have a look at these horse starvation cases from the Province of Alberta, Canada, the very same Province where Canada's largest horse slaughter plant, Bouvry Exports, is located.

This case is recent, from 2013, it involves 58 starved and neglected horses and happened a short 52 mile drive from Bouvry Exports slaughterhouse:
Additionally, this case happened in 2011 and involved 140 horses and 200 cows (167 miles from Bouvry Exports kill plant):
This case happened in 2010 involving 33 starving horses (446 miles from Bouvry Exports kill plant):
This case happened in 2008 and involved 101 horses (350 miles from Bouvry Export kill plant):



Great article and very well written. In the US we have strict guidelines under which our food animals must be raised. Our horses are not, nor have they ever been, raised as food animals in this country. As a result, those food safety guidelines have never applied to our horses. In the course of regular care, we Americans often give our horses substances which are banned by the FDA, CFIA and EUFSA from use in ANY animal intended for human consumption at any time in its life. Currently CFIA does not even test for BUTE. The FDA classifies horses as companion animals not as an agricultural product. Because our horses are not raised as food animals, there can be no ‘lot’ or ‘batch’ (indicating something of the same) testing for residues to obtain a reasonable confidence that the meat would be safe to eat. Throughout a horses life it may change owners multiple times! They often don’t remain with the original owners, aren’t kept under the same conditions, aren’t given the same feed, aren’t medically treated the same way, and the majority of owners have no idea what is or isn’t allowed in animals used as food animals, because we don’t raise them as food animals. The only thing the ‘same’ about our horses is that they are horses. Since U.S. horses can’t be labeled as the ‘same’ they could not be lot or batch tested for chemical residues. Each and every U.S. horse would have to be individually tested for chemical residues. That would cost a lot of tax payer dollars for a product we do not eat or want. As for the animal cruelty spin the pro slaughters use, i find it interesting that when you hear about seizures of multiple horses because of abuse and neglect, they often come from pro slaughter advocates is a link to one such case, and this one has been in this situation multiple times.. Abuse and neglect have nothing to do with Horse Slaughter, it has to do with people who abuse and neglect. Slaughter proponents argue that horse slaughter is necessary for owners to dispose of old, sick, and skinny, dangerous animals. (I don't know any anti slaughter people personally who have any horses that fit those descriptions..must be a pro slaughter problem)Yet evidence found at horse slaughter plants—and USDA data—reveals that 92% of the horses slaughtered are young (under eight years of age) and 96% are in good or excellent condition.
Bottom line, this is not a horse is a human problem..I wish people would just get it right..