Current Status of Federal Laws Affecting Horse Slaughter

I have been working on a post outlining my personal stance on whether horse slaughter should be resumed in the United States. Last week, we discussed the legal history of horse slaughter in Texas. To provide a more complete backdrop for my upcoming post, I am providing for you this week a summary of federal laws addressing horse slaughter.  For as the old cliché goes, you can't know where you are going until you know where you have been. 

Starting in Fiscal Year 2006, Congress included language in annual appropriations bills that prohibited the use of federal funds for inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for horses in transit to slaughter and at slaughter facilities. At that time, the three remaining U.S. slaughterhouses included Dallas Crown, Inc. in Kaufman, Texas, Beltex Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas, and Cavel International, Inc. in DeKalb, Illinois. These facilities stayed open by paying for these inspections under a voluntary fee-for-service program implemented by USDA in February 2006.

Photo:  A plate of horse sashimi, as served at restaurants in Japan.

In 2007, Dallas Crown and Beltex shut down their operations in Texas due to a decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered in January of that year. See this post for details.

Utilizing the USDA fee-for-service program, Cavel continued its operations in Illinois for a few more months in 2007 until the following things happened: 1) in March 2007, a federal district court determined that it is illegal for slaughterhouses to pay the USDA for horsemeat inspections; 2) in September 2007, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Illinois law prohibiting slaughter of horses for human consumption. This essentially shut down the industry in the US, because meat cannot be sold for human consumption without being inspected.

From Fiscal Year 2008 to Fiscal Year 2011, Congress included a prohibition on the use of federal funds for implementation of the fee-for-service program in each annual Agricultural Appropriations Bill. 

In 2011, the Government Accountability Office issued this report detailing some of the negative consequences caused by the closure of the slaughter plants. Shortly thereafter, Congress removed its prohibition on the use of federal funds to inspect horses at slaughter for Fiscal Year 2012. 

Since last year, new horse slaughterhouses have been proposed in New Mexico, Missouri and Oregon, and laws that would permit them to be built more easily have been proposed in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

In June 2012, an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 Agricultural Appropriations Bill passed the Appropriations Committee. This amendment seeks to expressly eliminate federal funding for USDA inspections of horse slaughter facilities for Fiscal Year 2013. The bill as amended must now be approved by the full House and then go to the Senate.

Although the domestic slaughter of horses for human food has stopped for the time being, USDA’s Slaughter Horse Transport Program continues to operate. Established in 2001, the program is intended to ensure that horses travelling to slaughter are fit to travel and handled humanely en route. Among other things, the program collects and reviews shipping documents and inspects rigs used to transport these horses. Prior to 2012, because of the prohibition on using federal funds for inspecting horses transported to slaughter, the transport program was not able to inspect the condition of horses designated for slaughter during their transport. I have not yet been able to locate any data suggesting that this has changed due to the absence of the funding prohibition in the 2012 Appropriations Bill.  

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Comments (6) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jo-Claire Corcoran - August 9, 2012 3:29 PM

There are two issues at hand.

1.horse slaughter is for food production, we don't raise horses for food in this country and as such they are not raised under the food safety quidelines. What are the legal ramifications, internationally, of knowingly violating importing countries food safety laws?

2. On August 1, 2013, the EU's new regs go into effect, all non-eu countries exporting horse meat into the EU must have a program set up to track a horses medication history from prior to the age of 6 months or that animal is ineligible for slaughter. If the horse has been given any of the 10 banned substances, the horse (and ANY animal intended for human consumption) must be pulled from the slaughter pipeline.

We don't have a Passport Program and why should our tax dollars fund a passport program for an animal we don't raise for food and which we do not eat in this country.

There are enough issues with food safety in this country as it stands, we have a hard time keeping cantaloupe safe to eat. How can we justify taking away funds to inspect the meat we do raise for food and eat in this country to inspect a meat we don't raise and don't eat.

In addition, horse slaughter is not humane. Nor is it a solution for neglected, old and sick horses... the average ages of horses going to slaughter are between the ages of 5-9 and are healthy and sound.

Stop over breeding, AQHA is the biggest culprit of over breeding and encouraging over breeding. Those breed registries which have tougher rules and restrictions, do not send their horses to slaughter. Their horses have not lost value either.

T.W. Youngs - August 9, 2012 4:26 PM

For the most part, I agree with Miss Corcoran. Among other things, Over breeding is and issue. And has been for a long time. To blame AQHA as the lead culprit is not just wrong, its overtly onesided and dishonest.
I for many years have owned horses and mainly Quarters, but thoroughbreds and arabs as well. I agree that Our tax dollars should not be used at horse slaughter houses sinse we as a country don't eat horse meet. But as un-popular as my beliefs are, Horse slaugjter is a humane form of population control.
I ask everyone that reads this. Are you going to care for the unwanted, the sick, and the infirmed? Are you going to pay for the vet bills that come, the farrier's bill, or the hay man's bill? Are you going to provide safe lands for theses animals to live out their lives?
As sick as it makes me to think about the sad people that WON'T take care of their stock. It makes me sicker to think that those same animals are suffering because we as a collective are gabbing away about the possibility of more slaughter plant starting, but not addressing the real issue. Abandoned or unwanted animals suffering.
I realize my view is some what un-welcomed and not appreiciated, but its a fact of life. You can't make people be responsible. And as sad as that statement is, its true.
I pray every day that our creator will help in this dilema, and in a perfect world horse slaughter will never be needed. But as we all know, we don't live in a perfect world. So I for one see the purpose and need for Slaughter plants and welcome them

vicki tobin - August 9, 2012 6:18 PM

Slaughter of animals serves one purpose; food production. No matter what the species, slaughter is not a disposal service or a means to control the population. Animals are raised specifically as food animals. If they’re aren’t, they shouldn’t be sent to slaughter under any circumstance. EU reports have revealed banned substances in US horses, falsified paperwork and most recently, a notification from Belgium on two banned drugs found in horse meat exported from Canada. Two of the most commonly used meds in US horses.

Horse slaughter is not humane. There is decades of evidence proving this and not one shred of evidence that it is humane. The entire slaughter pipeline is a poster child of cruelty and abuse from the moment the horse enters the pipeline. It will takes millions to fix the non-existent transport program, millions for inspections, millions for a passport program not to mention wastewater cleanup, law enforcement, litigation (the plants take you to court every time a violation is issued) and on and on. All of this will be funded from tax dollars at the federal and state levels.

This country cannot afford another welfare program. We don’t raise horses as food animals and we don’t eat them. Foreign countries are free to eat whatever they choose. We respect their culture and it’s time the foreign plants respect ours.

Jo-Claire Corcoran - August 9, 2012 8:27 PM

T. W. Youngs, it's not a biased view, it's based upon the paperwork from the USDA filed by the killbuyers for shipping of the horses. 70% of the horses going to slaughter are Quarter Horses. Thoroughbreds are the next highest number. The difference is that the Thoroughbred/Racing industry has been and is taking steps to keep their horses out of the slaughter pipeline. The AQHA is not. It only stands to reason that the greatest number of horses going to slaughter are quarter horses, since they are producing the greatest number of horses each year.

I do agree that we need to enforce existing laws on the book regarding animal cruelty and neglect. But bottom line is lack of slaughter plants has no effect on the number of horses abandoned or neglected. The slaughter option has never disappeared. But most people do not want their horses to go to slaughter.

Bottom line is horse slaughter is about food production and we don't raise horses for food. They are not raised under food safety guidelines. There is nothing altruistic about horse slaughter. It does not exist to take care of neglected horses, it exists to provide certain people with an expensive dinner in other countries.

Our country cannot afford to foot the bill for the inspection of horse meat nor the implementation of a Passport Program which will be required on Aug 1, 2013 if any US horse is going to be slaughtered for EU markets.

frances - August 15, 2012 11:19 PM

get out of the horse business.

M. S - January 25, 2014 9:09 PM

Horse meat is not only high in protein, but a good cut has about half the fat, less cholesterol and twice as much iron and Vitamin B as beef. It also contains fewer calories, and a significantly higher omega-3 fatty acid concentration (that’s the good fat)—with 360 mg per 100 grams serving, compared to just 21 mg in a beef steak

We should eat horse meet. There's no reason not to except for the drug issue. If you are going to worry about humane killing then why are you drugging your horses for racing and racing them? How is that humane? Why not raise horse for food? Why not raise horses under food safety guidelines. I just got back from a trip to Italy and I can tell you that horse is delicious and better for you than beef.

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