In the shadow of legal loopholes, an unsettling controversy festers within the heart of America. The issue of horse slaughter is not just a topic of economic debate, but a question of ethics, morality, and the very way we define our relationship with these noble beings. Though the doors of the last horse slaughterhouse on U.S. soil closed in 2007, for many horses in the United States a hidden path to a brutal end remains. Thousands of horses, once national icons of grace and freedom, are dragged to their untimely deaths abroad, their meat disguised and sold under false labels. This horrifying reality poses not only an emotional outcry but raises critical concerns about the environment, the economy, and public health. This comprehensive article explores the chilling truth behind the disgusting, horrific practice of horse slaughter.
The History of Horse Slaughter in The United States
‘Horse slaughter in the U.S. is a controversial issue that involves the killing of horses for human consumption in foreign markets.’ Although the last horse slaughterhouse in the United States closed in 2007, the situation has never been considered permanent. It comes up for review yearly; therefore, lawmakers could lift it anytime. Special interest groups may be small, but they are still mighty. They have successfully fought for years to prevent the banning of horse slaughter.
In response, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2006 withdrew funding for the inspectors, creating a de facto ban on horse slaughterhouses, forcing the last three, all foreign-owned, to close in 2007 as meat cannot be legally processed in the U.S. without prior USDA inspection. These three slaughterhouses, one in Illinois and two in Texas were responsible for more than 106,000 equine deaths in 2006 alone. Today, despite the closings, tens of thousands of horses are exported from the United States to satisfy international demand yearly, and even countries that do not knowingly or willingly consume horse meat have still discovered it in their food chain under the guise of “beef,” the U.S. included. Another great reason to give vegan living a try.
In addition to the cruel and inhumane killing of equines, slaughterhouses also damage the environment and the communities that house them. They are an economic drain as well. Even more telling is that communities that formerly hosted slaughterhouses make it known they no longer want the slaughterhouses in their neighborhood. Both Texas and Illinois have enacted laws banning the possession or trade of horse meat for human consumption.
How Do America’s Horses End Up in Foreign Slaughterhouses?
When horses end up at a slaughterhouse they are usually sold through auctions. These auctions may include wild horses caught on public lands, former racehorses, or previous companion animals. America’s wild horses are often rounded up by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) with helicopters, placed in holding pens, sold off to the highest bidder, and shipped. In 2022 in the USA, 20,000 free-roaming wild horses were removed from their homes in the wild. The horses are usually removed from their homes to make way for cattle ranchers and other animal agriculture. Currently, Arizona is rounding up wild horses in their state and auctioning them off, leaving them with an uncertain fate.
Though some irresponsible horse owners get rid of unwanted horses while also making a profit by selling them for slaughter, many other well-meaning owners are taken advantage of or simply outbid at auction by kill buyers. Many horses destined for good homes or sanctuaries end up on the slaughter truck simply because the kill buyers can afford to outbid more well-meaning bidders. Other times, an owner who can no longer adequately care for a beloved horse surrenders them to what they believe to be someone who will continue to care for the horse. Too many times, the exact opposite happens. Instead, the person who promised to care for the horse makes a profit by selling them for slaughter.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association estimates that 7,500 thoroughbreds are slaughtered yearly for human consumption. This figure is in addition to the thousands of show horses, Amish work horses, and family-owned horses. Once any horse has outlived its usefulness or is no longer financially profitable, they are simply disposed of. Every horse in the United States is just one bad sale away from being slaughtered.
Though approximately 83% of Americans oppose horse slaughter, according to the ASPCA, the practice continues. Horses are bought at auctions by meat buyers, also known as kill buyers. Rather than slaughter the horses on U.S. soil, horses are exported to Canada or Mexico, where a brutal death awaits them. Slaughterhouses sell horse parts throughout Europe and Asia for human consumption. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in Europe and Japan and sells between $15 and $25 per pound. In 2020 alone, the nonprofit organization Return to Freedom documented that around 36,885 horses were shipped from the U.S. to slaughter.
There Is No Such Thing as Humane Horse Slaughter
There is nothing humane about the process of horse slaughter. Horses bound for slaughter face a torturous journey. They may spend more than 24 hours in a crowded truck without food or water. Research studies have found that 79% of horses in transit to slaughter display bruises and injuries acquired during transport. When they reach their destination, their end is neither quick nor painless. There are documented instances in which horses have been observed conscious during dismemberment. Horses can also sense danger in many ways and, as flight animals, will often harm themselves in attempts to escape.
It is estimated that 90% of the horses destined for slaughter are in good health. Rescue groups have a remarkably high success rate for rehabilitating and re-homing horses. In addition, veterinarians can administer humane euthanasia for injured horses without hope of recovery.
In addition to how horrific slaughtering horses is, horse meat is also dangerous for human consumption. Horses are raised as companion animals and given unregulated drugs and substances that could pose a hazard to humans. There is no way to know for sure which horses have received which substances.
How Can We Save America’s Horses?
The silent suffering of America’s horses is a tragedy that echoes within our society. While the facts are disturbing and the images haunting, there can be hope. Together, we have the power to change the narrative and build a compassionate future. Bills like The SAFE Act, Save America’s Forgotten Equines (U.S. H.R. 3355/S. 2732) which was introduced in 2021, would permanently outlaw selling, purchasing, and transporting horses to slaughter for human consumption. Reach out to your representatives, lend your voice, and become part of a movement that aims to redefine our relationship with horses, not as commodities but as living beings worthy of protection and love. In the fight to save America’s forgotten equines, every single voice matters.