Slaughter USA: Fact Sheet - The Fund for Horses
Slaughter USA: Fact Sheet
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* Why does this industry still exist?
* How many horses are slaughtered in the United States?
* What types of horses are slaughtered?
* Where do the horses come from?
* How are the horses slaughtered?
* If slaughtered is banned, where will all the horses go?
* If horse slaughter is banned, won't abuse and neglect increase?
One of the most baffling issues surrounding the equine world, and one that many Americans are still unaware of, is that every week in this country our young, healthy horses are slaughtered for human consumption overseas. The largest number are Quarter Horses, although Thoroughbred race horses, and even some of our wild Mustangs are routinely slaughtered. Their meat is processed, freeze packed and shipped to countries like Belgium, France, Italy and Japan, where it is considered a delicacy.
Why does this industry still exist?
Horse slaughter exists in the United States for one reason and one reason only — for the sole purpose of providing horsemeat for human consumption in foreign markets.
Although the number of horses slaughtered declined sharply for a period of years, there has been a recent resurgence in demand. Horse meat is viewed as "clean meat" and a good alternative to beef and other traditional meats because of BSE and other contamination scares. Europeans and Asians who consume horse flesh are willing to pay a high price for American horsemeat, which is described by butchers and purveyors of horsemeat as the very best on the market.
"I only buy American meat, which is red and firm. In butchering terms we call it 'well-structured', the best you can get. Out of a thousand animals, only the American ones are really worth buying. But they don't eat horsemeat in America. They raise horses for foreigners."
A Butcher in France.
Conseqently, business is thriving for the three foreign-owned slaughter plants operating in the U.S., two in Texas and the other in Illinois. If current trends continue, it is highly likely that demand is only going to increase and so is the slaughtering of our horses.
How many horses are slaughtered in the United States?
According to the USDA, more than 50,000 horses were slaughtered in 2003. With the re-opening of Cavel International in Illinois in 2004, the number rose to more than 66,000, and in 2005, nearly 95,000 of our horses were slaughtered for their meat.
This does not include the approximately 20,000 - 30,000 horses that are exported to Mexico to be slaughtered in their abattoirs, or the thousands exported to Canada.
Together, these numbers represent about 1% of the total number of horses in the U.S., and the entire industry is only .001% of the size of the U.S. meat industry.
What types of horses are being slaughtered? Aren't these old, sick horses?
According to 2001 field studies conducted by Temple Grandin et al., 70% of all horses at the slaughter plant were in good, fat, or obese condition; 72% were considered to be "sound" of limb; 84% were of average age; and 96% had no behavioral issues. Slaughter plants do not want old, sick horses for obvious reasons.
Where do the horses come from?
Horses are not raised for slaughter as they are not traditional food animals, so they must be bought. Licensed horse dealers, known as "killer buyers," act as middlemen for the slaughterhouses and frequent the auctions where horses are sold. Mass quantities of horses are bought by these dealers at unbelievably cheap prices, who then transport the horses and resell them to the slaughterhouses for profit. Many times an auction house and the dealer will not turn away an unfit animal, because as long as it can live till it gets to a slaughterhouse, they can be killed for their hides. These horses are called "skinners." Slaughterhouses typically have a tannery either on site or nearby for this reason.
A number of the horses who end up at slaughterhouses are stolen, and can disappear without a trace. However, statistics from one of the largest groups that assist owners in the recovery of their stolen horses, Stolen Horse International (netposse.org) show that approximately 60% of stolen horses are killed at slaughter plants.
How are the horses actually slaughtered?
Horses are transported, often thousand of miles, from all over the country to Texas and Illinois in double-decker trailers designed for cattle in all types of weather with no food or water. Often there is not enough clearance for the horses to hold their heads in a fully upright position.
No consideration is given to the gender or the condition of the horses as they are crammed into these trucks. Horses are often injured and some even arrive at the slaughterhouse dead. The ones who survive the ordeal of transportation are held in pens until it is their turn to be butchered. The horses stand in the killing line smelling the blood, sensing the terror ahead. They are electrocuted or speared into the "kill box" where they shake violently, falling, unable to stand from fear.
According to federal law, horses must be rendered unconscious prior to slaughter, usually by captive bolt. With their long necks and aversion to anything approaching their foreheads, many horses require multiple strikes. However, some are improperly stunned, even with repeated blows.
The USDA's March 1998 report, Special Report on Humane Slaughter Methods and AnteMortem, shows the animals can and do regain consciousness after they have been stunned. Therefore some are still conscious when shackled, hoisted by a rear leg, and cut across the throat to be bled out.
Quote from a slaughterhouse worker:
"You move so fast, you don't have time to wait till a horse bleeds out. You skin him as he bleeds. Sometimes a horse's nose is down in the blood, blowing bubbles, and he suffocates."
From the book "Slaughterhouse" by Gail Eisnitz
A major misconception is that animals being readied for slaughter are stunned with a captive bolt in order to make the process more humane. The fact is, the captive bolt stunning mechanism was designed to protect slaughterhouse workers from the flailing limbs of terrified animals and to increase the speed of the production line.
If horse slaughter is banned, where will all the horses go?
The number of horses slaughtered in 1990 was a staggering 350,000, a number that dropped to an all time low of 42,000 in 2002. Between 1992 and 1993 alone, the number of horses slaughtered dropped 79,000. These decreases did not create a glut of "unwanted horses." Society absorbed these horses, and the market remained stable, just as it will when horse slaughter is eliminated altogether.
The phrase "unwanted horses" is a myth created by horse slaughter supporters. The number of horses slaughtered each year is the one used by them to arrive at the number of so-called "unwanted horses" for the same time period. In actuality, the number of horses slaughtered each year is the number of horses the horse slaughter plants have the capacity to butcher and process.
There are many alternatives to horse slaughter. Horses can be given another chance at life through retraining and adoption programs as pleasure horses, with rescues, retirement homes, and sanctuaries. Horses can also enjoy second careers as Mounted Police horses, at riding schools and as therapy horses.
If a horse becomes old, infirm or mortally ill, then the horse should be euthanized by a qualified veterinarian. There are a wide variety of options for disposing of their bodies that range from the costly to economical. These include burial (where permitted), cremation, rendering, composting and landfills. Texas A&M, in response to this question, released a special report on composting as a viable alternative that would be both environmentally and politically beneficial, predicting that this could become a big market when horse slaughter is banned.
If horse slaughter is banned, won't abuse and neglect increase?
California banned horse slaughter in 1998. California has experienced no increase in abuse case, and even noted a decrease 3 years following the ban. During the 4 years that Cavel was closed, Illinois saw a noticeable decrease in abuse and/or neglect cases. Texas, which had the only two slaughter plants in 2003, had among the nations highest rates of cruelty and theft.
The conclusion is clear – horse slaughter does not decrease abuse and neglect but actually encourages it.