Arguments for and Against Horse Slaughter

Horse In A Stable
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While animal advocates argue against horse slaughter, some horse breeders and owners say that horse slaughter is a necessary evil.

According to The Morning News, “a recent national poll found that almost 70 percent of Americans support a federal ban on horse slaughter for human consumption.” As of May 2009, there are no slaughterhouses killing horses for human consumption in the United States. There is now a federal bill pending that would prohibit horse slaughter in the US and would prohibit the transport of live horses for slaughter. While this federal bill is pending, several individual states are considering horse slaughterhouses. A Montana bill allowing horse slaughter and protecting potential slaughterhouse owners became law in April 2009. A bill modeled on the Montana law is now pending in Tennessee.

Slaughter for Human Consumption

Horses were being slaughtered for human consumption in the US as recently as 2007. In 2005, Congress had voted to withhold funding for USDA inspections of horse meat. This move should have stopped horse slaughter because the meat cannot be sold for human consumption without USDA inspections, but the USDA responded by adopting new rules that allowed the slaughterhouses to pay for the inspections themselves. A 2007 court ruling ordered the USDA to stop the inspections.

Horses Still Being Slaughtered

Although horses are no longer slaughtered for human consumption in the US, live horses are still shipped to foreign slaughterhouses. According to Keith Dane, Director of Equine Protection for the Humane Society of the US, about 100,000 live horses are shipped to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses each year, and the meat is sold in Belgium, France, and other countries.

A lesser-known issue is that of horse slaughter for pet food and for zoos to feed to carnivores. According to Dane, these facilities are not required to be inspected by the USDA, so statistics are not available. The existence of such facilities usually goes unnoticed until there are a cruelty allegation and investigation. The International Society for the Protection of Exotic Animal Kind and Livestock, Inc. alleges that one such slaughterhouse in New Jersey kills the horses in an inhumane manner, and the case is still under investigation. According to Dane, most major pet food companies do not use horse meat, so there’s little chance of buying cat or dog food that supports horse slaughter.

There are many reasons a breeder or owner may decide to sell a specific horse for slaughter, but on a macro level, the problem is overbreeding.

Arguments For Horse Slaughter

Some view horse slaughter as a necessary evil, to humanely dispose of unwanted horses. Unlike dogs and cats, unwanted horses cannot be dropped off at the local animal shelter. Sanctuaries for horses do exist, but there are not enough of them.

Euthanasia is not always financially feasible. Having the horse humanely euthanized and then having the body of a 1,200-pound animal disposed of or transported to a rendering plant is expensive, sometimes prohibitively so. Rendering plants that turn horses into fertilizer and industrial products will accept carcasses, but do not pay for them.

Some argue that the alternative to horse slaughter is neglect and abandonment.

Horse slaughter proponents argue that horses should be treated no differently from cows, pigs or chickens, and there is no reason horses should not be slaughtered for human consumption.

Arguments Against Horse Slaughter

Animal rights activists do not believe in killing any animals for food, but there are several arguments that apply specifically to horses.

Horse slaughter increases prices and profits for horse breeding. If there is no profitable or easy way to dispose of unwanted horses, fewer horses will be bred. As reported in the Morning News,

"Before slaughterhouses closed, ranchers knew they could get $1 per pound for the meat. The same meat is now worth only about 20 cents per pound[...] Ranchers are also simply getting out of the horse business, said Ross Lockhart, owner of Stockman’s Pride in Bentonville. He used to raise registered quarter horses but hasn’t bred anything for the past two years."

Many Americans believe horses are special and should be treated more like companion animals than livestock.

Neglect and abandonment do not increase when slaughterhouses close. According to the International Fund for Horses:

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 [the Cavel slaughterhouse] 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.

Some believe that horse slaughter is unusually cruel. At some slaughterhouses, horses are first stunned with a captive bolt gun, then bled to death. However, the horses are sometimes improperly stunned and are sometimes skinned and bled while still conscious.

Allowing horse slaughter creates another source of profit for thoroughbred breeders, thereby supporting horse racing, to which many animal advocates object.

Several major horse racetracks oppose horse slaughter.

There are about 9 million domestic horses in the US, and approximately one percent of that number are sent to foreign slaughterhouses each year. If shipping live horses for slaughter were banned, that relatively small number of horses could be absorbed by the horse community in the US.

The Upshot

Whether prohibiting the export of live horses for slaughter will lead to neglect and abandonment remains to be seen, especially in an economy where foreclosures threaten all types of companion animals. However, several major racetracks oppose horse slaughter and taking away an incentive for breeding or overbreeding is a powerful argument against horse slaughter.