The Horse Slaughter Arguments

Jerry's Take

Horse slaughter proponents basically complain that, without horse slaughter in the United States, owners would not have a “viable” solution to “dispose of” their old, diseased or merely “unwanted” horses, hence creating a rise in abuse and neglect cases. It’s typical of such individuals to portray a chaotic scenario in which horses are starved to death or released to fend for themselves in the forests because their owners “have no slaughter plants to take their horses to”. In some instances such individuals complain this is already happening “’cause the animal right activists already banned horse slaughter”; nothing farther from true.

In first place, it is worth pointing out that horse slaughter is not illegal in or from the US, not yet, as some uneducated pro-slaughter advocates claim. There is no federal legislation either banning the practice or preventing horses from being shipped for slaughter abroad. Only three states have anti-slaughter legislation, California, Illinois and Texas, which only Illinois explicitly banning the practice of horse slaughter; the California one is just a ban on trade operations regarding live horses for slaughter while the Texas one is merely prohibits the sale of horse meat with nothing on them preventing owners from killing their horses for human consumption. Since these are just state laws they are not sufficient to prevent the shipping of horses for slaughter abroad, with the plants running operations “as usual” across the US borders and, since US horses are hence still shipped for slaughter, this pretty much dismantles this rather silly reasoning.

The only federal measure relating to horse slaughter (apart from the blatantly ignored and admittedly never enforced transport of equines to slaughter regulations stated in 9 CFR §88) existing until recently was a budgetary provision preventing USDA from allocating funds for inspections of live horses previous to killing in US-based horse slaughter plants –hence theoretically disabling the plants from selling the resulting meat for human consumption- but which was smartly overridden by USDA before it came into effect with the creation of a custom-built fee program which basically amounted to allow the plants pay for the wages of federal inspectors working there. To make things worse, this budgetary provision was surreptitiously repealed from the 2012 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act last November 17 by pro-slaughter interests, allowing the horse killing corporations to operate back on American territory.

In second place, slaughtered horses are far from being old, sick, lame or sort of “unwanted”: An USDA-commissioned study conducted by the Colorado State University in 1998 at the two horse slaughtering plants located in Texas (Beltex Corp. and Dallas Crown, Inc.) showed that 92% of the horses arriving at the plants to be slaughtered are in good or excellent condition, and are less than 8 years old. The remaining 8% evidenced some sort of trauma and other welfare problems, which can be easily attributed to transport conditions. In fact more than the half of that 8% presented clear signs of fighting injuries during the transportation. Only a tiny 1.5% presented significant welfare problems and were deemed unfit for travel. The report does not seem to account for the harsh treatment horses endure at auction yards and slaughter feedlots, including dehydration, starvation and lack of shelter and medical treatment of existing injuries, which no doubt would worsen with time and transport conditions. This fact is backed by photographic evidence taken at the slaughter plants holding pens. Undercover pictures taken at Dallas Crown, Inc. (the plant formerly located in Kaufman, Texas) show only young, healthy and good conformed animals, which some presenting injuries clearly received during transportation and handling by killer buyers, such as bruising and lacerations. No old, diseased or otherwise emaciated were observed, despite the pens were being watched frequently for several days at different times.

This contradicts the claims from horse slaughter proponents that horses killed are old, sick, skinny or infirm and that thus horse slaughter (or better said US-based horse slaughter, as the practice has not yet been federally banned) is necessary to dispose of these animals; nothing farther from truth. And it also makes a lot of sense since the meat of these animals is sold off top-dollar overseas a luxury item of the “maximum quality”. Old, sick or skinny animals yield neither enough meat nor the quality, consistency and “taste” the posh customers of the horse-killing corporations demand. This also explains why the Mexican plants approved by the European Union to export horse meat kill mostly, if not almost exclusively, horses coming from the United States.

Another commonplace misconception promoted by horse-killing fanboys is -to sum it up in somewhat structured way- that a decrease in the slaughtering capacity (read reduction of operational plants) over the past years resulted in an increase in abuse and neglect cases. However official USDA statistics how not only that indeed US horses are still slaughtered, even if it is abroad where such slaughter takes place, but also that the number of horses shipped for killing in Canada and Mexico equals or even surpasses those slaughtered in US-based plants before these were closed down in 2007.

Following this line, slaughter proponents usually complain that the upsurge in horse abuse cases experienced more noticeably since 2008 was the result of the closure of the US-based horse slaughter plants. In other words, they assert that horses involved in the rising abuse cases were the horses that were not slaughtered due to the close of the US slaughter plants (the “loss of the slaughter option” as they call it) and that these horses were being abused just because they couldn’t be sent for slaughter. Wrong! While it is true an increase in reported neglect cases was observed since 2008, such rise was actually not related to the closure of the aforesaid plants but was instead a consequence of the dire economic conditions following the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis causing country-record unemployment and bankruptcy rates, and evidenced by the fact that live horse exports to Canada and Mexico skyrocketed weeks after state legislation was enforced in Illinois and Texas, forcing the horse slaughtering cartel to move operations across the US borders. The proof is in the pudding; take a look to the graph below comparing the number of horses killed in the US vs. those slaughtered abroad from 2004 to date:

In 2007, only 29,761 horses were killed in the United States but at the same time the number of horses shipped for slaughter to Canada doubles while that of horses sent to Mexico even triples, with a total of 122,459 horses slaughter that year, surpassing the total number of horses slaughtered in 2004 when the former US plants were in operation. But what is especially revealing is that during 2008, when no horses were slaughtered in US territory, the number of horses shipped for slaughter to Canada and Mexico increased more to cover the foreign demand, resulting in a total of horses killed higher (134,059) that when the plants closed the previous year (122,459) and even higher than back when the US-based plants were in full operation (e.g. 2005 with 125,149 heads). In 2009, when the European economy got hit hard by the crisis and their governments came to the rescue of the bankers, demand of horse meat decreased a little, with 106,542 horses slaughtered, but still more than what were killed in 2004 (102,656), when the three US-based plants were open and thriving. In the following years, despite the hurting economy felt by the working masses, demand for horse meat rose up again as European bankers, politicians and stock-market speculators secured and increased their earnings, resulting in an steady increase in the number of horses shipped for slaughter to Canada and Mexico, surpassing in 2011 (133,241) by far the total number of horses killed when the US plants were operating at flank speed; so much for a loss of “slaughtering capacity”.

The horse slaughter lobby and its hired guns usually also claim that American horses are now suffering more due to the closure of the US-based horse slaughter plants that what they did when these were in operation since they have now to travel longer distances and are slaughtered without the “guarantee” provided by the supervision of an FSIS (USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service) veterinary inspector, in countries where humane slaughter regulations are too weak, not enforced or non-existent. Although at face value such argument may seem logical, it is actually a fallacy and doesn’t hold on when the facts are examined. In first place, as evidenced by the official data shown previously, horses were already being exported for slaughter years before the US-based plants closed down. Neither USDA (in charge of enforcing humane transportation and slaughter regulations) nor pro-slaughter proponents gave a damn about these animals back in the early 2000s when the US plants were in full operation, being their sudden concern blatantly fake and self-interested. In second place, and more importantly, the whole APHIS (USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) and FSIS transportation to slaughter and humane slaughter inspection programs were a farce as was self-admitted by USDA in documents from its Office of the Inspection General (OIG).

To begin with, APHIS admitted in a 2010 report from USDA’s OIG that it not only does not have an agency-wide policy on how to enforce the permissive equine transport to slaughter regulations (9 CFR ¬ß88 et seq.) and pursue offenders fourteen years after Congress mandated their creation but also that established fines were not being collected and that it keeps approving shippers (killer buyers) with a known record of systematic violations of such regulations. Furthermore, APHIS failed to provide USDA so far a single evaluation, let alone regulation change proposal, to fix such situation and carry out the duty they were mandated by Congress. Pulling out the thread we discover that APHIS had the chance to adopt such a rule in 2007, the year exports for slaughter abroad started to increase, but so far has taken no action at all.

Despite it inexplicably took 5 years for APHIS/USDA to release the equine transport to slaughter regulations Congress ordered in 1996 (Public Law 104-127), APHIS never cared to formalize a formal agreement with Canada and Mexico regarding exports of horses for slaughter in such countries, even although horses were being already exported to such countries back then. In fact, Congress’ Government Accountability Office (GAO, Congress investigative agency) found in a recent report that more than 50% of the USDA owner-shipper certificates required for these animals to cross the border and returned by Canadian and Mexican entities from 2005-2009 were either not properly completed by the CFIA and SAGARPA officials (Mexican Agriculture Department) or the shipper/plant, lacked key information or were totally missing. This is of no surprise, taking into account APHIS leaves up to the killer buyers fill out the owner-shipper certificates, openly allowing them to defraud authorities and enabling them to pass stolen animals or certifying them as “drug-free” as required by European Union’s regulations; a wonderful win-win situation for the plants, the killers buyers and APHIS.

But there is more to it‚Ķ As was shown before when describing the slaughter process, official documents obtained from USDA through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requesting and corresponding to the 2005-2006, back when the three US-based horse slaughter plants were in full operational status, proof APHIS’ abysmal record and total lack of interest in enforcing the transport for slaughter regulations, no matter where the horses were being slaughtered. To add insult to injury, during all this time there were only two APHIS staff members assigned to enforce the equine transport regulations nationwide, showing the agency’s bias for protecting the horse killing industry, no matter if it is in defiance of the law. If we add in that APHIS, and indeed the whole USDA, does not have subpoena authority to help enforcing these regulations, it is evident the whole agency is unable to protect in any way horses going to slaughter; a downtown bar bouncer has more enforcement authority that this presumably official agency of the US Government.

FSIS, USDA’s arm in charge of inspecting animals prior to slaughter, facilities and the killing process itself is not any better. Not surprisingly, GAO found in 2004 that the most frequent violation observed by inspectors in slaughter plants was ineffective stunning, indicating that in many cases a conscious animal reached slaughter, in violation of Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Four years later GAO noted that no effort was made to stop the ineffective stunning and the records kept by inspectors were so poor it was impossible to tell even there was an improvement after four years. In 2010, GAO again noted that despite years of reports of abuse and incidents in slaughter plants, FSIS enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (7 USC ¬ß1902) remains grossly inconsistent and, in many cases, non-existent. Evidence taken at the plants corroborates this point.

An uncontested evidence of the phoniness of the pro-slaughter lack-of-slaughter mantras was the discovery in the premises of renowned Texas killer buyer Terry Saulters in Waco of a pasture full of decaying carcasses of horses starved to death. It is not that these horses starved to death because there was no slaughter plants to take them for a “humane death” (he currently ships horses to one of the Mexican plants), it is not because there wasn’t the “slaughter option” or because he hasn’t the means to sell them in auction or euthanize them (even if it is through a gunshot), it is just that (1) the plants didn’t want these animals at all since they were thin and didn’t meet their quality standards, and (2) he didn’t care enough to provide them some food and water (let alone spend a couple dollars in .38 rounds to put them out of their misery) since, unable to make money out of them, for him they were nothing but junk or broken auto parts.

Regrettably, the cruelty observed in Terry Saulters’ case is not an exception but the rule. Last January 17, a trailer containing 38 horses headed to Mexico for slaughter belonging to Tennessee’s registered killer buyer and livestock dealer Dorian Ayache (operating under the trade name of “Three Angels Farms”) overturned on I-40 after its driver apparently fell asleep. Right after the accident, Mr. Ayache showed up with another trailer and whisked away the surviving, injured animals from the scene. Unfortunately for Ayache, Nashville’s WSMV-TV Channel 4 was covering the wreck and he not only told reporters the animals were headed to a farm in Texas (actually the Morton feedlot) instead of to a Mexican slaughter plant but also that injured animals were taken to a farm Oklahoma to recover. However, records obtained from SAGARPA (Mexican Agriculture Department) show the conveyance headed instead directly to the border where Mexican government veterinarians rejected the admittance of four injured horses from Three Angels Farms as their condition was so bad they could not be accepted for slaughter for human consumption. Further documents proved the remaining 34 animals, many of them also injured, were sold to Inter Meats S.A. de C.V. in Aguascalientes, a front company owned by Belgian Chevideco NV and operating the Empacadora De Carnes Unidad Ganadera plant. Not surprisingly, Ayache was not going to spend a few bucks in euthanizing these four rejects and instead they were apparently dumped, hoping they would eventually die of their injuries at no cost to him. Ayache made $11,100 out of this load alone. Not only these horses were trucked again, badly injured, for more than 1,400 miles but also the ones in worst conditions, not meeting standards, were simply rejected and dumped, left to suffer a slow, agonizing death. This is the “humane euthanasia” championed by the pro-slaughter lobby and its hired guns.

The conclusion that banning horse slaughter will not produce an increase in abuse cases, together with the set of facts supporting it, is thoroughly set forth in a comprehensive study of available data released by the Animal Law Coalition. So far this study remains uncontested by pro-slaughter pundits and advocates alike, unable to produce evidence to back their claims. As a matter of fact, the horse neglect slippery slope argument described above has been commonly used by horse slaughter supporters as early as the mid 90’s, way before the horse slaughter plants operating in the US were shut down, mutating according the need aroused in order to fit the pro-slaughter lobby agenda.

Common is also the misconception that euthanizing a horse is expensive and that, without horse slaughter, many owners won’t have a way to dispose of their animals. In this regard it is worth mentioning that, in first place, horse slaughter is not humane euthanasia by any means; killing is not the same as euthanizing, serve to that purpose numerous atrocities stated by plant inspectors in official veterinary inspection reports or found during the course of undercover investigation, already stated above. In second place, it must be taken into account that the cost of humane euthanasia -by means of chemical agents administered by a vet- plus the corresponding burial of the carcass represents only a fraction of the overall year-round cost of such horse’s upkeep. In other words, any horse owner could perfectly pay for the cost of humane, real euthanasia. In addition, it is worth mentioning that large owners, such as trainers, breeders or ranches, usually count with a backhoe amongst their premises’ equipment, further reducing the cost of providing proper, real humane euthanasia.

Assuming an owner could not really pay for having its horse euthanized, probably such person should not own a horse to begin with, since such an owner could not provide for the horse upkeep anyways. Nonetheless, there are alternatives in such instances other than subjecting horses to the unspeakable atrocities of industrialized slaughter. These animals could be placed in new homes if a greater effort were made by their owners to market or find them new homes; they may be also donated to riding programs or rescues. As last resort, horses may be humanely euthanized by gunshot, provided a powerful enough round (in the range of a .45 ACP or .357 Magnum) is used at point-black range, the animal is quiet and its head restrained.

Actually, slaughter supporters and owners disposing their “stock” at the kill auctions can perfectly afford having these animals painlessly euthanized; their sole concern is just to squeeze the last penny out of them, as fast as they can. It is not a question of humanity or compassion, they don’t care about “horses starving to death”, it is not even a question of cost; it is a question of fast cash.

Regarding the issue of placing horses in new homes, it must be pointed out that, currently, unscrupulous individuals many times take in under false pretenses horses donated by their previous owners, posing as their forever homes, only to sell them at the closest kill auction yard. This is yet another reason to shut down the horse slaughter pipeline which, in addition, futilely saturates the resources of individuals and groups rescuing horses from it, since unless the horse slaughter machine is outlawed, for any horse rescued from the pipeline another one regrettably takes its place.

Sometimes horse slaughter supporters complain about what’s going to happen to horses already in the market if horse slaughter is banned. Such complaint is no different from the slippery-slope arguments already pointed out before. Most of these horses will be either absorbed by the live horse industry or eventually euthanized by their owners if they are unable or don’t want to care for them anymore. A small percentage may end up slaughtered during the brief period of time that takes for the administration to implement regulations and procedures to enforce the new legislation.

Claims disconcertingly stupid such as that banning horse slaughter will provoke a ban on the consumption of beef, that horse slaughter is necessary to feed the poor in developing countries, that chemicals used to euthanize horses will contaminate the ground and water streams or that without slaughter plants hordes of wild horses will invade cities and break havoc in crops and parks are also standard to the average horse-killing aficionado. We’ll save you the hassle to navigate through those.

POST DATE: 05/09/2012