Monday, 16 August 2010 14:31


Written by  Kenneth C. Sandoe, Attorney-at-Law
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Disclaimer - This article is intended as general discussion and information on the topic covered, and is not to be construed as rendering legal advice. If legal advice is needed, you should contact an attorney. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.

At the time this article is being written all horse slaughter for human consumption in the United States has been stopped. How did this happen in light of the fact that the proposed Federal Law, American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA), has not passed?

On February 4th, 2007, the AHSPA was introduced in both the House and Senate. (See H.R. 503, S.311). The Bills are identical and would prohibit “the shipping, transporting, moving, delivery, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling or donation of any horse or other equine to be slaughtered for human consumption.” To date the Bills have not passed and it is not illegal to transport horses for slaughter.

However, the non-passage of AHSPA is not the final word. The Texas Federal Court, the Fifth Circuit, upheld an old Texas law prohibiting horse slaughter for human consumption. The Fifth Circuit Opinion held, “the lone cowboy riding his horse on a Texas trail is a cinematic icon, but not once in memory did the cowboy eat his horse.” (See EMPACADORA DeCARNES v. CURRY, 476 F.3rd 326 (5th Cir. 2007)) All appeals were denied. The Texas Senate then passed a Bill allowing horse slaughter for human consumption but the Bill, Texas Senate Bill 911, did not pass the Texas House and never became law. As such, the Texas plants are now closed.

In Illinois, the House and Senate passed a law banning horse slaughter for human consumption in the state and the Illinois Governor signed the law on May 24, 2007. On May 25, 2007, Cavel International, the horse slaughter plant, filed for a restraining order allowing them to run the plant which was granted until June 28, 2007. Cavel filed for an extension of the restraining order and was initially denied. However, Cavel was permitted to reopen operations during the pendency of the appeal of a Federal decision and rule making process.

An Amendment was made to the Agriculture Appropriations Act which blocked funding for USDA inspections of horse slaughter plants. The slaughter companies responded by applying for emergency rule making which allowed regulations to provide for voluntary fee-for-service to run the slaughter plants. The Humane Society of the United States argued that creating a fee-for-service inspection without an environmental review was illegal. The Seventh Circuit allowed Cavel to continue its operations during the pendency of the Human Society appeal. The Court held the fee-for-service rule violated the Administrative Procedures Act and the National Environmental Policy Act and vacated the fee-for-service rule. These developments ultimately resulted in the Cavel plant also being closed.

Despite the closing of the horse slaughter plants, the number of unwanted horses has not changed and truckloads of horses are being quietly shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. It must be remembered that in the United States horses are protected in transit by laws regulating hauling and overcrowding practices. For example, double deck trailers are not permitted to be used for hauling. Further, once the horses arrive at the plants, the horses are euthanized using a penetrating captive bolt. After an extensive review the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has determined that proper use of the penetrating captive bolt is a humane method of euthanization.

Every slaughter plant in the United States requires Federal inspectors and veterinarians to be on site and present during the slaughter process. In the event any of these inspectors or veterinarians witness any inhumane treatment they must report same to State and Federal officials for action under State and Federal Law.

Unfortunately, horse slaughter in foreign countries, especially Mexico, do not recognize these laws and the United States Department of Agriculture and AVMA have no jurisdiction or impact in other countries. Horses are slaughtered in Mexico under inadequate conditions and receive none of the protections or safeguards afforded in the United States.

Horse slaughter in Mexico is on the rise. According to the USDA Market News Service, during the week of September 22, 2007, 1,111 horses were transported across the border to Mexico for slaughter. During the week of September 29, 2007, another 1,345 horses were transported into Mexico for slaughter. As of the end of September, the USDA Market News Service has established that 31,086 horses have been shipped to Mexico for slaughter. Three additional months remain in order to obtain the final figure for the year.

It is interesting to note that according to  the USDA, last year, a total of 6,391 horses were shipped to Mexico for slaughter. There is no question that as long as there is a demand and market for horse meat in foreign countries horses are going to be shipped across the border for slaughter as proven by the large increase of horses that have been shipped to Mexico this year to meet the horse meat demand.

I have not seen any Canadian figures to date, but it is clear that by the end of the year in excess of 50,000 horses will have been shipped out of the country for slaughter. It is ironic to think that these horses will be subject to longer hauling trips and inhumane slaughter, the exact consequences the proponents wanted to avoid.

In addition, the AVMA has noted several media reports of increase in horse neglect. Increases in horse neglect have been reported in Washington County, Virginia, and statewide in Georgia. The AVMA is in the process of gathering data on increased incidences of horse neglect and we expect to see a report sometime in the near future.

As stated earlier the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act has not yet been passed. The Act would prohibit the transporting of horses for slaughter for human consumption. However, how is this prohibition to be enforced? A shipper will simply label the horses as work, riding or pleasure and there would be no control of what happens to the horses once they cross the border.

I will conclude this article with some facts and figures about horse slaughter. In 2005, there were about 9.2 million horses in the United States. In that same year approximately 88,000 were slaughtered for human consumption. In 2006, approximately 100,800 horses were slaughtered for human consumption. (See Animal Welfare Council, Inc., Colorado Springs, The Unintended Consequences of a Ban on the Humane Slaughter of Horses in the U.S., May 15, 2006, P.3). The horse slaughter industry in the United States generates approximately $60 million per year. According to the Dallas Morning News, “Horse Meat Ban is Upheld”, January 25, 2007, the Beltex Slaughter Plant had annual sales of $35 million and employed 90 people. The Dallas Crown plant had annual sales of $9 million and employed 40 people. The Cavel International Plant located in Illinois, made up the additional sum.

A little known fact is that, in addition to meat for human consumption, horse by-products include: baseball covers, shoes, leather products, pharmaceuticals used in heart surgery, violin bows, pet foods, fertilizers and sales to zoos who use horse meat to feed large carnivores such as lions and tigers (See Amended Complaint, Empacadora DeCarnes v. Curry, No. 4-02 CV-0804-A N.D. Tx. 2003).

It appears horse slaughter, at least for now, is not an option in the United States. Did the closing of the plants accomplish the goal of the proponents? Only time will tell, but it appears horse slaughter is rapidly growing in border countries and horse neglect may be on the rise in this country. We will keep a sharp eye on both trends. Enough legal talk–it’s time to hitch horses!

Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, PA, where a good bit of his practice involves negligence cases. Ken and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six horse hitch for the past few years at most major shows in the East.

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