Horse Slaughter in the United States: The Ugly Truth

Every year, approximately 150,000 American horses are trucked over our borders to be slaughtered for human consumption. Until this practice is banned and Congress passes a law against slaughter here in the U.S., no horse is safe.

The term “horse slaughter” refers exclusively to the killing and processing of horses for human consumption. Horse slaughter is NOT humane euthanasia. While “euthanasia” is defined as a gentle, painless death provided in order to prevent suffering, slaughter is a brutal and terrifying end for horses.

Horses bound for slaughter (who may include pregnant mares, foals and horses who are injured or blind) are commonly shipped for more than 24 hours at a time in crowded trucks without food, water or rest. The methods used to kill horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths for these animals and sometimes they even remain conscious during dismemberment.

The last three U.S. slaughterhouses—two in Texas and one in Illinois, all foreign-owned—were shuttered in 2007. In 2006, these facilities killed and processed more than 90,000 horses for human consumption, shipping the meat overseas. Slaughterhouses are not clean or green enterprises and these facilities have proved to be environmentally damaging as well as economically draining to the communities that have housed them. It is clear that states with experience hosting horse slaughter facilities do not want them back: Texas and Illinois have implemented laws that specifically ban selling, giving and possessing horse meat intended for human consumption.

Horse Slaughter Abroad

Approximately 150,000 American horses are trucked over our borders each year to slaughter facilities in Mexico and Canada. Reopening slaughterhouses in America is not the answer to ending this form of cruelty. In fact, even when horse slaughter facilities operated in the United States, tens of thousands of American horses were still exported to other countries for slaughter. Additionally, long-distance transport is an inherent aspect of this industry. Given the vast geography of the U.S., any transport of American horses to slaughter—within or outside the U.S.—will be long and brutal.

The Future

Until a ban is in place, every American horse is at risk of meeting this fate. Fortunately, in April 2015, Congress introduced the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (H.R.1942/S. 1214) to prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States and ban their export abroad for that purpose—but we need your help to ensure Congress passes this important legislation.


Slaughtering Process

In most countries where horses are slaughtered for food, they are processed in industrial abattoirs in similar fashion to cattle. Typically, a penetrating captive bolt gun or gunshot is used to attempt to destroy the animal's higher brain tissue. The blow is intended to either kill the horse instantly or stun it, with immediate exsanguination (bleeding out) being used to both ensure death and to begin the process of meat harvesting. "Saleable" meat is removed from the carcass, with the remains rendered for other commercial uses.

Horse welfare advocates have raised concerns that the particular physiology of the horse cranium means that neither the penetrating captive bolt gun nor gunshots are reliable means of ensuring that is horse is in fact killed or stunned, and that the animal is more likely to be simply be paralyzed, and to therefore experience the full pain and awareness of being skinned and butchered alive during the final phase of the slaughter process.