Horse slaughter proponents complain that with no slaughterhouses in the United States owners do not have a “viable” solution to “dispose of” their old, diseased or merely “unwanted” horses. They claim the absence of slaughterhouses creates a rise in horse abuse and neglect cases. They use fear tactics and tell outright lies—portraying a chaotic scenario in which horses are starved to death or released to fend for themselves in forests or fields because their owners “have no slaughter plants to take their horses to.” To that lie they add another falsehood—insisting that “animal rights activists have banned horse slaughter” in all the states.
Not so, on two counts.
First, not is there no federal legislation either banning the practice across the US or preventing horses from being shipped for slaughter abroad, and only four states have anti-slaughter legislation: California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Texas. Of those, only Illinois and New Jersey explicitly ban commercial horse slaughter. California only prohibits the trade and transport of live horses to slaughter, while Texas merely outlaws the sale of horse meat but does not prevent owners from killing their horses for human consumption. Such state laws aren’t sufficient to prevent the transport of horses for slaughter in other countries. The ongoing operation of slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada, where American horses continue to be hauled, belies pro-slaughter’s arguments.
Until recently, the only federal measure relating to horse slaughter, apart from blatantly ignored, never-enforced regulations regarding transport of equines to slaughter (found in 9 CFR §88), was a budgetary provision preventing the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from allocating funds for ante-mortem inspections at US-based horse slaughter plants. That provision theoretically disabled the plants from selling horsemeat for human consumption. But it was overridden before it came into effect when the USDA created a custom-built fee program, essentially allowing the plants to pay for the wages of the federal inspectors working on site. Making matters worse, the provision was surreptitiously repealed on November 18, 2011, in the 2012 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, by three pro-slaughter legislators, effectively allowing horse killing corporations to return to American soil.
Secondly, slaughtered horses are far from old, sick, lame, or emaciated. A USDA-commissioned study conducted by the Colorado State University in 1998 at the two horse slaughterhouses in Texas (Beltex Corp. and Dallas Crown, Inc.) showed that 92% of horses arriving at the plants are in good or excellent condition and are less than eight years old. The remaining 8%, the study found, evidenced recent trauma and other welfare-related problems, which could be attributed to transport conditions. In fact. more than half of that 8% showed clear signs of fighting injuries during transport. Only 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, 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, well-conformed animals, which some injuries, such as bruising and lacerations, clearly received during shipping and handling by killer buyers. No old, diseased or skinny horses were observed, despite the pens being watched for several days at various times.
This report contradicts claims from slaughter proponents that the horses killed are old, sick, skinny or infirm and that US-based horse slaughter is necessary to dispose of these animals. Since the flesh off these animals is sold as “maximum-quality” meat at top-dollar restaurants and butcher shops in Europe, old, sick or skinny animals would never do. They yield neither enough flesh nor the quality, consistency, and taste demanded by posh customers. No wonder the Mexican plants that are approved by the European Union to export horsemeat kill mostly, if not almost exclusively, horses shipped in from the United States.
Another commonplace misconception promoted by horse-killing fans is that a decrease in the slaughtering capacity (read: fewer operating plants) over the past few years has resulted in an increase in abuse and neglect cases. This canard can be easily debunked by official USDA statistics, which show not only that, indeed, US horses are still slaughtered, but that the number of horses shipped for killing in Canada and Mexico equals or even surpasses the number of horses slaughtered in US-based plants before they were shut down in 2007.
Following this line, slaughter backers often complain that the upsurge in horse abuse cases experienced since 2008 is the result of the closure of the US-based horse slaughterhouses. 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. According to the “loss of the slaughter option” theory, horses are abused when they can’t be sent to slaughter.
First of all, they could still be sent to slaughter. Secondly, while there was, it is true, an increase in reported neglect cases starting in 2008, it was a consequence of the poor economy following the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis, which caused record-breaking unemployment and bankruptcy rates. In fact, live horse exports to Canada and Mexico from the US skyrocketed just weeks after state legislation was enforced in Illinois and Texas, forcing the slaughter cartel to move operations across the borders. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding: take a look to the graph below, which compares 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. The same year, the number of horses shipped for slaughter to Canada doubled, while the horses sent to Mexico tripled, with a total of 122,459 US-originating horses slaughtered that year. That figure surpassed the total number of American horses slaughtered in 2004, when the US plants were in operation.
But what’s especially revealing is that until 2008, when no horses were slaughtered in US territory, the number of horses shipped for slaughter to Canada and Mexico increased yearly because of greater foreign demand. That’s why there were more horses killed in total in 2008 (134,059) than there were when the US plants closed the previous year (122,459). Notice that the 2008 total is even higher than back in 2005, when the US-based plants were in full operation (125,149 were slaughtered that year).
During 2008, when European countries got slammed by the economic crisis and their governments came to the rescue of the bankers, demand for US horsemeat decreased quite a lot, with only 106,542 US horses slaughtered. But that was still more than the number killed in 2004 (102,656), when the three US-based plants were open and thriving. In the following years, despite the economic woes of the working masses, demand for horsemeat rose again. Why? Likely because as European bankers, politicians and stock-market speculators secured and increased their earnings, they had the extra income to pay for luxury dining. Hence, the steady increase in the number of US horses shipped for slaughter to Canada and Mexico from 2009 on. The 133,241 US equines slaughtered across our borders in 2011 surpassed by far the total number killed when the US plants were operating at flank speed. So much for a loss of “slaughtering capacity” and “loss of the slaughter option.”
The horse slaughter lobby and its hired guns contend that American horses are now suffering more due to the closure of the US-based plants than when they were in operation. They cite two reasons: longer travel distances and no “guarantee” provided by the supervision of a Food Safety Inspection Service inspector (a veterinarian hired by the USDA). In other countries, slaughter’s champions assert, humane slaughter regulations are weak, unenforced or nonexistent. Though at face value such an argument sounds logical, it is actually a fallacy that doesn’t hold up when the facts are examined.
In the 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 the USDA (in charge of enforcing humane transportation and slaughter regulations) nor slaughter proponents cared about these animals back in the early 2000s, when the US plants were in full operation. Thus, their sudden concern for the horses’ welfare is blatantly false and full of self-interest.
In the second place, and more importantly, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and its FSIS transport-to-slaughter and humane slaughter inspection programs were a farce from the start. Documents from the USDA’s Office of the Inspection General (OIG) reveal that APHIS has admitted as much.
To begin with, APHIS conceded in a 2010 OIG report that it does not have an agency-wide policy on how to enforce the permissive equine transport-to-slaughter regulations (9 CFR §88 et seq.)—not even 14 years after Congress mandated the creation. In the same report, APHIS disclosed that established transport-violation fines were not being collected and that shippers (killer buyers) with a known record of systematic violations keep being approved instead of being pursued as offenders and, in the case of repeat violations, ordered to cease operations.
Furthermore, APHIS has failed to provide the USDA with a single evaluation, let alone a proposal to change the regulations with the goal of carrying out its duties as mandated by Congress. The OIG report also shows that APHIS had the chance to adopt such a rule in 2007, the year exports for slaughter abroad started to increase. So far, it has taken no action.
Despite the fact that it inexplicably took five years for APHIS to release the equine transport-to-slaughter regulations that Congress ordered in 1996 (Public Law 104-127), even after it did release it, APHIS still didn’t formalize an agreement with Canada and Mexico regarding exports of horses for slaughter to those countries. In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which is the investigative agency of the US Congress, found in a recent report that between 2005 and 2009, more than 50% of USDA owner-shipper certificates required for US horses to cross the border—certificates that must be returned by Canadian and Mexican authorities—were not properly completed and returned by officials of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Mexican Agriculture Department (SAGARPA) or by the shipper or by the slaughter plant. The certificates either lacked key information or they were completely missing. This is no surprise, considering that APHIS leaves up to the killer buyers fill out the owner-shipper certificates. That is tantamount to allowing the killer buyers to defraud authorities by either shipping stolen horses or by falsely certifying that legally purchased horses are drug-free (as required by European Union regulations). It’s a wonderful win-win for the slaughter plants, the killer buyers and APHIS.
But there is even more law-breaking than that going on.
The official documents obtained from USDA through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, which correspond to the year 2005-2006 (when the three US-based horse slaughter plants were in full operation), prove that APHIS has never shown an 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 staffers assigned to enforce the equine transport regulations nationwide, showing the agency’s bias for protecting the horse-killing industry, even when it has repeatedly defied 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 horses going to slaughter in any way. A downtown bar bouncer has more enforcement authority than this official agency of the US government.
The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), the USDA arm in charge of inspecting animals prior to slaughter as well as the facilities and the killing process itself, is no better. The GAO report found that in 2004 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 the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The GAO report four years later showed that inspectors kept such poor records that it was impossible to tell if they were making any improvement in their efforts to stop the ineffective stunning. In its 2010 report, GAO once again noted that, despite years of incident reports of abuse to the horses, FSIS enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (7 USC §1902) remained grossly inconsistent and, in many cases, nonexistent. Evidence taken at the plants corroborates this point.
Indisputable proof of the phoniness of their claim to care about the horses lies in the pro-slaughter side’s non-reaction to the discovery of a pasture full of decaying carcasses of horses starved to death. And just where were those bodies? On the Waco premises of renowned Texas killer buyer Terry Saulters, that’s where. We heard not a peep from the bring-slaughter-back-to-the-US crowd. It’s not that these horses starved because there was no slaughter plant available to give them a “humane death.” On the contrary, Saulters currently ships horses to one of the Mexican plants. And it was not because there wasn’t a “slaughter option” or because Saulters didn’t have the means to sell them at auction or euthanize them (chemically or by gunshot). Instead, it was either that: (1) the plants didn’t want these thin animals, who didn’t meet their quality standards or (2) the Mexican authorities rejected them or (3) Saulters didn’t care enough to provide food and water (let alone spend a couple dollars in .38 rounds to put them out of their misery) since, unable to make money off of them, for him they were nothing but junk, the same as broken auto parts.
Regrettably, the cruelty observed in Terry Saulters’ case is not an exception but the rule. Last January 17, 2012, 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-though-injured animals from the scene. Unfortunately for Ayache, Nashville’s WSMV-TV Channel 4 covered the wreck. He not only told reporters the animals were headed to a farm in Texas (actually a slaughter feedlot) instead of to a Mexican slaughter plant but also that the injured ones were taken to a farm in Oklahoma to recover. Records obtained from SAGARPA (the 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. It seems 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 that operates the Empacadora De Carnes Unidad Ganadera plant.
Not surprisingly, Ayache was not going to spend a few bucks euthanizing these four rejects, so instead he apparently had them dumped in hopes they would die of their injuries at no cost to him. Ayache made $11,100 from this load alone. So, to summarize, not only were these badly injured horses trucked more than 1,400 miles but the ones in the worst condition, not meeting standards, were simply rejected and thrown out like garbage, left to suffer a slow, agonizing death. This is the “humane euthanasia” championed by the pro-slaughter lobby and its hired guns.
Our 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. Thus far, this study has not been contested by pro-slaughter pundits, proving that they are unable to produce evidence to back their claims that abuse will rise. As a matter of fact, the horse neglect slippery slope argument has been commonly used by horse slaughter supporters since the mid-1990s—way before the US horse slaughter plants were shut down. The argument mutates to conform to the pro-slaughter lobby agenda. Although the facts, as we’ve already described, prove the falsity of the claims spewed forth by the horse slaughter lobby and its propaganda machine, a six-month investigation done by the Equine Welfare Alliance in conjunction with several other animal investigation organizations recently unveiled what can be considered the definitive argument against the pro-slaughter claims regarding abuse and abandonment of horses.
We lay the background of the investigation out below.
Since late 2009, a number of abnormal horse abandonment cases were reported in the southwestern states, mostly in the vast, remote portions of land just north of the Mexican border.
Keep in mind that the pro-slaughter lobby has a long record of putting out (usually by means of media favoring big-buck agribusiness political doctrines) fake, distorted or overly exaggerated stories about horses abandoned in diverse places, such as a reclaimed strip mine in Kentucky (which was in fact a community pasture where local residents turned out their horses to graze) or in Florida’s Everglades or at a series of unknown Oregon ranches. All of these manufactured locations have helped them make a case for their “lack of slaughter option” argument.
But starting three years ago—unlike in the past—these abandonment reports were actually truthful and were confirmed by both authorities and anti-slaughter horse advocates.
These new abandonment cases had a series of characteristics that made them very different from the typical horse neglect or dumping case. For one thing, the hides of some of these dead horses had been removed, clearly an attempt to obscure a brand. Also, they had shoe nail marks on their hooves, indicating they were domestic stock. Too, they were left in isolated, unpopulated areas with no access to hay or water.
Moreover, no similar cases were reported in other parts of the country, including along the northern US border. Furthermore, the areas where these horses were found in areas that don’t have a significant domestic horse population. So their origin was a complete mystery.
All the while, there was no decrease in the number of slaughtered horses that could have explained why horses were being abandoned in these unusual ways and places. Rather, slaughter of US horses has increased by 25% since 2009, with the number of animals shipped to Mexico for slaughter almost doubling.
Puzzled investigators asked themselves: Why were these horses being dumped only a few miles from the Mexican border but not in Nevada or Missouri or Pennsylvania or Montana? If this rash of cases was caused by a supposed lack of slaughtering capacity, why did this trend start in 2009—long after the US-based plants closed—and not before? Why weren’t owners selling these horses at $1 a head to one of the numerous killer buyers operating in the area? Who owned these horses, and why did they attempt to remove the brand marks?
If lack of US horse slaughter plants wasn’t to blame, to what extent, if any, was across-the-border slaughter involved in these strange abandonment cases?
A fortuitous discovery made in August 2011 in Texas by undercover investigators would set in place the first piece of the puzzle that eventually led to an answer to those questions. Near Big Bend Ranch State Park investigators spotted approximately 300 hundred dead and starving horses in a remote feedlot near a creek supplying water to the town of Presidio. Coincidentally, Presidio is one of the ports of entry for animals and goods traveling to and from Mexico. It turned out that this feedlot was actually the aforementioned Alvarado Pens, a facility used to temporarily hold slaughter-bound horses on their way to the Mexican plants and run by C4 Cattle Company and Inter Meats S.A. de C.V. The latter, as we know, is the front company owned by Chevideco NV, which operates the Aguascalientes horse slaughter plant and which formerly owned Dallas Crown in Kaufman.
C4 Cattle leases the feedlot premises. Inter Meats—an asset-less, phony Mexican publicly traded company used by Belgian Chevideco to mask its profits from the Mexican Revenue and Public Credit Secretariat so it can pay fewer taxes—buys the horses from US killer buyers and sends them to slaughter in the Empacadora De Carnes Unidad Ganadera plant in central western Mexico.
What came out later was that 40 of these unfortunate equines belonged to killer buyer Trent Saulters, already famous for starving horses to death at his father’s ranch in Waco, Texas (presumably for the same reasons). Saulters was arrested on two counts of theft, amounting to $120,000. So it was evident that the horse slaughter industry was responsible for the heinous atrocities committed in the Alvarado Pens. But the motive and the extent of the disaster were still unclear.
To the distress of the horse slaughter lobby and its paid-for puppets, the answer to these questions would come from an unexpected yet uncontestable source: the European Commission’s Health and Consumers Directorate General Food and Veterinary Office (DG-SANCO FVO), the EU agency in charge of food safety, plant inspection and third-country export authorization. From November 22 to December 3, 2010, the FVO conducted a mission in Mexico with the triple intent of (1) auditing Mexico’s controls on the production of fresh horsemeat for export, (2) auditing Mexico’s compliance with EU legislation, following up on a 2008 audit (which revealed the Mexican inspection procedures on horsemeat were essentially a bad joke), and (3) reviewing the action plan submitted by Mexican authorities to comply with EU requirements for export of horsemeat. As a result of the mission, the FVO released on April 20, 2011, a final report 2010-8524 setting forth the results of the audit and the deficiencies found. In section 18.104.22.168 (Import controls) of the report, the FVO indicates that Mexican authorities implemented a new system of official controls over imported horses intended for slaughter in December 2009, correcting the deficiencies observed by the 2008 audit.
The FVO report explains that the physical inspection of imported horses takes place on US territory (at the ports of entry). The FVO mission team visited the facilities of one of the exporters, noting that a thorough examination of the horses took place and, more importantly, that Mexican authorities discarded from the consignment (the killer buyer’s load) those horses with injuries, health problems or an advanced state of pregnancy. In total, 12 of the 30 horses examined (almost half of them) were rejected by the SENASICA official veterinarians of the Mexican border inspection offices. The report then reveals that, according to documents from the Mexican animal inspection border offices (OISAS), in just ten months (from January to October 2010), a total of 5,336 animals were rejected out of 62,560 live horses presented for import into Mexico.
The report also indicates that SENASICA, the Mexican equivalent of APHIS, has, since December 2009, required compulsory identification by microchip of all horses imported from the US before they are authorized to enter Mexican territory. This rule theoretically addresses the shortcomings regarding identification and traceability of US horses imported for slaughter—shortcomings which were cited during the 2008 audit. In short, Mexico is attempting to comply with EU export requirements by implemented a series of tight border controls. And killer buyers seem to be having a hard time meeting the requirement.
So, what happens to the horses rejected by SENASICA veterinarians? Are they simply returned to the owners (the killer buyers) or are they turned out to APHIS to enforce the current transport-for-slaughter regulations (which theoretically prevent horses in such bad conditions from being shipped for slaughter in first place)? After all, the examination takes place in USDA’s ports of entry.
Confirmation of what happens to them came when equine advocate Valerie James Patton, an investigator with Equine Welfare Alliance, was researching APHIS documents (VS Form 10-13, fitness to travel to a slaughter facility certificates) that are supposed to enable the agency to ensure that transport-to-slaughter regulations are followed by killer buyers. When questioned about what happens after these horses are rejected, APHIS indicated, in typically incompetent fashion, that the horses fall out of the system. To wit, transport-to-slaughter regulations are not enforced, and the animals are returned to the killer buyers. It doesn’t take much to figure out what happens next. Since it costs money to care for, provide medical treatment to (which in theory automatically makes a horse ineligible for slaughter, per EU regulations) or simply euthanize these horses, they are simply abandoned in a remote feedlot or a barren, out-of-sight stretch of road in the desert—left to slowly die of starvation and thirst. After all, horses are considered nothing but junk by killer buyers, who act more like copper pilferers than legitimate livestock dealers.
The importance of these findings is enormous: Not only has ending domestic horse slaughter not produced any proven rise in abuse, abandonment or neglect, but the horse slaughter industry itself is the very cause of severe abuse, mass abandonment, and tremendous suffering to US horses. And not just the industry, but the persistent inaction of the US Congress is perpetuating this suffering on a monumental scale. In just 10 months, at least 5,336 horses bound for slaughter but turned back at the Mexico border have either not been accounted for and are presumed dead or have been found, their carcasses rotting in out-of-the-way feedlots. This massive “equicide” far exceeds the worst horse abuse, starvation or abandonment case ever seen in the US.
Ironically, the pro-slaughter lobby has always attributed abandonment to lack of slaughter capacity and has invariably hyped slaughter as the solution to neglect and starvation. But that attribution is off-base. “Normal” cases of neglect and starvation are usually the consequence of a horse owner’s mental condition and are totally independent of whether horse slaughter exists or not. For the first time, this recent rash of repeated, massive starvation cases is the direct result of horse slaughter’s existence. In other words, this time there really is a correlation between starvation and slaughter, with the rejects from the slaughter pipeline being the very ones starved to death by those who pretend they are saving the horses from that very fate.
It is ironic that a country generally regarded as third-world—a country whose government and citizens are in an endless war with the most powerful criminal cartels ever—is doing a better job of enforcing animal transport regulations than is the supposedly #1 world power.
Of course, no supporter of horse slaughter has uttered a peep about the Presidio scandal or about the implications of the FVO report’s findings, both of which issue a blow to pro-slaughter’s rhetoric and reveal the lies and gore behind their propaganda. Yet they still have the nerve to keep repeating the same old lies in the belief that if they spew it enough times it will eventually stick. Consider this sick joke that slaughter queen Sue Wallis tells with a straight face: “If truth, honor, and a big heart count for anything in this country anymore, then a huge dose of long overdue appreciation is due to every one of the few remaining stalwart, heroic, saviors of doomed and suffering horses . . . the horse (killer) buyers. God bless them.”
The amount of information uncovered by volunteer investigators about the causes and symptoms of the Presidio disgrace is so vast, it would take hours to describe every detail. We invite you to read the many news articles on the subject by Animal’s Angel’s published on RT Fitch’s excellent blog, Straight From the Horse’s Heart.”