Horsemeat Scandal Illustrates Need for Federal Action

A food scandal has rocked Europe, where products labeled as beef—everything from frozen lasagna to Swedish meatballs—have tested positive for horsemeat. But it’s not just in Europe where government officials should take notice; the controversy affects the United States, too. More than 100,000 American horses are killed each year for their meat, and the main market for this product is Europe.

Former racehorses, carriage horses, family ponies, and other equines are scooped up at auctions by predatory “killer buyers,” who often outbid horse rescue groups and families that want to give the horses a new, loving home. The majestic creatures are crammed tightly into cattle trucks, and shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to slaughter plants across the border in Canada or Mexico.

HorsesThey are butchered, shrink-wrapped, and air-freighted to Belgium, France, Italy, or other countries. It’s a grisly end for an American icon. And it’s generally reserved for the strongest, healthiest horses, with the most meat on their bones to fetch the most profit—not the sick and homeless as the horse slaughter boosters would have us believe.

Stopping the cruelty of long-distance transport and slaughter of our cherished companions should be enough to spur action. But there’s another major reason our lawmakers should act: We are dumping unsafe and contaminated horsemeat on European dinner plates and supermarket shelves.

The European Union forbids imports of American chicken because the carcasses are bathed in chlorine, and bans pork imports because American producers treat the animals with ractopomine. But tens of thousands of drugged-up American horses are entering the marketplace, even though they are routinely given medicines throughout their lives not intended for human consumption.

Clenbuterol, a bronchodilator with anabolic steroid properties, and Phenylbutazone, known as bute or horse aspirin, are among many commonly prescribed medications for treating ailing or lame horses—but banned for use in animals slaughtered for human consumption. The U.S. has no system in place to track the medications that are given to horses over their lifetimes, and therefore, there’s no reliable way to remove horses from the food chain once they have been given prohibited substances. It’s no surprise that bute was found last summer in horsemeat shipped from Canada to Belgium, and continues to turn up in random testing.

While horse slaughter apologists such as those in the Oklahoma legislature are rallying for a return to equine abattoirs on U.S. soil, it’s becoming uncertain whether they will have any remaining markets to sell their product—especially if the European Union decides to crack down on sales of horsemeat from North America in light of the recent scandal.

It’s time for the U.S. Congress to take a hard look at the serious and far-reaching food safety concerns associated with slaughtering American horses. Lawmakers should reintroduce federal legislation to prevent the slaughter and export of our horses for human consumption, and send a message that the global trade of U.S. horsemeat is simply unsuitable for the dinner table.


AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • Jo


    Any Race horse trainer or owner who is caught sending equine to slaughter will be denied stabling at Woodbine Racetrack. This is great move from industry, I personally could NOT have been any happier to learn of this!

    February 26, 2013
  • Morgan Griffith

    I liked Ikea coming out and saying their meatballs couldn’t have horse meat in them because their suppliers are in part Canada. Guess Ikea is banking on people not putting the link between Canadian horse slaughter and Ikea products together. Anyone want a meatball straight out of Canada?
    Wouldn’t it be nice if Oklahoma did go through all the expense of opening up a horse slaughter plant and nobody came?

    February 26, 2013
  • sherriey

    i asked this question awhile ago…i ask it again.
    how come the US gov is not lawfully/legally responsible to those other countries that they allow the exportation of horsemeat to, knowing that its full of harmful toxic drugs? if you or i did this…we’d go on trial for trying to poison someone! EU needs to sue the US!

    February 27, 2013
    • Aleta Pahl

      I have always thought the same thing… how can the USA look the other way, knowing our horses not raised as a food animal are full of carcinogens. They fully know the dangers of bute for humans. Bute that is given to maybe over 95% of US horses and the US government thought it was ok to let Europeans eat this contaminated food? I do think Europe should file some kind of formal complaint or investigation into the practice of letting nonfood animals be sold for food to unsuspecting Europeans.

      February 27, 2013
      • Daniel Cordero

        Easy… they just pass the buck to somebody else:

        On paper, the meat doesn’t come from the US (it does from Mexico and Canada) so the EU doesn’t and can’t legally request anything from the United States. It does require from those two countries lifetime drug records and stable to table traceability even though nearly the entirety of horses slaughtered for export to Europe come from the US (%80 in the case of Canada). In order to get around these requirements these two countries implemented at the request of EU an ID, drug record database and traceability system that applies to minority of slaughtered animals (namely those raised locally and slaughtered for export) only to muddle through it and make to the minimum standards required for export. Then, again to muddle through it and to allow foreign stock to be killed and exported, they came up with a system of affidavits (or rather “sworn statements”) by virtue of which a foreigner of a third country not engaged in the EU approval agreement (the United States, that is, the American killer buyer) assumes all responsibility and ensures, by virtue of his honor, that no drugs of a list he implicitly assumes know about was given to the animal in six months, that no forbidden drug (of another list he also implicilty assumes to know already about) was ever given to the horse and that he owned it for at least six months. So, legally, the responsibility doesn’t lies in the Canadian or Mexican goverments but in some guy from America. And since this guy is just an individual, signing the affidavit on his private capacity, and the US goverment didn’t sign any export agreement or applied for permits to the EU, the US goverment isn’t responsible either of all the shit that comes with horsemeat. However, since this killer buyer American guy is just a foreigner, the Canadian and Mexican (even less the 24 EU countries) cannot prosecute him, effectively passing the buck to somebody else unknow.

        In other words, it is just a chain of buckpassing that always ends up somewhere else, effectively exonerating all parts involved in the transaction.

        February 27, 2013
        • Aleta Pahl

          yes, I have followed this issue for several years now, but you have summarized it well. I just think the public awareness is finally surging because of this huge scandal and when People in Europe see the AA videos and reports and the horrific cruelty on top of the toxic issue, this can look bad for the US… for the lack of concern for how these horses are exported, treated, and lies are told to consumers….whether it was legal or not… this will make the US look bad, deservedly so.

          February 27, 2013
  • Aleta Pahl

    I just called the White House comment line and said, the President should be out in front of this issue now as the scandal is spreading. The USA should stop the shipments of horses across the borders and maybe he can sign an order to do this immediately.

    February 27, 2013