Slaughter once again a hot, polarizing topic


Daily Racing Form / Jay Hovdey / March 15, 2013

images-1So it’s once again into the breach, with federal legislation that would effectively ban the horse slaughter business in the United States introduced this week in Washington, D.C., by a collection of senators and representatives who would give the effort a gloss of bipartisan suport, if there still is such a thing.

The Safeguard American Food Exports Act (SAFE) is sponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Reps. Jan Shakowsky (D-Ill.) and Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.). Positioned to amend the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, the bill first will be taken up by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

On the face of it, the SAFE Act seems timed to take advantage of the international uproar over the contamination of some packaged European foods with unregulated horse meat. In fact, the bill has been in the works for the better part of a year and finds itself injected into a equally heated domestic climate, with a lawsuit effort in New Mexico to reopen a slaughterhouse and legislation moving rapidly to encourage a slaughter industry in the state of Oklahoma.

There is not now nor ever has been a federal ban on horse slaughter. In fact, there is a thriving horse slaughter business in the U.S. even though slaughter plants have been idle since 2007, when USDA inspections were defunded. Estimates indicate that upward of 150,000 horses of all breeds are purchased and hauled across state lines to slaughter facilities in Mexico and Canada each year, some of it done legally, some of it not, depending on where the horses originate and which state lines are crossed.

The defunding for inspections was lifted in 2011, based largely on conclusions drawn from a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that cited anecdotal evidence from veterinarians as to a growing number of abandoned horses. Ever since then there have been efforts to get the horse slaughter industry rolling again.

Polls indicate that around 80 percent of Americans oppose the slaughter of horses and are even surprised it is an issue. For most of those polled I would imagine the idea is abstract, residing in the same morally distasteful category as child labor or blatant racial discrimination.

However, the reality of horse slaughter draws sharp battle lines between those who support slaughter as a justifiably monetized end-use for a domestic animal and those who oppose the practice as a cruel violation of a deeply held cultural taboo. The introduction of the SAFE Act means those sides will be gearing up again, so in the spirit of following what is sure to be a fascinating political process, here are a couple of spectator tips:

Give a wide berth to anyone who uses the word “process” or “harvest” each time you ask them about “slaughter.” Processing is to slaughter what “enhanced interrogation” is to torture, as in:

“AQHA believes that reinstituting domestic horse processing will improve the economics of the horse industry by reintroducing a base price for horses and it will give owners one more option to have available should they need it,” according to former American Quarter Horse Association president Peter J. Cofrancesco.

Question the assumption that the lack of a domestic horse slaughter industry over the past six years has resulted in an increase of mistreated and abandoned horses. As Vickery Eckhoff writes in

“The argument tying abandonment to slaughter is being used specifically because nobody knows where the horses come from. Nobody ever mentions the more likely motivation that someone might wish to avoid taking them to auction because they are afraid they will go to slaughter, or they are afraid their sorry condition will be seen and reported.”

And do not be surprised to learn that the American Association of Equine Practitioners, supposedly representing the industry’s front-line veterinarians, is just fine with the idea of domestic horse slaughter, at least according to its latest position statement:

“The AAEP recognizes that the processing of unwanted horses is currently a necessary aspect of the equine industry, and provides a humane alternative to allowing the horse to continue a life of discomfort and pain, and possibly inadequate care or abandonment.”

But do give the AAEP extra credit for working both “processing” and “unwanted horses” into its party line.

In the past, there have been some groups in the Thoroughbred racing industry coming off a little wishy-washy over wholehearted support of an end to the U.S. horse slaughter business, despite the towering influence of activist owner-breeders like the late John Hettinger. With the introduction of SAFE, they have another chance to step up. When contacted this week National Thoroughbred Racing Association president and CEO Alex Waldrop seemed to be heading that way.

“The NTRA opposes the slaughter of Thoroughbreds for human consumption,” Waldrop wrote in an email communication. “We have not taken a position on the most recent legislation but will continue to focus our efforts on providing all horse owners with safe, reliable retirement and retraining alternatives.”

Anyone who has read this space in the past knows where this reporter stands, which is firmly alongside those who view horse slaughter for human consumption as a fundamental violation of a promise made to a sentient creature who is bred and raised to be a domestic companion or a performance athlete. Yes, they cost a lot, they get sick, and they sometimes hang in the shadow of the wire with a pick five on the line. They still deserve a decent end to a life they did not choose.

(Note: Jay Hovdey has long opposed horse slaughter and was one of the prime movers in the changes that have taken place in the racing world. PLease COMMENT on his website – HERE


AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • Greer Haseman

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. I too oppose horse slaughter and in no way shape or form trust our government agencies to do the right thing. Seems we the people do nothing but fight our government over the humane/inhumane treatment of horses and in general there is no protection for them either being transported to slaughter or rounded up on public land and shipped off to long term holding at the cost of millions of dollars a year…and I believe that many of those horses are making their way into the horse slaughter pipeline too. At least the bloody reign of Ken Salazar is coming to an end. Hopefully the new Sec. of the Interior will do a better job for the horses!

    March 16, 2013
    • Daryl

      I thnk we are fighting a up hill battle for these animals, it’s no one cares what happens to them, or how much they suffer. We are Americans and should not be doing this to these beautiful animals who don’t bother any one.

      March 16, 2013
  • Daryl

    thank good ness we have some people who are willing to address the problem and try and help the wild horses for a change. Wishing them luck and hope the furture will be brighter for the animals.

    March 16, 2013
  • Thank You also, for keeping us all updated on what is happening. We all are on pins and needles so hoping this Bill passes but will it be in time for that N.M. slaughter plant I just read they are going to open in three weeks, oh my goodness this is makeing me sick thinking about it!!!! I pray for once our gov. does the right and morale thing, in saveing our majestic horses who most definetly deserve much more than to end a horrible death!! We can’t save the ones that have already gone through this which I hate thinking about but so hope we can save future ones!!!!
    Thanks for All That You Do

    March 16, 2013
  • The AQHA comments demonstrate exactly why horse slaughter should be banned. Food safety is not an option. No animal of any species should be sent to slaughter if the animal has not been strictly raised as a food animal. An animal that is raised for other purposes does not suddenly become food years down the road when their careers end or the owner tires of the horse.

    March 16, 2013
  • sharksamoungus!

    The AQHA is only spitting out the agenda of Dave Duquette whos wife is employed as a free lance writer for the AQHA Journal. Which by the way, is something I no longer read. They are of the point of view THEIR horses used to sell for 20,000 each and that they were special because of the slaughter houses. When you take their comment and break it down. Heres what you see. First they are only concerned about what They make off of THEIR horses. No concern for the death of other horses, just that theirs are worth more. Secondly these people dont realize that a few years before slaughter shut down the NAtural Horsemanship Industry took a REAL hold and that trainer trained horses are not seen as valuable anymore, because people are learning to train their own and each others horses for recreation, show, and breeding. They dont understand that the days of super priced horses are no longer necessary. Secondly if they were so great at the breeding and training part of it their horses would have still brought that price. The Rita Quarter Horses case was proof of that the auction of her horses brought tons of money for each horse sold=Dave may not be the mighty trainer he once thought himself to be because people with money still pay big bucks for the horses they really want. Next their statements are to kill some horses to make up for the losses their farm has from the slaughter houses closed. NO that would be the economy-horse owners have learned new ways to save money and still keep their animals so springing tons of money for one horse is not practical and lastly there is a new trend in the US we have never had before on how to save money. So we turn on the tv every day to see how to save money-so it spread to the horses industry too. Duquette has no idea that the world and industry changed and the slaughter house closure was just a co=incidence and their facts I looked them up and they used the 2009 Gao report that only shows Colorado as having an increase in animals that were unwanted, the numbers are actually only 844 horses in the 2008 and increased to 1232 so the difference they quoted as 60 percent is correct but do the math its around 400 animals and the notes for that year, state the abandoned, neglected abused animals were coming from many killer buyers who were sick of keeping them and walked away, so they clipped that data out and used the 60 percent increase. Thats a lie.

    March 16, 2013
    • Daryl

      I was told many years a go if you buy when the meat dealers are operating the price is high, and if they shut them down the price of horses goes down, just what you were saying ….but the high dollar horses aer still selling and if you wnat on of them you pay for it , it is the little people who again gets the shaft. the older I get, the less I understand some things….It is wrong for any reason to kill and eat horses, it is not safe. They are not food.

      March 17, 2013
  • susan rudnicki

    The issue of banned drugs given the great majority of these horses during their lives is not mentioned. The AAEP is in collusion with big breed registries and their tax incentive/wealth sheltering schemes that find thousands of horses bred and discarded each year. The oxymoronic label “humane slaughter” is used by these folks to cull the ranks of horses not measuring up to the breed perfection standards. It is reprehensible and predatory, and the vets involved betray their own Hippocratic oath to “first, do no harm”

    March 17, 2013
  • Linda Jackson

    You can contact your state senator by telphone (ask the switchboard to connect) and express your opinion at 1-855-686-6927. If they fail to represent your interests you can fail to vote for them…give your friends this info.

    March 18, 2013