The Origins of Horse Slaughter in the United States
Most Americans are unaware that their horses are being slaughtered by the thousands so their meat can feed the plates of overseas bourgeois diners in countries such as Belgium, France, Italy and Japan. Show horses, racehorses, foals born as a byproduct of the Premarin© industry (a female hormone replacement drug), wild horses, carriage horses, and family horses all fall prey to this detestable international industry. Despite claims to the contrary, most of the slaughtered horses are in good to excellent health, yet they are inhumanely killed and their meat shipped overseas to satisfy the demands of foreigners for “American Horse Steaks.”
A scientific poll taken in California showed that 70% of those polled support a ban on horse slaughter. Non-scientific polls show up to 90% in favor of banning horse slaughter. Amazingly, 60% of those polled were not aware of the horse slaughter industry.
Nearly twenty years ago, there were up to 14 active horse slaughter plants in the United States, gradually reducing their numbers due to diminishing foreign demand for horse meat in the late 90′s.
Today, due to a mixture of fragile (and now rescinded) appropriation cuts, state legislation and court rulings, there are no horse slaughter plants currently operating in the US. However, last year alone 133,241 American horses were shipped to be slaughtered abroad, having such abhorrent industry moved operations to plants owned by or working for the same interests in Canada and Mexico, where they can continue the brutal killing of horses with nearly total impunity.
Although working classes around the globe have been badly hit by the crisis, unfortunately this one has been enough to quench the lust for horsemeat of the well-to-do in the countries where it is a staple of luxurious “author cuisine”; horse meat demand is on rise. Sadly, horse meat is trendy again, surrounded by a halo of mythical properties and hype promoted by the horsemeat purveyors to deceive ignorant, unsuspecting individuals.
Habitat for Horses has played a part in several attempts to stop this needless destruction of our horses and we’ll continue to do so until the slaughter of horses is over in and from this country. We invite you, as a member, to work within the legal system to put an end to slaughter and to learn, in the following paragraphs, the background and true facts surrounding this unnecessary evil.
The horse slaughter industry is a somber, secretive one. It neither likes nor withstands public scrutiny of their activities.
Horses have been always regarded in America as companion and sport animals, work partners and trusty war comrades, carrying us across the country and making our very country possible. Icons of freedom, symbols of our history, they have never been food items nor breed to become an agribusiness commodity intended to be industrially-processed to satisfy wealthy, bourgeois palates abroad.
This view match with findings revealed by several nation and state-wide scientifically polls on horse slaughter carried out years ago, concluding that 70% of Americans oppose horse slaughter and do not think horses are raised for food or fiber. In some states such as Virginia or Texas up to 74-77% were opposed to horse slaughter and either supported a federal ban or were opposed to overturning state law banning the trade of horse meat.
Yet, most people are unaware of the slaughtering of US horses abroad, as they were of US-based horse slaughter in recent years (the Texas poll revealed that up to 89% of those polled were not aware that horses were slaughtered in the US despite the state housed two of the three last US horse slaughter plants). Some still associate horse slaughter with “taking ole Bob to the glue factory” but the facts tell otherwise.
According to official USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) data 92% of the horses arriving at the plants to be slaughtered are in good or excellent condition and are less than 8 years old. This contradicts the claims from horse slaughter proponents that horses killed are old, sick, skinny or infirm and that thus horse slaughter (or better said US-based horse slaughter, as the practice has not yet been federally banned) is necessary to dispose off these animals; nothing farther from truth.
Horses in America are not treated as food animals and are more akin to pets. However, due to the vast amount of land available and a series of past tax incentives, horses in America and their upkeep until their optimal slaughter age (5-8 years) are relatively quite cheap when compared with the cost of such animals in countries such as Belgium or France, where there is not as much land or rural areas available and, thus, overall “head” price is higher.
It is not that there are not horses in those countries (they are even raised for slaughter or procured from other countries like the UK, Spain or mostly, Eastern Europe ones) but simply keeping horses in those countries to their optimal killing age is uneconomical, specially when taking into account European Union’s food safety regulations barring from entering the food chain animals treated with certain drugs of common use in horse husbandry such as phenylbutazone, banamine, antibiotics, hormones and assorted NSAIDs.
This, coupled with the fact they consider meat from horses raised specifically for slaughter of inferior quality and that the most sought-after breed for slaughter is the American Quarter Horse (due to its big, muscular configuration), resulted in a host of European, mostly Belgian and French, agribusiness multinationals establishing a network of slaughter plants throughout the US, Canada and Mexico during the early 1980′s, intended to supply the vast demand for horse meat in their home countries, where horse meat was deceitfully hyped on purpose by the same companies as being “healthy” and some sort of “light”, weight-loss-intended substitute of beef, despite scientific evidence showing otherwise.
The low horse prices, together with irresponsible breeding practices promoted by organizations such as the American Quarter Horse Association, encouraging the mass-production of foals every year in order to raise millions of dollars in registration fees, created a paved road for the multimillion dollar horse slaughter industry, which quickly proceeded to parasitize the American horse industry, further encouraging abuse, neglect, crime and even lower horse prices at all levels.
Some claim that horse slaughter arrived and flourished in the US as a consequence of foot-and-mouth and BSE (a.k.a. “mad cow”) disease outbreaks in Europe but the fact is that, while the plants certainly played the health ball with their customers in the 80′s and early 90′s, they arrived to the US merely to increase their bottom line. Face it, the United States was for the horse killers the perfect playground where they could take advantage of ultra-cheap raw matter and increase their already high profits.
Countering claims from horse slaughter supporters that horse slaughter is necessary for running-of-the-mill horse owners to humanely euthanize old, sick or infirm animals, the plants quickly established a cartel of hired contractors of dubious background specialized in going through auctions to purchase the best looking, meatier horses in great, fixed amounts (called “quotas”), outbidding normal buyers looking for horses for usual purposes, to later sell them to the plants at a fixed, higher price than individuals selling smaller loads (which were, in fact, non-existent according to slaughter records).
These characters, commonly known as “killer buyers”, quickly became ever present in auctions, to the point of becoming a staple of them, creating a spiral of abuse, death and continuous law violations that went, and continue to go in most cases, unpunished, beginning the very same moment a horse is put in the “slaughter chain” and finishing with a brutal, inhumane and terrorizing death in a filthy slaughter plant.
Such “agents”, transport these poor horses under appalling conditions, from auction to auction until they complete their “quota”, usually for hundreds of miles, enduring scorching heat or freezing blizzards, without any food, water or rest and without separating genders or aggressive horses, in filthy trailers designed to carry cattle (with lower ceilings) that prevent them from traveling upright, causing severe head, neck and limb injuries, with a total disregard for federal or state animal transport regulations. Some horses reach the plants so badly injured they cannot move or are already dead (in some instances they were lift-forked out of the killing floor or dragged to the killing chute). This is known as the “Last Ride”.
Capitalizing on this lack of awareness, a series of ill-conceived tax incentives on horse ownership and the support of far-right politicians and big buck agribusiness lobby, as always seeking to decrease health safety and animal protective regulations in an effort to cut down production costs-, the horse slaughter industry, owned by mostly Belgium and French interests, established a network of purveyors and middlemen of dubious reputation supplying with fresh, healthy horses up to fourteen horse slaughter plants in the early 1990′s in the US alone. It is worth noting in this regard that US production was not enough for the foreign, wealthy palates to satisfy their gluttony for tasty, fancy American race horse meat, so plants were also established in Canada and Mexico, most specifically for such purpose. Everything looked like if there were no clouds in the horse slaughter industry’s future in the US, but things were soon to change.
Equines killed in US-based horse slaughter plants. Note the sharp decrease in the number of horses killed since 1991 and how it recovers in 2004. Since 1985 a total of 3,355,057 horses have been cruelly slaughtered in the US alone with hundred of thousands more exported for killing in Canada and Mexico. Source USDA. Statistics compiled by Darrel Charlton, Jr.
Suddenly horse meat lost popularity abroad, causing a sharp demand decrease. Younger European generations share a viewpoint of horses much closer to the American one than their older counterparts which, together with awareness campaigns by local animal protection groups (such as Animals Angels), resulted in fewer people consuming horse meat, even tough there was still a niche market for it. horse meat was not so trendy‚Ä¶ At the same time, awareness of this despicable industry increased in the US, with the first groups organizing in order to denounce and eventually trying to outlaw the practice and its collateral consequences.
This ruined to some extent the pink-colored expectations of the horse slaughter industry. The dwindling demand resulted in most US-based plants closing down for good while the long list of their outraging practices, including the most-ever abject displays of evil and the systematical extermination of wild horses supposedly protected by federal law, started to become known by the American public.
From fourteen plants in 1990, with 345,700 equines killed that year in the US alone, only four of them were still in operation by 1997, with only three of them operating the following year, and only two in 2002, after one of them was destroyed by a fire under not-so-clear circumstances and flimsy accusations of arson involving animal rights groups, later reopening two years later.
This basically reduced the stock of US-based plants to three, corresponding to the three most powerful meat production and export European multinationals: Beltex Corporation, located in Fort Worth, Texas and owned by Belgian Multimeats NV; Dallas Crown, Inc., located in Kaufman, Texas and owned by Belgian conglomerate Chevideco NV; and finally, Cavel International, Inc., located in DeKalb, Illinois and owned by Belgian Velda NV; their respective hometowns being condemned to become the horse killing capitols of the United States and suffering the abusive, noxious consequences of hosting such evil, despicable industries.
At the same time, the first ever legislation banning horse slaughter at state level, a California ballot-initiative known as Proposition 6, was passed in 1998, while two years later, Texas Kaufman and Tarrant County District Attorneys Ann Diamond and Tim Curry, discovered in the State Agriculture Code a 1949 law banning trade operations involving horse meat.
These three plants managed to survive the demand decrease (which eventually turned the other side) and the growing legal and legislative pressure on them, moved mainly by grassroots efforts from concerned citizens. Paradoxically, by the time Proposition 6 was passed in 1998, way after the number of horses killed in the US dropped dramatically as result of shrinking foreign demand, the first pro-slaughter lobbyists and pundits (paid by both the horse slaughter multinational and assorted agribusiness lobby groups with an interest in horse killing such as AQHA, AAEP-AVMA and so on‚Ä¶) were starting to disseminate unfounded rumors regarding rising abuse cases and horses being released into the desert in an effort to hamper any legislative effort that could endanger the profits of the horse killing multinationals. Coincidence? Don’t think so!
So don’t be fooled to think the horse slaughter corporations came here to make Americans a favor and fix the so-called “unwanted horse” mess as many horse slaughter proponents and assorted pay-per-talk agribusiness lobbyists say time after another until boredom. They only came to the US to make even MORE money out of our horses, period.
Unfortunately, foreign demand for horse meat recovered in 2004 and the evil practice of killing companion horses to please dinners abroad thrived again. However, by that time, the plants had to face growing public opposition to horse slaughter as a result of exposition of the industry in the media and battle legislative efforts at both federal and state level seeking to close them down for good and outlaw the practice. The ensuing legislative and legal battle is detailed in following sections.
During 2007, due the combined effect of state legislation banning horse slaughter in Illinois and horse meat trade in Texas, court rulings upholding such laws, a now repealed federal appropriations legislation removing funds for mandatory USDA inspections at the plants (necessary for them to export the meat to Europe) and an ultimate federal court ruling overthrowing an “interim final rule” set up at the eleventh hour by USDA to create an illegal fee-for-inspection scheme to allow the plants continue their operations “as usual”, the US-based horse slaughter plants were forced to close.
Nevertheless, the horse slaughter corporations, already looking forward to such an outcome, outsmarted the American public and quickly moved operations to plants abroad, especially in Canada and Mexico; some built specifically for such a purpose (like the Multimeats NV one in Fresnillo, state of Zacatecas, Mexico), others adapted from old beef packing plants like the Natural Valley Farms ones in Neudorf and Wolseley, Saskatchewan, Canada used by Velda NV, to replace the closed one in Illinois. Overall, since USDA began to record horse killings in 1985 a total of 3,355,057 horses, ranging from thoroughbreds and riding ponies to the nearly extinct wild horse, have been slaughtered in the US alone, with nearly a million more being exported for slaughter to Canada and Mexico.
Regrettably, the situation today remains nearly unchanged, with more than 100,000 horses being transported every year under unspeakably inhumane conditions for thousands of miles to Canada or central Mexico, all due to the inaction of the US Congress, whose drowsy, apathetic members, stupefied by the mermaid chants of big-business lobbyists and similar hired guns, are unable not just to pass federal legislation to end this injustice that have been sitting in their desks for almost ten years but also to merely bring it to a vote at the simplest level.
Currently, there are a total of four horse slaughter plants right now operating in Canada, all of them approved for export of their meat production by the European Union:
Horse Slaughter Plants in Canada
- Les Viandes De La Petite-Nation, Inc., also doing business as Les Cerfs du Boileau, located in Saint-Andr√©-Avellin, Quebec.
- Viande Richelieu, Inc. based in Massueville, Quebec.
- Bouvry Export Calgary Ltd., in Fort Macleod, Alberta.
- Canadian Premium Meats, Inc. located in Lacombe, Alberta.
In Mexico, there are other four horse slaughtering plants in operation, all of them also approved for export by the European Union (in fact, they are the only establishments in the whole country approved to do so):
Horse Slaughter Plants in Mexico
- C√°rnicos de Jerez S.A. de C.V., located in Jerez, owned by the Dutch Visser & Van Walsum BV.
- Empacadora De Carnes De Fresnillo S.A. De C.V., in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, owned by the Belgian Multimeats NV.
- Empacadora De Carnes Unidad Ganadera, S.A. De C.V., based in Aguascalientes, operated by a front company called Inter Meats S.A. de C.V. owned in turn by the nefarious Chevideco NV.
- Empacadora Y Ganadera De Camargo S.A. De C.V., located in Camargo, state of Chihuahua.
There were other 3 plants slaughtering horses in Canada although these ones closed down in the past three years due to different reasons. The most remarkable of them was Natural Valley Farms, Inc. -located in Neudorf (slaughtering plant) and Wolseley (processing facility), Sasketchewan- a financially-troubled former beef packing operation that was contracted by the Belgian Velda NV to slaughter horses for them when their Illinois-based Cavel International, Inc. plant was shut down by court order in June 2007.
Weeks before the Illinois Public Act 095-0002 was upheld by the 7th Circuit United States Court of Appeals on September 2007 forcing Cavel International to close down, Velda’s director Luc Van Damme, preying on the financial woes of the failed organic beef plant (which already accumulated a few million dollars in debts), approached Natural Valley Farms’ managing board and proposed them to hire the facilities to slaughter horses for Velda NV. The unsuspecting Canadian owners accepted the deal not knowing such decision would lead to its demise, both financially, environmentally and legally. After investing a significant amount of money and resources in adapting the plant to slaughter horses and later on confronting CFIA’s (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) staff and regulations, Natural Valley Farms found that killing horses for Velda was not being profitable at all; it cost more to run the operation than what Velda was paying them and soon debts started to skyrocket.
In early 2008, several months after Natural Valley Farms started slaughtering horses, Animal Angels Canada and the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition carried out an investigation on its activities which would soon reveal a sadly long record of disturbing practices, heinous atrocities and law violations committed in this plant during its operation, whose results were released in a report that sparked a news story in CBC’s The National titled “No Country For Horses” and an inquiry by CFIA on the inhumane slaughtering practices and environmental violations gathered on it.
At the same time, the debt accrued by Natural Valley Farms continued piling up to the point of amounting to $42 million and, in September that year, the company was put into receivership by a Regina court. However, a month before Natural Valley Farms reached a lease agreement with Luc Van Damme’s Velda to allow them keep operating the facilities, now run by a Velda front company denominated “Natural Meat Company” √