Recent Advances to Protect Slaughter-Bound Horses
USDA Ruling Ends Use of Double-Decker Trailers in Slaughter Pipeline; Federal Legislation Would Ban Slaughter for Human Consumption

October 11, 2011

September marked two significant advances in the effort to protect horses bound for slaughter. Early in the month, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ruled that all regulations covering the humane transport of horses to slaughter be extended to include slaughter-bound horses who are delivered first to an assembly point, feedlot or stockyard—closing a gaping loophole that previously allowed the horse slaughter industry to escape oversight and transport horses in inhumane conditions including in double-decker trailers.

Also in September, H.R. 2966, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, was introduced by U.S. Reps. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. This legislation, which will end the export and inhumane killing of horses for human consumption, mirrors Senate legislation introduced in June and represents a renewed effort to ban horse slaughter at the federal level.

New USDA Regulations Regarding the Transport of Horses

Before the new USDA ruling, horses could be transported to a holding facility in double-decker trailers. This allowed shippers to exploit the loophole by saying they were transporting the horses to such a facility and then simply making a stop between the auction block and slaughter plant. Double-deckers trailers cannot be used to safely transport horses because they are designed for shorter-necked animals, such as cattle and sheep. Horses carry their heads high and use their long necks for balance. The low ceilings in double-deckers mean they are forced to lower their heads to an abnormal and uncomfortable position, which can lead to imbalance during transportation and subsequent injury, sometimes even death.

Horrific injuries to horses’ heads, necks, backs and legs have been documented by the USDA. In the Federal Register, the USDA stated, “We do not believe that equines can be safely and humanely transported on a conveyance that has an animal cargo space divided into two or more stacked levels.” In addition, recent reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Office of the Inspector General also recommend closing the loophole that allows shippers to use double-decker trailers to transport horses to all but the final leg to a slaughter plant.

Since there are no remaining horse slaughter plants in the United States, this change is important for improving the humane transport of the approximately 100,000 horses still being shipped long distances to slaughter facilities in Canada and Mexico each year.

American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act

Meanwhile, newly introduced federal legislation would ban the export of horses for human consumption to foreign countries outright. H.R. 2966, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, is a bipartisan measure that was introduced in the House in September with 57 original co-sponsors. S. 1176, the companion Senate measure, was introduced in June by U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and now has 24 co-sponsors.

Horses in trailer near U.S.-Mexico border
Horses headed for slaughter in Mexico.
Kathi Milani/The HSUS

These federal bills are a renewed effort at the federal level to end the practice of sending American horses to slaughter for overseas consumption. The horrendous end for horses sold for slaughter begins at an auction and continues with the transport to the slaughter plant. The journey to and across a border can mean confinement in a trailer at temperatures in excess of 100 degrees for thousands of miles without access to food or water. Once unloaded, the often exhausted, dehydrated and sometimes battered horses are forced into kill boxes where they suffer further abuse as workers attempt to render the panic-stricken animals unconscious.

“I am proud to join Representative Burton in supporting this bill to put a stop to the cruel practice of shipping horses abroad for slaughter,” said Rep. Schakowsky. “As a strong supporter of animal rights and a horse lover, I recognize the need to protect animals that aren’t able to protect themselves. Protecting animals ought to be a bipartisan issue, and this bill is a strong step in the right direction.” Echoing Rep. Schakowsky’s concerns, a recently released GAO report recommends, “Congress may wish to consider instituting an explicit ban on the domestic slaughter of horses and exports of U.S. horses intended for slaughter in foreign countries.”

How Veterinary Professionals Can Help

The veterinary community can play an important role in ensuring passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Since elected officials look to the veterinary community for guidance on animal welfare and protection issues, your opinion will carry extra weight.

HSVMA encourages veterinary professionals to contact their state representatives and senators to express support of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011 and urge their co-sponsorship of H.R. 2966 or S. 1176. Make sure when contacting to identify yourself as a constituent and veterinary professional when contacting your elected officials.

Look up your federal legislators' information»

For more on how you can help protect horses and end the cruelties involved in horse slaughter, read the HSVMA E-Newsletter interview with equine practitioner Dr. Tom Judd entitled “The Veterinary Role in Ending Equine Slaughter.”