By Malinda Larkin. JAVMA News August 15, 2011
After four years without domestic horse slaughter facilities in operation and a thorough study of the results, one thing is clear: the same number of horses from the United States, if not more, are being killed for their meat every year.
According to a recently released report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the plant closures have shifted the slaughter horse market to Canada and Mexico and driven down the sale prices of lower-grade horses. They've also worsened an already bad welfare situation by forcing horses to travel long distances to slaughter, often in unregulated trips.
Since fiscal year 2006, Congress has annually prohibited the use of federal funds to inspect horses destined for food, effectively halting domestic slaughter. With the cessation of domestic slaughter in 2007, Congress directed the GAO to examine horse welfare.
The organization's 68-page report, "Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter," came out June 22, more than a year after its scheduled release date (see JAVMA, Nov. 1, 2009, page 1026).
The GAO examined the effects, if any, of the plants' closures on the U.S. horse market; the impact of such market changes on horse welfare and on states, local governments, tribes, and animal welfare organizations; and the challenges, if any, to the Department of Agriculture's oversight of the transport and welfare of U.S. horses exported for slaughter.
From its analysis, the GAO recommended that Congress reconsider restrictions on the use of federal funds to inspect horses for slaughter or institute a permanent ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. Further, the agency recommended that the USDA issue a final rule to protect horses during more of the transportation chain to slaughter, and consider ways to better leverage resources for compliance activities.
Worsening horse welfare
According to the GAO, from 2006 through 2010, the number of horses exported from the U.S. to Canada for slaughter increased by 148 percent and the number exported to Mexico increased by 660 percent. As a result, nearly the same number of U.S. horses were transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010—almost 138,000—as were slaughtered before domestic slaughter ceased in 2007. For reference, 104,899 horses were slaughtered in 2006, the last full year of domestic slaughtering operations, according to the report. Full story