GAO Finds Unintended Consequences of Horse Slaughter Ban

Published August 29, 2011

A backdoor ban on horse slaughter in the United States, initially supported by animal rights groups, has backfired, with inhumane conditions becoming more prevalent, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study finds. With domestic horse slaughter no longer available in the United States, horses are increasingly being sent to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, where they are subjected to worse conditions.  

Unintended Consequences

The GAO study cites “unintended consequences” of the ban. These include a decline in horse prices, more instances of horse neglect and abandonment, and concerns for the welfare of horses being transported for slaughter across borders. 

From 2006 through 2010, U.S. horse exports for slaughter increased by 148 percent to Canada and 660 percent to Mexico. 

In 2006 Congress eliminated funding for the inspection of horses and horse meat crossing state lines. With the law leaving the costly inspection requirements in place but placing the financial burdens on horse owners, many horse owners have found it cheaper to send their horses to Canada and Mexico than to send them to slaughterhouses in the United States. By the end of 2007, commercial slaughterhouses ceased to exist in the United States. 

As a result, the GAO study finds, horses are now being sent across the border to endure harsher treatment than they used to receive in U.S. slaughterhouses.  

Return to Past Policy

Based on the GAO findings, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) is calling for a return of slaughterhouses in the United States.  

“The ban just doesn’t make any sense, and this report proves it. Injured or sick horses have to suffer even more by traveling long distances only to be put down in places where they aren’t protected by American humane standards. And farmers and ranchers are suffering from fewer sales and lower prices, while we send jobs to Canada and Mexico. That’s not right for our economy and it’s not right for our horses,” Baucus said in a statement. 

Reps. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Adrian Smith (R-NE) agree Congress should reevaluate the policy in light of the GAO study.  

“I hope this new GAO report makes slaughter opponents reassess their position,” Noem said in a statement. 

“In light of this information, Congress should reevaluate this misguided policy to allow responsible horse management which would create jobs, generate revenue, and strengthen a struggling horse industry,” Congressman Smith said in a statement.

End All Slaughter

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) supports a complete ban on the slaughter of horses.

“Industrial slaughter of horses should not be condoned by the United States Government,” said Rep. Moran in statement. “We have to put an end once and for all to this practice. These animals are a proud symbol of the American West, treasured by all for their beauty and majesty. They deserve to be cared for, not killed for foreign consumption.” 

GAO Recommendations 

The GAO offers two alternative recommendations. Congress should allow domestic horse slaughter by appropriating USDA inspection funds, or Congress should explicitly ban domestic slaughter and also ban the export of horses for slaughter in foreign countries, GAO suggests.

American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) President William Moyer supports resumption of the USDA funding.

“If Congress pursues the option of banning the processing of U.S. horses without the appropriate funding and infrastructure in place to appropriately care for these animals, this action may only amplify the negative welfare implications for this highly vulnerable population of horses,” Moyer said in a statement. 

Alternatives to Slaughter

The Humane Society, however, supports a complete ban on horse slaughter.

“The bloody, panic-stricken environment of a slaughterhouse is no place for our trusted companions to die,” said Valerie Pringle, an equine protection specialist for the Humane Society of the United States.   

Pringle lists several options for horse owners who are unable to care for their horses, such as relinquishing them to a horse rescue or sanctuary, donating horses to a therapeutic riding program, or, as a last option, veterinary-administered euthanasia, which she describes as being a humane and peaceful end as opposed to a slaughterhouse. 

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.