Supply and Demand Part 1

This is something we’ve had multiple readers ask us to comment on.  This post is the first of three, since it was becoming a very long read.  It’s a big topic!

Right now there are approximately 9.5 million horses in the United States.  Take a visit to an auction house or a horse rescue and it becomes very obvious that not all these horses are wanted.  Hell, just take 5 minutes to search craigslist and you’ll be able to find free horses all over North America!  As I’m sure most of you know, US Congress recently passed a bill that effectively reopens the door to having horse slaughter plants operating in the States.  Many people are arguing that this is the most sensible solution to the oversupply of horses.

Proponents of horse slaughter will often argue that horses are considered livestock and shouldn’t be treated differently from other meat animals.  We agree!  All other livestock intended to be used as food are required to be treated their whole life with this in mind.  Veterinary records must be kept, certain medications must be avoided.  Horses seem to be the only animal where people bring a random creature to an auction, with little to no documentation and still expect to be able to add it to the foodchain.  Many very common drugs and supplements are not approved for human consumption.  This lack of regulation makes horses more vulnerable to theft (by creating a market for horses with minimal documentation, in which the evidence is quickly and conveniently disposed of) and it produces meat that isn’t truly fit for people to eat.  People who wish to have the option to sell their horses for meat should have to be mindful of this for the entirety of the horse’s life.  Not just when the horse is no longer convenient!

Another of the many issues surrounding horse slaughter is the quality of transport provided to horses destined for meat.  Currently a loophole exists in the law that allows horses to be moved in double decker trailers, provided it’s not for the final leg of the journey to the abbatoir.  Transport injuries are far more common in this form of trailer, since they’re typically not designed with horses in mind.

***WARNING!*** Do not click on the following link if you if you cannot handle hundreds of very graphic photos of horse injuries.  These injuries include, but are not limited to, exposed bone, partially severed limbs and ruptured eyeballs.

Going to this link will take you to a copy of a USDA report on trailer injuries.  All of these injuries occured when slaughter plants were still running in the States.  Anyone who can make it through all of the photos has a far stronger stomach than I.  Anyone who can make it through and then claim there’s nothing wrong with current transport regulations has a very screwed up definition of humane treatment.

Here’s some brain bleach for those of you who need it! So cute!

There’s more to come, including some proposed solutions…


About snarkyrider

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Posted on December 12, 2011, in Misc Horsies. Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. I’ve gotta agree with you on everything here. I’ve never had a problem with the idea of horses being used as a food animal. Actually, with the overpopulation problem, it could even be a good thing – if it was properly controlled. And, up here in Canada at least, they’re of great benefit to the zoos that keep big cats, as horse meat is very close to their natural diet. I know of a few people who will sell (or even donate) horses that are going to be put down to humane slaughter houses that deal directly with zoos and big cat exhibits. Now, I probably would not be able to eat horse meat unless it was either that or starve, but I’ve always felt that it’s very hypocritical to say “slaughtering horses is wrong” while chowing down on a hamburger or chicken fingers. If you’re going to protest one animal being used for food, you’d better damn well be against ALL animals being used for food. It’s like the people who passionately try to defend dolphins from being caught in tuna nets, but don’t give a damn about the species of shark that are going extinct because of overhunting for shark fin soup. And why? Because dolphins are “cute” and “friendly,” and sharks are “evil” and “vicious.”

    But, the whole horse slaughter industry needs an overhaul. Seriously, how is it that horses get to the slaughter plant looking like skeletons? Humane treatment aside, how does anybody make money off a skinny horse? You would never drive by a cattle or sheep or pig farm and see a skinny animal. Although, with horse slaughter plants open in the US, it will at least mean a shorter travel time for most horses, which is something I guess… not good enough, not by a long shot, but better than nothing.

  2. I viewed it all the way through, but I have a VERY strong stomach. I can say, knowing what goes into horses I will never eat one. I’m not necessarily against them being used as a meat animal (though horses are extremely inefficient to feed and maintain for meat, much more so than cattle) but there’s some seriously strong regulations that have to be in place. They would need to be bread fed cared for and raised with the intention of being a meat animal. The random unwanted horse who’s been thrown to auction IS NOT appropriate for human consumption.

    We unfortunately don’t have a good (well known) way to dispose of elderly, or severely injured horses in my area. If you have the vet do it it can cost in upwards of $1000 which makes it near impossible for a lot of people to humanly end the life of an unwanted or unable to be cared for pet (and giving away on craigslist has reached capacity) I can see why the slaughter buss seems like a reasonable option.

    Thankfully we do have a large “safari” type zoo within reasonable driving distance, but I don’t know that many people know of this. the zoo does not chemically euthanize obviously because it would hurt the health of the big cats they keep. But honestly a well done single shot to the head in my opinion is kinder than the death throws that can follow a chemically euthanized animal.

    Either way SOMETHING has to be done about the overpopulation of unwanted animals in general. Slaughter really isn’t the answer for backyard unwanted horses, who likely have bute or wormer in their system which is extremely unhealthy for people. the answer is going to have to come in the form of breeding regulations. But the question is how! Who gets the right to breed horses and who doesn’t. does the 60 year old woman who breeds one nice warmblood a year who goes well in inspection and sells well at a year old get to keep her breeding licence? Does the A-hole breeding scads of N/H quarter horses get to keep breeding just because he’s breeding for the demand? Does the Thoroughbred ranch who churns out 200 foals a year, half of which ever go on to race, and less than half of those actually race in the money and the rest get sent to slaughter or suffer devastating breakdowns still get to keep his licence?

  3. Up until about 6 months ago, I was firmly against horse slaughter. Why? Because I knew nothing about it. I just knew that I would never, ever, EVER sell my baby for meat. And that’s fine. Recently, I’ve learned a bit more about it and my views have shifted. A lot of people aren’t as lucky as my family and can’t afford to keep a ‘lawn ornament’ around. And considering the alternatives (abandonment or homemade euthanasia), humane slaughter doesn’t sound to bad. That’s the key, humane. No double-decker trailers. Ever.

    And it’s pointless for the US to ban slaughter when those horses will just have to be transported much further to be processed. Transport is stressful at the best of times and I’m certain a horse on its way to slaughter isn’t treated the same in transport as my show pony. So why drag it out?

    I think the best solution of slaughter is CONTROL THE SUPPLY and stop breeding unwanted horses! But you cover the argument against backyard breeders pretty darn well, so I’m sure you know that.

    • Humane slaughter sounds nice… But the problem i there is no such thing as human slaughter for horses! Slaughtering a horse is not the same as slaughtering a cow or a pig. The size and conformation of horses make its impossible for them to be killed quickly and humanely. And, let’s face it, no meat plant owner is going to take the time to do it humanely, when it means loosing money.
      Most importantly, cattle stock like cows, sheep or pigs, are bred purposely to feed humans. The horses that end up in he slaughterhouses are bred as companions! And when when it’s not convenient anymore, they stop being companions and become food? Well, if we follow that reasoning, why bother wasting money euthanizing our cats and dogs when they get old and sick, let’s use them for food as well!

      • Amen Monica!

        And actually you follow the same bad_riding I do where I learned WHY horse slaughter can’t be humane. That long neck horses have? That long neck is extremely mobile so a horse cannot be properly restrained (especially when headshy) in a humane manner for proper stunning and horses often will wake up while hanging upside down! Cattle? Sheep? Pigs? All have short necks, easy to immobilize.

      • I’d be headshy if I was going to get slaughtered, wouldn’t you? And don’t tell me the horses don’t know what’s going to happen because they do. And I’ve seen many of them on video still conscious while they were being bled out. A truly horrible sight…

      • Just have to say, the way we slaughter cattle, sheep and pigs is honestly just as inhumane as horse slaughter…

    • While I agree about controlling the supply and also about the transportation to other places if slaughter were to remain banded, I’m wondering why you think slaughter is ‘humane’ at all? I agree that the double deckers aren’t in the least humane and I’m not trying to be rude or anything, but it’s more than just the transport that it wrong with slaughter.

      I have a hard time believing that anyone familiar with the way horses are slaughtered could consider it to be ‘humane’ – a captive bolt gun is ineffective in more ways than one when used on horses. They are fully aware of everything happening to them within 30 seconds of being hit with one, not to mention that sometimes they are stunned improperly. Then there is the fact that some workers from Cavil (when it was opened) said that they threw LIVE foals born at the plant into the trash. You are right that in Mexico it is worse, but in September this year, the U.S was actually planning to stop horses being transported for slaughter at all. Talk about doing a 180!

      Aside from that, as Snugly and Snarkly pointed out – horses are consistently given prohibited substances that are unsuitable for human consumption, so apart from slaughter being bad for the horse, it’s not exactly a healthy choice for humans who indulge in horse meat.

      I don’t see why people can’t just call a meat man to come out and shoot the horse – it is taken away and put to sleep for free in a humane manner (so is an excellent choice if you are short on funds). However, a lot of people don’t bother with that because although it’s free, you don’t MAKE money from it, which is exactly what I mean when I say horse slaughter is all about money. It constantly amazes me that people will dump their broken horses after years of service. I had one of my mares for a little over a year when she became lame – she’s only 19 now and still has many years left in her, but despite the fact that she can’t be ‘used’, I understand that it’s my responsibility to provide for her. It’s not HER fault that she became lame and she shouldn’t suffer for that, after all the years she has spent trying her heart out for humans.

      Just my 2 cents and please don’t take it the wrong way, I’m simply trying to point out the issues I have with slaughter.

      Snugs and Snarks – If you ever feel like starting a flame war at fugly, this is the subject to do it with 😉

  4. l finally got the damn file open and managed to force myself to watch page after page, after page or horrible injuries. But what got me the most was seeing their eyes… At times like these I think that the human race really doesn’t deserve to live on this planet… *sigh*

  5. I beg to differ……horse slaughter ( unlike the slaughter of beef or chickens ) is extremely INHUMANE! Please, feel free to watch the link: ( VERY graphic) http://www.defendhorsescanada.orglpn.html

    Then let me know if you still think that horse slaughter is humane. This report and video
    ( which was obtained by this group in an undercover manner ) was done by the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition. There is Vetrinarian testimonies as to the cruelty that these poor hoses suffered, as well as an 88page report submitted to the government, with the hopes of having this plant in Quebec shut down because of its severely inhumane treatment of the horses.

    Horses are part of our history in many ways and deserve respect!

  6. I have unfortunately had to witness humane equine slaughter, It can be done, but yes does take extra time and a sure hand. One properly placed shot CAN cleanly kill a horse. NOT that I’d ever want to be the one to do it!

  7. I firmly believe that currently all large scale aminal processing plants are inhumane. Google “they die piece by piece” it is an article about the former IBP plant in WA, I believe that it is Tyson owned now. I have been to it for a trip for a beef production class in college and we were able to observe most of the processing but were kept away from the knock box and where they bleed the animals. I truely believe that all livestock can be slaughtered humanely, including horses if we could move away from the large scale processing plants and shift more towards small scale butchers and mobile butchers. Much of the inhumanity and cruelty began when the unions were removed and minimum wage and illegal workers were brought in. When I visited the plant in Pasco, they were the smallest of the slaughtering facilities the company owned and they processed 300 cattle PER HOUR! Just that volume alone makes for major accidents and poor stunning. We can all do our part in a small way by buying local, whether that is meat, veggies or household goods.
    Temple Grandin created plans for horse processing facilities that minimized the stress and agitation that makes it difficult to stun horses properly but it also makes the facility horse only and many of these places also process exotic meats so they need the chutes and squeeze boxes to be flexible. I honestly feel that if they payed a decent wage as well as giving a monetary bonus for clean kills and docking wages for having to stun an animal multiple times that things would improve.
    For anyone who has not seen it I encourage you to watch the movine Food Inc, it is not graphic althought there are a few scenes that are shocking but it is a huge eye opener into big ag business and why it is so hard to make changes to our food.

  8. Over here I do personally send my horses for pet food if it is their time. Not because I am a heartless bitch, but its easier, I don’t have to worry about hiring a digger, calling out a vet or having to see my horse dead. I say goodbye and load them into a trailer where a friend takes them for me. I know the local dogger and he and his family actually compete and are fantastic horsemen! They are known too keep some horses which have been dropped off because neglect from owners and re educate them, so I know my horses are treated with respect and kindness and have a quite easy death.

    I support this practice only because there is no possible way the small area I live in can support the retired racehorses, racing is a prominent industry here, the horse to human ratio would probably be 2;1 and unfortunately not everyone wants a horse, slaughter here is a better way then the horses starving to death after their career. It also means that the people that maybe should not have horses, but who do nonetheless, can have their animals humanely destroyed without spending money they do not have.

  9. I just want to know, at what point do horses stop being “livestock” and start being considered “pets”. I’ve seen comparisons of horses to cattle and chickens, but what about to dogs and cats? Livestock vs. pet?


    • In my opinion, when you keep horses to turn a profit (ranching, racing, whathaveyou) they are livestock. If you spend time hanging out with it and feed it treats- it’s a pet. Whether that critter is a cow, bunny, horse, or dog, I think that is the deciding factor. Horses can fall in either category depending on how you feel about them.

  10. I could have sworn I commented.

    First of all, I am against companion animals/pets being killed for human consumption. That is not a species thing, it is an upbringing thing. If people want to eat horses, then somebody needs to step up and raise meat horses for them. I know that sounds a little cold, but I wouldn’t eat somebody’s pet rabbit and I once knew somebody with a pet pig – I would NEVER have eaten that pig, even though I normally like my bacon.

    Maree, THAT kind of slaughter I have no problem with. A proper knacker, who slaughters on a small scale, with respect for the animals and, better yet, on the owner’s property (which used to be very common in England – they would come, shoot the horse and haul off the carcass – no muss, no fuss, no trauma if done correctly).

    • I agree, but I do have a small problem with horses being raised for slaughter – I have a feeling people who raised them for this would not provide proper care, because to raise a horse (with all the care they need) until it is ready to be slaughtered would cost more than anything they would make. It makes me think that anyone doing it would leave the horses in a paddock, without vet, farrier or dental care, which is kind of a scary thought.

      I absolutely agree with your second paragraph (I actually talked about a meat man in one of my other replies up there somewhere ^). I don’t have the slightest problem with a knacker coming out to shoot and dispose of a horse free of charge. I’m stunned that more people who claim they are tight on money don’t do that.

  11. I’m just going to throw it out there, but it is not economically feasible (at the moment anyway) to raise horses for meat. Horses, unlike cows, pigs and chickens, haven’t been selected for traits like feed efficiency. Meat prices are $0.30-0.50/lb, but the cost of producing a horse to market age is $1-2/lb. Producers would be losing money from the start.

    And before you doubt the validity of my numbers, if you want I can give you the contact info of the university animal science professor who gave them to me.

  12. This is not about slaughter, but a 7 month old foal being driven at a tolt/pace at high speed pulling a cart on cement! I don’t choose to share my opinions on slaughter, but I will on a weanling being driven!!

  13. I am a realest, and understand that we have too many horses that are being neglected and left to starve to death. That being said, i am still worried about slaughter. I think inorder for it to be ok in my mind, we need to inflick stronger regulations, and make sure that the people who work there are well educated on the right way and kindest way to render horses. Horses are panicaholics and head shy animals, so this makes them very hard to kill with a “spike to the head” or a “shot to the head” in a slaughter house, as they get upset because they know what is about to happen. I have read several reports by experets with degrees, that state, that over 50% of the horses killed at slaughter houses were A)Very stressed before the kill attempt B)suffered several rendering attempts that were unsuccessful and C) were hung alive while being sliced with the knife to bleed out. In my mind this is no way for any animal to spend their last moments. I also believe that stricter breding laws and “spay and neuter” laws need to be enforced on the horse industry, for the horses well being. I also agree that more laws and regulations need to be set for the horses welfair on their way to slaughter and in the slaughter houses….

    • I really have to jump in here.

      Item 1: Until laparoscopic spay becomes routine, spaying mares is NOT A ROUTINE OPERATION. It is insanely expensive and carries a lot of risk.

      Item 2: Mandatory spay and neuter laws are Bad, Bad, Bad. Do you really want the only dogs available to be purebreds bred for conformation (without regard for health, performance, or suitability as pets?) OR illegally bred backyard mutts? Most MSN laws would make it hard or even impossible for performance dogs to be bred, for service dogs to be bred, for police and war dog breeding programs to continue. And you want to apply that crap to horses? The effect of applying the same concept to horses would be absolutely *terrible* for horse welfare.

  14. I am pleased to read this post by Snarky Rider. I’ve gotten into many heated arguments about this topic because I am pro-slaughter as are your readers if they eat meat.

    Our family raises and eats our own meat (poultry, pork and beef) and we “harvest” or slaughter our own poultry. Why? Because we can and by doing so we not only ensure our family eats better meat but we aren’t contributing too much – we still eat out at restaurants – to the terrible suffering that the 9 Billion food animals that get slaughtered each year (not counting fish) here in America. I, like all omnivores, support, by my eating, slaughter of animals every day so I damn well want it to be more humane. Horses are no different – they are a perfectly acceptable food source for some cultures/people. Every culture has it’s acceptable food list and it’s “off limits” animal list (ie: cows in India). One person’s pet is another’s dinner.

    For every argument anti-equine-slaughter people make, there is a counter argument, usually based upon fact instead of emotion. For example: If you think horses can’t be slaughtered humanely, then you clearly don’t know pigs, which are much smarter than horses and do clearly know when they are in danger. Or how about cows? Granted, I would wager there isn’t much going on in their grey cells but they are just as large and bulky as horses – can they not be bled out quickly enough to be classified as “humane”? If you think not, have you given up your hamburgers in their defense?

    But even Snarky Rider makes a mistake when bringing up the following argument: horses are contaminated with chemicals.

    Have you researched what the FDA allows to be injected into, fed to, sprayed onto food animals here in America? Do you know what is poured onto your meat before it’s hermetically packaged? Pesticides, bleach, antibiotics, hormones to name a few. Even if you buy “organic, free of antibiotics and hormones”, those animals were still doused in pesticides during their life and if they were poultry processed in a high speed plant then the meat was washed in bleach or something similar (for the reason why, think about this: when a chicken carcass is eviscerated by a machine, it tears the intestines and allows feces to get onto the meat. That’s why you need to wash your hands after handling raw chicken).

    Do some research. Do you know, for example, that there is a chemical that reduces the amount of fat in an animal? It’s fed to pigs and turkeys. Google: Paylean for some horrifying reading. You may have eaten some at Thanksgiving – there are no labeling laws.

    Sure, I would wager that some horse meat is contaminated with chemicals not commonly found in pork, beef or poultry but I would also bet that the majority of horses in people’s barns and paddocks are actually less contaminated than the meat in their fridge. If you want to eat “clean”, your horse is likely the best choice. Outrageous, I know.

    • Ugh… we have issues with commercial farming/slaughter in general, but this is a horse blog, so we’re sticking with equine slaughter for now!

    • Katie-

      I have to disagree with some of your statements here. I’m taking a university class on animal agriculture. We discussed poultry processing facilities in class. Each chicken is on it’s own rack and no carcass is allowed to touch where another has been during the processing. If any part of the carcass comes in contact with fecal material, either that part or the entire carcass is discarded. A veterinarian is present to check the carcasses. After the processing, the plant is cleaned and sanitized (a 4 hour process).

      I know a lot of people have issues with the industrial-style processing plants, but I don’t worry about the cleanliness of my meat.

      Mind you, this is in Canada and I know we have a few agricultural difference from the States (ie: we don’t give our dairy cows growth hormones and our poultry industry is under supply management legislation), but I think it is similar in this respect.

      Traceability is a major incoming issue in agriculture and in Canada, the government has instituted radio-tracking ear tags for cattle. Every medication, vaccination and growth hormone injected into cattle is meant to be recorded. There is nothing like this in horses and if I eat meat, I’d much rather eat a hamburger with traceability than a steak from a horse I have no clue about where it came from (if I ate horse, that is).

  15. One point that everyone makes that I don’t understand- slaughter deals with the overpopulation problem. Is there any actual data to back this up? Didn’t we have too many horses five years ago (before the ban)? And don’t we have too many horses now? Isn’t it more logical to say that the overpopulation problem lies with the breeders themselves? I have nothing wrong with horses for meat. As stated above by several folks, I don’t think our horses are safe for human consumption; but I’m much more interested in the root of the problem. If we could just get all the asshats out there to stop overproducing foals every year, the slaughter debate wouldn’t be half as interesting. Horses would actually hold some value and we wouldn’t be desparate for an economical way to get rid of them.

  1. Pingback: Supply and Demand Part 2 « snarkyrider

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