The Disreputable Trade in Horse Meat

By on March 24, 2014 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

In 2013, there were three horse slaughter plants set to open in the United States, and it took determined efforts in the federal courts and in the Congress to prevent them from opening. They’re shuttered at least through the fall, and we hope to extend that prohibition indefinitely.  


A horse slipping and falling entering the kill chute at a Mexican slaughter plant.

But while we’ve won that battle on U.S. soil, we are far from winning the global war over horse slaughter. There are still well more than 100,000 American horses being slaughtered per year – it’s just that they are being exported live to Canada and Mexico, where they’re slaughtered and then exported to Europe and Japan. There are also hundreds of thousands of horses slaughtered in China, Europe, and South America to meet global demand for their meat. When you add it all up, it’s a dirty, inhumane global business, feeding consumers who have no compunction about eating horses or who are simply unaware of the inhumane treatment these creatures endure.

Today I am in Brussels, with Humane Society International’s EU director Jo Swabe and VP Kitty Block. We’ll be speaking with European authorities about a range of issues, including horse slaughter.

Remember that the EU, for food safety reasons, bans imports of U.S. produced animal products because of reckless animal management practices – bathing dead chickens in chlorine to try to disinfect them and kill off pathogens and injecting pigs with ractopamine and cattle with hormones in order to promote fast growth.   


Horses in line at the chute during an undercover investigation of a Mexican horse slaughter plant.

But horses are loaded up with more than 100 substances not suited for human consumption, primarily because, knowing that horses are not raised for meat, pleasure riders, show riders, racing trainers, and others inject th em with a variety of substances for inflammation issues, disease prevention, and other purposes. What’s more, as recently reported by Swiss animal advocacy group, Tierschutzbund, (warning the video report is graphic) when American horses are gathered up, often disreputably at auction barns, and then jammed into cattle trucks and sent to Canada or Mexico, they are delivered with no veterinary records or any other documentation of their medical history. 

The same is true for horses from South American countries, such as Argentina and Uruguay, bound for slaughter. It’s anything goes when it comes to drugged horses. Yet, for some strange reason, the EU suspends its standards when it comes to horses.

It’s time now for the Europeans – who are so strong on farm animal welfare and animal testing – to show more ethical and scientific consistency when it comes to horse slaughter standards. Only when that happens will we be honoring the role that horses have played in helping people all throughout the world. To treat them like a cheap commodity results not only in inhumane treatment, but also a disdainful disregard for their historical role in transport, commerce, recreation, and other functions that have been fundamental to the development of modern society. 

Equine, Humane Society International

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