Horse - USDA New Regulation
USDA Circumvents Congressional Ban on Horse Slaughter for Food
Environment News Service, February 8, 2006
WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2006 (ENS) - Animal protection organizations today criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowing private inspections at three horse slaughterhouses, bypassing legislation that blocks inspections to shut down the horse slaughter operations.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) posted a Federal Register notice today stating that the agency is amending the federal meat inspection regulations under the Agricultural Marketing Act to provide for a voluntary fee-for-service program under which official establishments that slaughter horses will be able to apply for and pay for ante-mortem inspection.
The Fiscal Year 2006 Appropriations Act prohibits the use of appropriated funds to pay the salaries or expenses of FSIS personnel to conduct ante-mortem inspection of horses.
But, FSIS, said, the Department of Agriculture is obliged to provide for inspection of meat for human consumption. Post-mortem inspection and other inspection activities authorized by the Federal Meat Inspection Act at official establishments that slaughter horses would continue to be paid for with appropriated funds, except for overtime or holiday inspection services.
Critics say the USDA rule will allow three European-owned companies - two in Texas and one in Illinois - to continue butchering tens of thousands of horses for foreign menus each year in circumvention of a recent Congressional amendment banning the use of federal funds to inspect horses destined for slaughter for human food. "It is beyond our imagination in the U.S. Congress that the USDA would flout its mandate and spend tax dollars to circumvent this law," said Representative John Sweeney, a New York Republican. "Even our most hardened opponents knew that the purpose of the amendment was to stop horse slaughter - there was never any question about that."
"It's disturbing that an agency like USDA feels it is appropriate to obstruct a law passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in Congress when their sole mission is to implement the law," Sweeney said.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 269-158 and the U.S. Senate voted 69-28 to stop the slaughter of horses, effective March 10, 2006.
On November 23, 2005, the slaughterhouses petitioned the USDA to establish a "fee-for-service" inspection system for horse slaughter in lieu of federally funded inspections, which Congress voted to end.
"The USDA is playing games and ignoring the directives of Congress while the lives of America's horses, who have served us faithfully and provided us with companionship, are at stake," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Humane Society of the United States.
"By granting this eleventh-hour bid by the slaughterhouses to re-write the law," Markarian said, "the USDA is thumbing its nose at Congress and trying to substitute the judgment of foreign gourmands for the judgment of our elected lawmakers."
In a letter to the USDA, 40 members of Congress wrote, "The agency must cease inspection of horses for slaughter. Failure to do so constitutes willful disregard of clear Congressional intent on the part of the USDA. The agency has absolutely no authority to circumvent a Congressional mandate and effectively rewrite an unambiguous law at the request of the horse-slaughter industry."
In light of this end run around Congress's clear mandate to halt the slaughter of horses, the animal protection groups continue to lobby for the passage of bills before the House and the Senate to establish a permanent ban on horse slaughter for food.
Get the Facts on Horse Slaughter
How many horses are slaughtered each year?
Each year an estimated 90,000 horses are slaughtered in the United States and processed for human consumption. In addition, many thousands of live horses are transported across the border to Canada for slaughter. After these horses are killed, their flesh is shipped to Europe and Asia for human consumption. Their owners are often totally unaware of the pain, fear, and suffering their horses endure before being slaughtered.
Who eats horse meat?
Horse meat is not eaten in the United States; it is exported to serve specialty markets overseas. The largest markets are France, Belgium, Holland, Japan, and Italy. The only three horse slaughter plants in the United States are foreign-owned.
How do unwanted, surplus horses end up at slaughterhouses?
Most horses destined for slaughter are sold at livestock auctions or sales. The cruelty of horse slaughter is not limited to the act of killing the animals. Horses bound for slaughter are shipped, frequently for long distances, in a manner that fails to accommodate their unique temperaments. They are usually not rested, fed, or watered during travel. Economics, not humane considerations, dictate the conditions, including crowding as many horses into trucks as possible.
Often, terrified horses and ponies are crammed together and transported to slaughter in double-deck trucks designed for cattle and pigs. The truck ceilings are so low that the horses are not able to hold their heads in a normal, balanced position. Inappropriate floor surfaces lead to slips and falls, and sometimes even trampling. Some horses arrive at the slaughterhouse seriously injured or dead. Although transportation accidents have largely escaped public scrutiny, several tragic incidents involving collapsed upper floors and overturned double-deckers have caused human fatalities, as well as suffering and death for the horses.
How are the horses killed?
Under federal law, horses are required to be rendered unconscious prior to slaughter, usually with a device called a captive bolt gun, which shoots a metal rod into the horse's brain. Some horses, however, are improperly stunned and are conscious when they are hoisted by a rear leg to have their throats cut. In addition, conditions in the slaughterhouse are stressful and frightening for horses.
Which kinds of horses are affected?
Horses of virtually all ages and breeds are slaughtered, from draft types to miniatures. Horses commonly slaughtered include unsuccessful race horses, horses who are lame or ill, surplus riding school and camp horses, mares whose foals are not economically valuable, and foals who are "byproducts" of the Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) industry, which produces the estrogen-replacement drug Premarin®. Ponies, mules, and donkeys are slaughtered as well. Many of the horses that HSUS investigators have seen purchased for slaughter were in good health, and bought for only a few hundred dollars.
Are there any federal or state laws protecting horses from these cruelties?
A few states (California, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia) have laws that are intended to prevent some of these abuses. Unfortunately, even in these states, enforcement is inadequate, as evidenced by the continuing use of double-deck trucks even where they are illegal.
Congress passed the Commercial Transportation of Equines for Slaughter Act in March 1996, which directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to write regulations to enforce the Act. Those regulations were not released until January 2002. Unfortunately, the regulations allow the use of double-deck trailers for an additional five years; permit horses to be transported for 28 hours without food, water, or rest; and allow the transport companies themselves to certify the care the horses received.
What is The Humane Society of the United States doing to protect horses?
We are working with bipartisan leaders in Congress to end this terrible and utterly unnecessary practice. Recent passage of the Sweeney-Spratt Agriculture Appropriations amendment to prevent tax supported horse slaughter demonstrated the strong political will to ban horse slaughter. The amendment passed in a landslide 269-158 vote—carrying leaders from parties and members of the agriculture committee. Until horses are no longer slaughtered for food, which is the ultimate goal of The HSUS, we believe that their suffering must be lessened to the greatest extent possible. The HSUS will continue to participate in the process by which the USDA develops and enforces regulations to police this industry. In addition, The HSUS will continue to assist states in the passage of effective laws that will govern the treatment of horses sold for slaughter within their borders.
What alternatives exist to slaughtering horses for human consumption?
Several alternatives exist, such as humane euthanasia performed by a veterinarian. The bodies of euthanized horses can be picked up by rendering plants for disposal. Horse owners can have their animals euthanized and bury them (where permissible) or have them cremated. Another option is to donate the horse to an equine rescue organization; some will take unwanted horses and find them good homes. The horse racing industry recently initiated the Ferdinand Fee which will be used to fund retirement homes for race horses to ensure that no more racehorses like Ferdinand wind up at a slaughterhouse.
What can individuals do to lessen the suffering of horses bound for slaughter?
Individuals can support organizations such as The HSUS that work toward the goal of ending horse slaughter. One of our goals is to reduce the callous overbreeding of both sport horses and pleasure horses so that older, injured or surplus animals will no longer be viewed as expendable. A reduced number of surplus horses would result in a sharp decline in the profits of the horse meat industry because the cost of obtaining each horse would rise due to decreased availability. This would force slaughterhouses to scale down their operations and eventually shut down. Horse owners should think carefully before breeding a mare and consider adopting their next horse from an equine rescue organization.
Horse owners can plan for their animal's eventual death by setting aside funds for humane euthanasia by a veterinarian, if it becomes necessary. Menopausal women on hormone replacement therapy can ask their doctors to prescribe one of the many safe and effective, FDA-approved alternatives to Premarin®. (Contact The HSUS for a free brochure detailing these alternatives.) Finally, individuals can work within their home states to pass laws that afford stronger protections for slaughter-bound horses.