Human on horse violence: On equine slaughter in the U.S. (and the sick Miami option)

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: December 29, 2010
Published: July 29, 2009
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Given this title, you might assume I’d oppose the slaughter of horses. And yes it’s true, I don’t believe that equines raised as family pets, racehorses and once-beloved recreational companions deserve the dinner plate as their final resting place. 

Yet ever since the last three equine slaughterhouses in the U.S. ceased operations in 2007, it’s become clear to me and others in my profession that sometimes the devil in sunlight trumps the devil that lurks in shadows. 

Horrible, I know, but there you have it: I support equine slaughter in the U.S.

That, in direct contravention to a bill in congress that seeks an outright ban on it (already voted on in committee and still set for a general vote). This HSUS and PETA-supported bill currently targets horse meat that's used for any reason, though it may still be softened to specify that it only applies to "horse meat intended for human consumption."

My reasons? Here you go:

#1 Since our slaughterhouses shut their doors to horses two years ago, the economy has tanked. Feed costs have skyrcketed. Even well-meaning, well-educated but otherwise cash-strapped horse owners have had trouble keeping their pastured golden oldies in good shape. 

Forget the vet bills. These people can’t afford to feed them or keep them when their properties are forclosed on. Euthanasia and cremation or burial is an expensive proposition––far more so than a cat or dog’s “disposal.” There are few equine shelters willing to take on death detail. Consequently, many animals quite literally die of malnutrition and/or starvation.

#2 One unintended consequence of the ban on equine slaughter has manifested in the shipping of horses across the Canadian and Mexican borders to meet the same fate, sans USDA oversight. The practice has increased by 300% according to some available stats, though some report that far more fly under the radar on their one-way trips.

In Canada’s case I’m not so alarmed, but the footage I’ve seen from Mexican slaughterhouses (profiled in the veterinary media) have left me cold. God forbid any animal should have to suffer the ignominy of that cruel and unsanitary end of life experience. 

#3 Another, more frightening alternative is currently playing out under the cover of darkness in suburban and semi-rural Miami. Maybe you’ve heard about it. It’s the slaughter of horses without express consent from their owners. That’s putting it mildly for the owners of some twenty horses that, since March, have been slaughtered out in their pastures.

Throats slit, there’s evidence they were butchered alive for their meat as they slowly bled to death from unprofessionally applied wounds. Thus poached, their carcasses were then left to rot or burned, presumably to disguise evidence. Disgusting. 

The others have been those sold for a pittance who turned up at an illegal, makeshift slaughterhouse in the Miami environs. Presumably, there areothers still in operation. 

Were the owners of these latter horses informed? Was it a hear-see-speak-no-evil scenario? Who knows? Either way, it’s another way to supply the local ethnic market with the back market horse meat it prizes as a delicacy. 

#4 Then comes the weakest argument, but one offered by many in support of equine slaughter: Almost every other country on the planet consumes horse meat. We’re the largest lone holdout. Given that, environmentally speaking, horses offer protein. A ban on equine slaughter in the US means large hunks of a potential protein source goes to waste. In a world of limited resources, it’s argued, how can we refuse to offer this meat to those who would consume it in lieu of factory-farmed alternatives? 

Though I’ve included it as one of my reasons, I’m not sure I can offer you a true yea or nay on this one since I don’t have the math in hand to effectively evaluate the economics and environmental impact of meat that’s largely shipped to faraway destinations. But if it’s more environmentally sound and of economic assistance to the U.S., I’d argue that it helps support the notion of slaughter in light of the above issues. 


In case you’re wondering, Im not alone on this issue. In fact, the equine veterinarians I know, especially those who offer their services free of charge to rescues and serve in other equine welfare capacities, have come to feel as I do. 

The American Association of Equine Practitioners has even issued a statement on the matter with respect to upcoming legislation pushing for an outright ban. In it, it urges that H.R. 6598––the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008––does away with what is "currently a necessary end-of-life option" for unwanted and would-be neglected horses.

In the end, they agree with me: The “evils” inherent to equine slaughter serve to mitigate more egregious evils that flourish in its absence. Killing horses in commercial slaughterhouse conditions is an acceptable option given the alternatives I’ve detailed above. 

Conclusion? At least for now, I’ll have to hold my nose and swallow the slaughter.