US horse slaughter would not solve welfare issues, says HSUS

By Melodie Michel

- Last updated on GMT

US horse slaughter would not solve welfare issues, says HSUS

Related tags: Horse slaughter, Livestock

A New Mexico rancher’s application to open the country’s first horse abattoir since lifting a ban on such slaughter has been met with controversy, with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) saying the practice “runs counter to American values”.

Rancher Rick De Los Santos argued that American horses are already being slaughtered for meat in Canada and Mexico, and that killing them in the US would guarantee that USDA humane requirements are respected, and avoid long journeys across the country’s borders. But HSUS denied the argument, saying that even before the ban, when the US had three horse abattoirs in operation, thousands of horses were still sent to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.

HSUS equine protection specialist Valerie Pringle told GlobalMeatNews​: “In 2006 when all three plants in the U.S. were operating, more than 37,000 horses were exported for slaughter. Just as it was before the last domestic plants here were shuttered in 2007, horses would still travel long distances across the country in cattle trucks.”

But even if the long journeys managed to be avoided, animal welfare organisations do not believe horse slaughter could ever be humane, as horses experience more stress than other animals at the abattoir.

Compassion in World Farming ambassador Joyce D’Silva said: “Although slaughter regulations in the US may be better than in Mexico, we would like to see a ban on the transportation of horses for slaughter altogether. We want to see horses provided with a decent life and not end up being transported on long, stressful journeys. Horses are difficult to stun properly because they panic and try to take flight. Where it is necessary to kill a horse, we ask that it is done as humanely as possible.”

Pringle added that she was unaware of any humane method of horse slaughter that prevents suffering, and that euthanasia by a licensed veterinarian remained “the only choice”​.

Food safety issues

HSUS also expressed concern over the various drugs that are given to horses over the course of their lives, which might be harmful for human health. “Unlike cattle and pigs who are raised for food, American horses receive a long list of substances over the course of their lives that make their flesh highly toxic to people who eat it.

“One of these substances, Phenylbutazone or 'bute', is extremely common in the U.S. and is given to most American horses at some point during their lives; it is considered horse aspirin.  When this common drug is used even once during the lifetime of the horse, the EU, CFIA ​[Canadian Food Inspection Agency] as well as our own USDA ​[US Department of Agriculture] and FDA ​[Food and Drug Administration] regulations prevent the horse from entering the food chain. This means that the majority of American horses are unfit for slaughter if their meat is intended for human consumption,”​ she said, adding that a recent audit of Mexican plants by the EU revealed an “unacceptably high incidence”​ of American horses rejected in Europe due to toxic residues in their tissues.

USDA said it had denied several horse slaughterhouse applications since the ban was lifted in November 2011 because the establishments wanted to process other animals alongside horses. “FSIS​ [Food Safety and Inspection Service] regulations prohibit the slaughter or other preparation of products of horses in the same establishment in which cattle, sheep, swine, or goats are slaughtered or their products are prepared,”​ a spokesperson told GlobalMeatNews​.

But De Los Santos stopped slaughtering cattle when prices became too high for him to stay profitable, so his slaughterhouse would be specific to horses. USDA said it was reviewing the application and would not comment further.

However, HSUS recommended several steps before granting or denying authorisation to slaughter horses again in the US. It threatened legal action if USDA does not conduct an environmental impact study, arguing that the practice “can include a persistent noxious stench and the presence of horse blood in the plumbing of neighbouring areas”​.

The organisation also asked USDA to put into place a system to ensure that no horse who has received certain banned substances enter the food chain.

On the other hand, the American Meat Institute is in favour of humane horse slaughter in the US, as it could have a positive impact on the meat industry. A spokesperson told GlobalMeatNews​: “The loss of U.S. horse slaughter plants was bad for horses and bad for the impacted companies.  We think it would be beneficial to the US industry and to horse welfare if slaughter resumed in the US.  Horses are covered by the federal Humane Slaughter Act.”

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