Testimony of Elizabeth Dickerson, Spring 2013, in front of the Agriculture Committee of the Maine State Legislature

Over 150,000 American horses are slaughtered each year in Canada and Mexico for meat. While horsemeat is not consumed in the United States, the fact that our horses are being slaughtered for export presents economic, ethical, and food safety hazards to citizens worldwide.

I come before you today both to testify from personal experience and to submit to you research and testimony prepared by experts in the field. I hope that by the end of our hearing today, you will understand more of the complexity of this issue, and realize that the only way to safeguard the public from tainted horsemeat, to protect horses from inhumane slaughter techniques, and to protect communities from an industry that places great stress on the public resources and infrastructure of the towns in which they are located, is to ban horse slaughter and the export of America’s horses to slaughter in Canada and Mexico.


In 2012, a survey was conducted in which it was determined that 80% of the American public supports a ban on horse slaughter. (Lake Research Partners)

Slaughter plants used to operate in the United States, but after continued public pressure, the last plant closed in 2007.

Funding cuts for USDA inspection of horse slaughter plants had been cut in 2005, reinstated briefly, and then cut again. This funding line item was finally reinstated in 2011, though the funding has not been fully appropriated. As a result, industry pressure is increasing to open horse slaughter plants in the United States.

In US Congress, the Safeguard American Food Exports, or SAFE Act, H.R. 1094 and S. 541, was introduced and referred to committee on March 12, 2013. Senator Susan Collins supports this legislation. However, it is unclear that the SAFE Act will reach the house floor for a vote in the immediate future.

In 2012, a rider was introduced into the Farm Bill to cut the inspections money once again, however, the Farm Bill was not heard and the previous year’s bill was carried over. As a result, the State of New Jersey passed legislation banning horse slaughter and transport to slaughter, (Assembly) and the State of New York is considering similar legislation. The states Nevada, Oklahoma, and Wyoming are working to institute slaughter plants in their states.

Not for Food: Horses are not raised as food, and are given banned drugs throughout their lives

Against this backdrop, it is important to note the distinction between horse slaughter and the slaughter of animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep, or poultry: horses are not raised for food, and therefore, are not safe to eat.  Most American horse owners do not imagine that their horses may someday be slaughtered for human consumption. Medications, antibiotics, ointments, wormers, and other substances are routinely given to horses that are clearly labeled "not for animals intended for human consumption." These substances may remain in the body for long periods of time. (Enclosure, Panacur wormer label warning)

A paper entitled “Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: A public health risk” (Dodman, Blondeau and Marini) outlines the problem: “Horses are not raised as food animals in the United States and, mechanisms to ensure the removal of horses treated with banned substances from the food chain are inadequate at best. Phenylbutazone (PBZ) is the most commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in equine practice. Thoroughbred (TB) racehorses like other horse breeds are slaughtered for human consumption. Phenylbutazone is banned for use in any animal intended for human consumption because it causes serious and lethal idiosyncratic adverse effects in humans. The number of horses that have received phenylbutazone prior to being sent to slaughter for human consumption is unknown but its presence in some is highly likely.”The most serious effect of phenylbutazone is bone-marrow toxicity, leading to agranulocytosis (failure to produce white blood cells, causing chronic infections) and aplastic anemia (insufficient production of red and white blood cells and platelets). Similar blood conditions such as leucopenia, hemolytic anemia, pancytopenia, and thrombocytopenia may also occur in people who consume bute. The National Toxicology Program has determined that bute is a carcinogen. For these reasons, the FDA bans this substance for human consumption. (National Toxicology Program)

Transport Documentation: the impossibility of proving that a horse is drug-free

The main importers of horsemeat are the European Union and Japan. The EU has a policy prohibiting the importation of any horse that has received bute. However, given that there is no requirement for drug record keeping over the life of an American horse, there is no way to safely verify that an American horse has not either received bute or any number of the over one hundred banned drugs that an animal should never receive if intended for human consumption. (Veterinarians for Equine Welfare)

The documentation process that does exist has fundamental shortcomings that cannot be corrected. When a buyer at an auction purchases horses to ship to slaughter, there is no requirement that health records be transferred to the new owner. Each horse is required to be identified on an Equine Identification Document, or EID, before being shipped into Canada or Mexico, and verification of the horse as being drug-free is required on the documentation. However, there is no practical way to prove that a horse is truly drug free, given the reality of the situation, and, as evidenced by the personal testimony of my work to track the Thoroughbred race horses Canuki and Cactus Café. (Enclosure, affidavit of Elizabeth Dickerson to West Virginia Racing Commission) Horses can and do make it all the way into the Canadian slaughter plants who have been given banned drugs, and would have been consumed by human beings had it not been for a call to the plant and a successful identification of the horse before slaughter. Canuki and Cactus Café were successfully retrieved from Canada, however, it is more common that the plant slaughters the animal and then dumps the meat rather than allowing the animal back out of the plant. Sometimes, the phone call is too late and the horse is long gone.

A horse is also required to have on board the truck on which it is being shipped a negative Coggins test, which is the test for Equine Infectious Anemia. A horse crossing state lines must have this document, and in most states, a Certificate of Health signed by a veterinarian. There are differences per each state. However, animals intended for slaughter traveling through New York State have different requirements. In New York State, horses that are “imported, sold, exchanged, bartered, given away or transported for purposes of immediate slaughter if an owner/shipper statement accompanies the horse from the premise of origin to the livestock market. Such statement shall include the name of the consignor, the name of the market, individual identification of the horses present and the number of horses in the shipment. Upon arrival at the livestock market, such horses will be identified with a green, equine waybill backtag applied to the left hip which will serve as a permit for their movement to slaughter within 14 days of the date of purchase. Buyers wishing to purchase animals identified with the equine waybill backtag may do so at their own risk provided that an equine infectious anemia test sample is drawn by a veterinarian prior to movement from the market and the equine waybill backtag remains affixed to the animal until the negative results are received.” (TITLE ONE OF THE OFFICIAL COMPILATION OF THE CODES, RULES AND REGULATIONS OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, PART 64 – MOVEMENT AND TRANSFER OF HORSES AND OTHER EQUIDAE, Section 64.9, Other authorized movement or transfer.)

Transport laws vary by state. I have a mare that was initially purchased by a broker at the New Holland Auction in PA, where many horses run through to be sold for slaughter. This mare should have had a negative Coggins test to be transported to the auction, because at that point it was unknown whether she would sell for slaughter or not. Similarly, state law requires that she should have also had documentation to move from Pennsylvania to Virginia, which is where she went, considering my bid was a dollar short and a day late, and the broker got her first. I was enlisted to retrieve the mare by a private party, which after considerable negotiation I did. The broker then attempted to represent to me that the mare was still in Pennsylvania, which I knew she was not, and tried to get me to pay for a Coggins test and a health certificate, which the mare should have already had. As a matter of curiosity, I called the New Holland Auction Office, and was told that New Holland is not responsible for brokers who do not follow state law. Had I not purchased her, she would have shipped back to New Holland, once again without any required testing or documentation, and possibly contaminated other equines at the auction had she been infected herself.

Unfortunately, this particular situation is not an isolated case. Equine documentation for slaughter-bound horses is problematic at best, and fails spectacularly at worst. Last fall, the Mexican border was closed to horse crossings, because the EU had determined that Equine Identification Documents were being falsified. Thousands of horses were left stranded on the border without adequate food, shelter, or water.

Horse Slaughter is not an alternative to animal neglect

Horse slaughter is sometimes presented as a humane alternative to an animal left abandoned in a field, its owners no longer able to care for it. Why not eat the meat at least? Isn’t that better than letting the animal suffer over the long term? Horses are not raised for food, remember, and the meat is not safe. Additionally, we don’t eat neglected, sick, and skinny cows, so why would it be acceptable to eat a horse in poor condition?

Moving a moment from the human to the horse’s point of view, it is difficult, if not impossible, to humanely slaughter a horse for human consumption. Therefore, the humane alternative is not slaughter.

To quote from a paper by Dr. Terri Champney, DVM, “Compared to horses cattle have short necks, short legs and are often handled in groups and moved through chutes.  Cattle are restrained in the ‘head gate’ (a head restraint device) for husbandry procedures. Horses have long necks, long legs, and a compact body.  Horses are strong, quick, agile and have an extremely well developed ‘flight’ response to stress.  They have an excellent sense of smell and hearing, but poor close vision.  The noise of the slaughter plant (both machinery and the sounds of other horses experiencing fear, pain and slaughter) and the smell of blood and possibly fear pheromones cause an extremely heightened fearful response in the equine. The equine species cannot be restrained by the neck in a stationary device without severe physical harm, i.e. broken neck, back and/or legs. They cannot be restrained on or ride on a conveyer.” (Champney)

Horses are slaughtered in Canada and Mexico using a captive bolt gun, and in Mexico sometimes with a knife in the spine, though the EU bans this practice. As a result of the inability to get a dead-on shot with a captive bolt gun when dealing with a rearing, head-tossing horse, horses are often hit two and three times, as has been proven by inspections of horse skulls after slaughter. Horses are sometimes not dead when hung to bleed out as a result. For a complete comparison of slaughter methods, and comparison of slaughter methods of cattle and equine, please see Dr. Champney’s paper, which I enclose in your packet. I would also note that slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico have one end in mind: the production of the maximum amount of horsemeat in the least amount of time with the least amount of expense. There are many documented cases of sheer brutality as workers attempt to kill and process the day’s horses, and the treatment of the horse is low in the list of priorities.

In the instance of an animal that has reached the end of life, it is far more humane to pursue humane euthanasia rather than sending a horse to a slaughterhouse.

Slaughter is not an ethical option for slow and retired racehorses

It is estimated that 15-20% of the horses sent to slaughter from the United States are Thoroughbred racehorses. Roughly 50% are Quarter Horses, and the 30% remaining are Standardbreds and other breeds. Efforts on the part of the Thoroughbred and the Standardbred industry exist to prevent slaughter, such as Suport Our Standardbreds or the newly formed Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, but as demonstrated by the Canuki and Cactus Café case, it is all too easy for some individuals to quietly leave the backside for a training facility, and then ship out of the training facility to slaughter auction. Many states have programs in place that provide economic development monies to the racing industries. It is appreciated that there are efforts being made by the industry to place and care for horses, however, given the sheer volume of horses, it becomes problematic to place every horse, despite strenuous efforts made by many in the industry to place horses either thorough rescue programs or as in the case of some tracks, a track-sponsored rescue. Given the large number of horses moving in and out of American racetracks, and the lack of personnel to police the situation, it is impossible to enforce no-slaughter policies at the track with consistency, and tainted meat is getting into the worldwide public food supply.

Slaughter Plants create stress on communities

Infrastructure: When the last horse slaughter plant in the United States closed, in Kaufman, Texas, in 2007, the community was poised to have to pay six million dollars for a new municipal wastewater plant upgrade due to the offal and blood from the slaughter plant: which paid Kaufman, Texas, not one dollar in property or business taxes, due to clever accounting, which was proved by obtaining the company’s tax records. The history and the records can all be found at the website, kaufmanzoning.net. In Kaufman, blood from the slaughter plant was coming up in people’s toilets.

Jobs: A Slaughter plant adds a low number of dangerous, low-paying jobs that do not offset the harm caused to the community in decreased property values, and stigma.

Tax dollars spent on USDA horse slaughter plant inspections

In a time of tight budgets, the many millions of tax dollars necessary to conduct horse slaughter inspections would be diverted away from food safety programs already in place to protect Americans, to enable a practice that 80% of the American public opposes. The EU is on the verge of tightening requirements for lifetime regulation of horses sent to slaughter, due to overwhelming evidence that drugs administered to American horses are dangerous to humans. The EU food safety regulations would require ever increasing USDA oversight, at additional taxpayer expense, to ensure compliance.

Horse Population: Don’t we need slaughter to prevent neglected horses and out of control population?

There are other alternatives to keep unsafe meat out of the food stream and to prevent an inhumane end. Since the last slaughter plant closed in 2007, according to USDA statistics, the numbers of horses exported for slaughter has not changed dramatically, making the argument that there are an increasing number of horses in America that are neglected, making slaughter the only alternative to a population explosion, spurious. Unfortunately, horse slaughter provides a more cost effective way to move out the horses that don’t make it economically than other options. Better breeding controls, increased access to adoption and end of life assistance will help, but without laws in place to ban horse slaughter and transport to slaughter, these choices remain voluntary.

Works Cited

Allin, Jane. "When Slaughter Comes to Town: Legal Implications." 28 March 2012. The Horse Fund: the official website of the international horse fund. Ed. Vivian Farrell. 28 April 2013 .

Assembly, New Jersey. "An Act concerning the slaughter of horses and sale of horseflesh for human consumption." 19 September 2012. Legiscan. 28 April 2013 .

Champney, Terri DVM. "Why Horse Slaughter is Inhumane." Testimony. 2013.

Dodman, Nicholas, Nicolas Blondeau and Ann Marini. "Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses bought for slaughter: a public health risk." 1 May 2010. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 28 April 2013 .

Lake Research Partners. "Survey, Horse Slaughter for Human Consumption." n.d.

National Toxicology Program. "Reports and Publications." 1 March 1990. National Toxicology Program. 28 April 2013 .

Veterinarians for Equine Welfare. "Prohibited Drugs." Vets for Equine Welfare. 28 April 2013 .