Controversy over horse slaughter renewed with GAO report

The controversy over the commercial slaughter of horses in the United States resumed a little more than a week ago with a report from the Government Accountability Office that raised questions about the effect of action taken by Congress five years ago.

The report on horse welfare and the unintended consequences of ending horse slaughter in this country notes that since “fiscal year 2006, Congress has annually prohibited the use of federal funds to inspect horses destined for food, effectively prohibiting domestic slaughter.”

That was done in response to arguments by animal-rights groups about the brutality of horse slaughter and questions of using horses for human food.

But the GAO report released June 22 says horse welfare hasn’t improved since the ban. Horses are now shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, and about the same number of U.S. horses found their way to slaughterhouses in those countries last year as were killed in U.S. slaughterhouses in 2006, the report said. However, because most of the horses traveled greater distances to reach the slaughterhouses, they actually suffered more.

In addition, the GAO said there appear to be more cases of animal neglect since the slaughter ban took effect, an increase that can’t be entirely accounted for by the downturn in the economy. It cited information from Colorado, as well as California, Florida and Texas as the basis for that observation.

Not surprisingly, horse organizations that opposed the ban on horse slaughter cite the GAO report as evidence of what they have long believed — that a ban on horse slaughter in this country would simply mean more abandoned and neglected horses, lower horse prices and greater distances traveled by horses going to slaughter.

But animal-rights groups oppose any return to the pre-2006 system. “When a handful of slaughter plants did operate in the U.S., horses still traveled long distances across the country in dangerous double-decker trucks, and the transport and slaughter processes involved were inherently inhumane,” said Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, in a statement released to several news organizations.

The GAO report doesn’t conclusively decide what the best option is. In fact, it offers recommendations to Congress that support both sides of the controversy. One recommendation is to end the annual prohibition on federal inspection funds and allow horse slaughter plants to operate in this country once again. A second, and contradictory, recommendation is to have the federal government not only permanently prohibit horse slaughter in this country, but impose a ban on horses being transported out of the country to slaughterhouses.

The fight will continue, since several states have recently contemplated legislation to authorize horse slaughter operations within their boundaries, even without the federal inspections. Meanwhile, legislation was introduced in Congress last month that would ban the export of horses for slaughter.

To read the GAO report, go to

— Bob Silbernagel


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