US welfare organisations are warning of impending disaster for unwanted horses if new legislation banning horse export for human consumption becomes law.
Politicians are considering the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, that would ban the domestic or international sale, delivery or receipt of live horses for human consumption.
Supporters want to halt the increasing number of horses being shipped to Mexico or Canada for slaughter, after the closure of the three remaining Belgian-owned abatoirs in the US in 2007.
Welfare groups argue that a ban will eliminate a necessary end-of-life option for thousands of unwanted horses.
“Proponents of this legislation have done nothing to address the real issue [of unwanted horses],” said Dr Mark Lutschaunig of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
He said the closure of US slaughterhouses had already made matters “significantly worse” for horse welfare.
A spokesman for the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) told H&H: “Unwanted horses in the US are facing a crisis. The AAEP believes the option of sending a horse to a processing plant is the best way of reducing the unwanted horse population. The bill doesn’t address the long-term care and funding that would be necessary to help the many horses affected by a ban.”
UK charity World Horse Welfare was set up to put a stop to the transport of horses for slaughter, and head of campaigns Emma Cook said that the US bill has massive welfare implications.
“Carcass disposal is expensive and people aren’t always going to make the right decision,” she said. “Sometimes, it can be better for a horse to end up on a dinner plate than to be hobbling around for five years.”
However, there are reported to be over 500 organisations in the US — such as the Society for Animal Protective Legislation — that support the abolition of horse slaughter.
The last three American slaughterhouses — two in Texas and one in Illinois — dispatched 100,000 horses a year, mainly for export to France and Japan.
Now, the number of horses transported to Mexico for slaughter has rocketed by 300 per cent — in December 2007, 44,475 horses were exported to Mexico, compared with 10,783 the previous December.
US experts also believe horses are being exported to Mexico on the pretence of breeding or recreation — but end up in the slaughterhouse.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (15 August, ’08)