Regulations amended on horses transported for slaughter

Sep 9, 2011
Regulations amended on horses transported for slaughter

USDA amended regulations regarding the commercial transportation of horses to slaughter, adding a definition of “equine for slaughter” and making other changes to protect horses during transportation to slaughter. According to USDA, this action will ensure the humane treatment of the horses.

Originally proposed in 2007, the changes more broadly include horses moving to stockyards, assembly points, and feedlots within the states before being transported out of the U.S.

With horse slaughter shut down in the U.S. since 2007, there has been an increase in transportation of horses to Canada and Mexico. The horses are often transported to an intermediate point, such as a sale barn, before a third party takes them to a slaughter facility.

In September 2010, US- DA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) needed to improve its controls to ensure that transported horses are treated humanely. Problems were found with how APHIS monitored the transportation. Examples included a lack of an appropriate way to track individual horses to investigate violations and initiate enforcement actions. In addition, APHIS was not allocating the resources necessary to oversee the transport program, according to OIG.

USDA believes this has increased the risk for inhumane treatment.

Congress issued the original regulations in 1996 in the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act.

The regulations cover food, water and rest required prior to transporting horses to slaughter.

They also require the owner/shipper of the horses to ensure the safety and humane treatment of them during loading and transporting, including seeking immediate assistance from a veterinarian for any horses in obvious physical distress.

In addition, the regulations prohibit the commercial transportation of any horses considered unfit for travel, the use of electric prods, or the use of doubledeck trailers. Anyone moving more than 20 horses annually to slaughter is subject to the rules and regulations.

Although Congress has not acted to create an explicit ban on horse slaughter, it has included language in appropriations bills that prohibits the use of federal funds for inspection by USDA.

The last three U.S. horse slaughtering facilities were closed in 2007 following unsuccessful challenges to state laws. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a 1949 Texas law banning the sale or possession of horsemeat applied to the two Texas plants. The Illinois plant ceased operations after Illinois enacted a law making it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption.

In addition, 2006 - 2010 appropriations bills have prohibited APHIS from using federal funds to inspect horses being transported. According to APHIS, they could only inspect the paperwork associated with the shipment, and “incidentally observe any potential violation” regarding the physical condition of the animals.

According to USDA data, the three facilities processed 105,000 horses in 2006, the last full year they operated, and exported more than 17,000 metric tons of horsemeat, valued at $65 million at that time.

In 2006, just 11,080 U.S. horses were shipped to Mexico for slaughter. In 2008, that number jumped to 57,017, according to USDA.

According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.S. horse exports for slaughter have increased by 148 and 660 percent to Canada and Mexico, respectively, from 2006 to 2010.

State and local governments, along with animal welfare groups, have also reported a rise in investigations for horse neglect and more abandoned horses since 2007, according to GAO. For example, Colorado data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse increased more than 60 percent from 975 in 2005 to 588 in 2009. Also, California, Texas and Florida reported more horses abandoned on private or state land since 2007.

In addition, according to GAO, the increase in unwanted horses is affecting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and USDA’s ability to manage wild horse and burro populations. From 1971 through 2007, BLM removed over 267,000 wild horses and burros from public lands, with approximately 235,700 of the animals adopted. According to BLM officials, the annual adoption of the animals has dropped from about 8,000 in 2005 to about 3,000 in 2010. BLM estimates its feeding and care of animals it has in holding facilities at more than $36 million each year.

In June, a bill was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate to ban horse slaughter, including a ban on exporting horses for slaughter to Mexico and Canada. The bill, S. 1176, the “American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011,” is sponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC.

In the past two years, some states have adopted resolutions urging Congress to support horse processing, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Montana restricted court challenges to future equine processing plants and Wyoming passed a law allowing any state-licensed meat-processing plant to sell its products, including horse flesh, to state institutions, such as prisons. No federal inspections are required if the meat does not cross state lines. In addition, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming passed resolutions urging Congress to oppose federal legislation that would ban domestic slaughter, and asking for help in facilitating the resumption of U.S. horse slaughter.

Amended definitions:

Assembly point: Any facility, including auction markets, ranches, feedlots, and stockyards, in which equines are gathered in commerce.

Equine for slaughter: Any member of the Equidae family being transferred to a slaughter facility, including an assembly point, feedlot, or stockyard.

Feedlot: Any facility which consolidates livestock for preconditioning, feeding, fattening, or holding before being sent to slaughter.

Stockyard: Any place, establishment, or facility

commonly known as stockyards, conducted, operated, or managed for profit or nonprofit as a public market for livestock producers, feeders, market agencies, and buyers, consisting of pens, or other enclosures, and their appurtenances, in which live cattle, sheep, swine, horses, mules, or goats are received, held, or kept for sale or shipment in commerce. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor