A Report from a Citizen Lobbyist on the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act

U.S. CapitolOn March 4-5, 2008, over 100 people gathered at the nation’s Capitol to lobby members of Congress to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, H.R. 503/S.B. 311. 

I say "people" because we came from all walks of life with different connections to horses: some were rescuers, some formerly raced horses, some grew up with horses, some owned farms where they keep horses, and some just care about the welfare of horses and other animals.  For at least these 2 days all were citizen lobbyists, walking the halls of the Capitol, meeting with as many Senators, Representatives, or staffers as we could, working to convince them to pass this bill.

I was there for the Animal Law Coalition.  We were all there for the horses. (Special thanks to Julie Camarante and others who helped organize this event.)

This group of citizens came together as Americans Against Horse Slaughter, http://www.americansagainsthorseslaughter.com/ ("AAHS"), a grass roots effort launched by Shelley Abrams and Deborah Lopez to stop the slaughter of American horses, a movement that is gaining momentum all across the country.

Alex Brown, a horse racing professional, helped organize the event.  He commented during a reception held at the end of a long day of lobbying, that so many people became aware of the cruelty of horse slaughter after the death of horse racing legend, Barbaro.  Barbaro wasn’t slaughtered, but his death brought many horse enthusiasts together on email lists, list serves, online chat rooms and websites. This loose organization of people who care about horses began circulating information about horse slaughter. And they decided to do something to stop it.

Actor Paul Sorvino and his daughter, Amanda Sorvino, a committed animal rescuer, along with TV Survivor star, Jenna Morasca, joined us in meeting with Congressional members and aides during the two day event. Paul Sorvino told our group, "Killing our horses is killing our history. …I’m thinking about what it means to be dealing with an issue with an animal, the kind of animal, more than any other, that bespeaks America.  Horses….are part of this extraordinary country…Paul Revere did not come a riding on a donkey. He came on a horse.

 "The important thing to remember, these animals are not livestock. These animals are not to be saved just because they are beautiful…These animals are …like the American eagle, icons of the American spirit….We can’t ignore that."

Sorvino continued, "I came kicking and screaming into this….I had no interest in this really …until I found out [the] dirty little secret….in the horse racing industry, if you can’t run, you die.  ….When people are tired of these animals, they send them off to [slaughter]….This is a flight animal….an animal that’s extremely sensitive….with a need for human contact…[with] this history of nobility.

"They can’t get away with it forever…because people like me know about [slaughter]…I will not shut up".

Sorvino has spent at least $600,000 of his own money in the past few years to save horses from slaughter.

A View from a Citizen Lobbyist

Among those I met with was my own representative, Jim Matheson (D-UT).  Almost as soon as I walked in the room, he announced he opposed the bill to stop horse slaughter for human consumption. Rep. Matheson told me, "Nothing you say is going to make me change my mind."  As a constituent who had traveled from Utah to meet with him, I may have been naïve in hoping  he would at least consider what I had to say.   

             Dispelling the Myth of the Unwanted Horse Argument

Rep. Matheson asked, "Well, what will we do with the unwanted horses?"  As if a multi-million dollar a year industry is driven by unwanted horses.  I explained that horse slaughter is driven by a demand for horse meat, that kill buyers buy horses at auction for slaughter, and the USDA has said over 92% of American horses slaughtered, are healthy. 

One member of our citizen’s lobbying group owns a farm in Colorado.  She described a nearby feedlot where there is a weekly horse auction. Owners leave horses there to be auctioned off. Kill buyers looking for horses to take to slaughter in Mexico or Canada are always there, bidding on these horses. The kill buyers are not looking for the unwanted or abused or neglected horses. They are looking for healthy horses that can be slaughtered for horsemeat, a delicacy in parts of Europe and Asia.

Also, the horse slaughter industry actually encourages the over breeding of horses. Because owners can make money from the brutal slaughter of their horses, they have an incentive to over breed.  As Paul Sorvino put it, "37% of those horses are going to be slaughtered because they couldn’t run fast enough….So, it’s run for your life."  If the slaughter of horses for human consumption is illegal, there is no reward for over breeding.  

Sadly, pro-slaughter groups have disseminated disinformation in the media to convince the public that without horse slaughter, there will be large numbers of abandoned, abused and neglected horses.  (Even if that were true, it is not clear how substituting one form of cruelty for another is somehow a solution.) 

Indeed, these reports in the media have proven to be unfounded.  Pet Abuse.com actually reported a decrease in horse abuse and neglect cases following closure of the last U.S. horse slaughter house in 2007.

Historically, there have not been increases in abandoned, neglected or abused horses following closures of horse slaughter houses. In 2002 the Illinois slaughter house burned to the ground and was out of commission for some time.  Reports of abandoned, abused and neglected horses in the Illinois area were actually on the rise in the 2 years before the fire but decreased afterwards.

The number of horses slaughtered in the U.S. dropped significantly from over 300,000 annually in the 1990s to 66,000 in 2004.  There was no notable increase during that time of abandoned, abused or neglected horses.

As AAHS puts it, "The ‘surplus horse population’ [argument] is a scare tactic."  

                 Horse Slaughter is Not Humane Euthanasia

Horses going to slaughterI wanted Rep. Matheson to understand horse slaughter is not a program of humane euthanasia for unwanted horses.  Many times people selling horses at auction are unaware or don’t intend for the horses to end up in the slaughter house.  Without the kill buyers who skulk around horse auctions buying horses for slaughter, most of these horses would be purchased by others or end up in rescues or sanctuaries.  

As John Holland, a free lance writer and researcher on horse slaughter, has explained, "Kill buyers do not go around the country like dog catchers gathering ‘unwanted horses’ as a public service."  Kill buyers are not looking for unwanted, neglected or abused horses. They are looking for the healthiest horses.  They are buying American horses because of the demand for horse meat in parts of Europe and Asia.  

I felt it was important for Rep. Matheson to note that about 920,000 horses die each year in the U.S.  As AAHS points out, "Just over 100,000 horses were slaughtered in the U.S. in 2006. If slaughter were no longer an option and these horses were rendered or buried instead, it would represent a small increase in the number of horse being disposed of in this manner  – an increase that the current infrastructure can certainly sustain. Humane euthanasia and carcass disposal is highly affordable and widely available. The average cost of having a horse humanely euthanized and safely disposing of the animal’s carcass is approximately $225, while the average monthly cost of keeping a horse is approximately $200."

Rep. Matheson seemed unaware of the cruelty of horse slaughter, probably because the AVMA and AQHA and horse slaughter industry lobbyists have done such a good job spreading the disinformation that horse slaughter is humane euthanasia. I explained to him there is nothing "humane" about horse slaughter.  The captive bolt gun used in the U.S. slaughterhouses did not typically render horses senseless before slaughter. The slaughter houses never bothered to restrain the horses’ heads or use only trained personnel to operate the gun.  

As John Holland has explained, "In its 2000 report on methods of Euthanasia, the AVMA stated that the captive bolt gun should not be used on equines unless head restraint could be assured. This is because of the relatively narrow forehead of equines, their head shyness and the fact that the brain is set back further than in cattle for which the gun is intended. It is difficult for an operator to assure proper placement of the gun.

"No slaughter house ever found a practical way to restrain the heads of the horses, so by the AVMA’s very definition, the process was not acceptable. The result was a very large number of ineffective stuns. These misplaced blows undoubtedly caused severe pain until a stunning or fatal blow was delivered. "

I tried to describe for Rep. Matheson the pain and terror experienced by horses as bolts were repeatedly fired at their heads many times by untrained operators. I told him these horses were many times still conscious as they were then hoisted upside down for slaughter.

I explained that because horse slaughter could not be made humane according to the standards in its 2000 Report, AVMA simply changed the requirements in its 2007 Euthanasia Report! In that report the AVMA removed any mention that horses’ heads should be restrained during use of the captive bolt gun. That pesty requirement that slaughterhouses ignored anyway simply got in the way of the AVMA’s campaign to convince Congress and the public that horse slaughter is "humane". Now the AVMA is effectively telling Congress and the public that it is humane euthanasia for an untrained operator to fire metal bolts at a horse’s unrestrained head until it is more or less unconscious and then, still alive and perhaps even conscious, subjected to the slaughtering process.  

Of course, this does not even include the fear and suffering endured by horses as they are transported to slaughter. Most are stuffed into double decked trailers where they cannot raise their heads. They are transported long distances without food or water for more than 24 hours.  Many are trampled, injured and even killed during transport. The USDA has issued a regulation barring use of double decked trailers, but with a wink and a nod at the kill buyers transporting horses to slaughter. 9 CFR 88.3 The USDA has said it does not have the resources to enforce the regulations. As a result, kill buyers still use double decked trailers to haul horses to slaughter.  Click here for a detailed report of an investigation by Angels Animals into the transport of horses to slaughter.

(For more information on the brutality of horse slaughter in the U.S., click here to read the July 25, 2006 testimony of Christopher J. Heyde, Deputy Legislative Director for Animal Welfare Institute, before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. Mr. Heyde and other representatives of the AWI as well as HSUS lobbyists including Nancy Perry were on hand to give us pointers in lobbying. They provided some much needed support for our citizen lobbying effort!)  

                   States Rights?

Horses greeting each otherSeveral of the Congressional aides we spoke with expressed concern that the federal government should not pass legislation on this issue, that this is a matter for the states to address. The problem is that the states where there were horse slaughter houses, Texas and Illinois, have done all they can to stop horse slaughter. In 2007 state laws upheld by federal courts shut down horse slaughter in those states.

In fact, former Mayor Paula Bacon of Kaufman, Texas was there to tell Congressional members and aides during our citizen lobbying effort that there is nothing more Texas or any other state can do to stop horse slaughter. She should know. Until last year Kaufman, Texas was the home of one of the nation’s 3 horse slaughter houses.  Mayor Bacon described that when she had to drive by the slaughter house, she could see the horses there awaiting slaughter. She demonstrated to us how they would neigh at her, seemingly beckoning her to save them.  One day she saw a horse with a mane that was still curly, meaning that the horse had just appeared within the past day or two with a braided mane at a show or exhibition. And then the owner sold him, knowingly or unknowingly, to be slaughtered.       

Mayor Bacon was instrumental in the fight in the Texas federal courts to shut down both horse slaughter houses in Texas.  And, last year the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 1949 Texas law that banned horse slaughter for human consumption, a law which had been largely forgotten. 

Mayor Bacon’s involvement in this effort did not make her popular with many of her constituents, particularly the state’s powerful agriculture and veterinary industries. She has been nominated for Caroline Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage Award given annually to an elected official who has the courage to take unpopular stands on important issues.     

Click here for more on the Court’s decision upholding a Texas law banning horse slaughter for human consumption and here for information about the fight in the legislature and the courts in Illinois to shut down the horse slaughter plant in DeKalb.    

Several states either have bans on horse slaughter for human consumption or are considering such laws. But a state can’t regulate commerce between other states or with foreign countries.   

I told Rep. Matheson that with the closing of horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. in 2007, there has only been a 14% decrease in horse slaughter. Much of this grizzly business has moved to Mexico where instead of a captive bolt gun, untrained workers use a puntilla knife to stab horses repeatedly apparently in an effort to stun them before they are slaughtered. For more on the cruelty of horse slaughter in Mexico, click here.

It requires a federal law, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, H.R. 503/S.B. 311, to stop the sale and transport of American horses to slaughter houses in another country. I told Rep. Matheson we were there in the nation’s Capitol to ask him to co-sponsor that law and help pass it.  

In fact, Congress has not regarded horse slaughter as a matter for states to address. Congress has previously voted to ban horse slaughter for human consumption. In 2006 the Ensign Byrd Amendment passed the Senate by a vote of 68-29 and the House by a vote of 269-158. This Amendment to the agriculture budget eliminated funding for USDA inspections of horses slaughter houses. Without inspections, horse slaughter houses cannot legally operate.  (Yes, Rep. Matheson voted against this amendment.)

Of course, the USDA tried an end run around this law and offered slaughter houses the opportunity to pay for their own inspections. Yes, under the USDA’s vision, the horse slaughter industry would basically inspect itself. But another federal court stepped in last year and found the USDA’s plan illegal. Click here for more on that federal court decision.

               U.S. Economic Impact              

 I also wanted Rep. Matheson to understand the insignificance of the horse slaughter industry to the U.S. economy. All 3 of the horse slaughter houses closed last year were part of a horse meat industry that was only 0.001% of the U.S. meat industry. The slaughterhouses were all foreign-owned. They paid little in income taxes. One facility paid $5 in federal taxes on $12 million in sales. These slaughter houses paid no export taxes, meaning the U.S. government effectively subsidized the sale of horse meat to consumers generally in Asia and Europe.

Horse meat is not consumed in the U.S. It is not used in the manufacture of pet food, and very few zoos use horse meat at all. Horse meat is an expensive delicacy served in fine restaurants primarily in parts of Asia and Europe.     

Horse slaughter is a brutal business. It has no place in American culture. It’s time it went the way of dog fighting, trafficking in illegal drugs, slavery, prostitution, child labor, dumping of pollutants onto land or waterways and other sordid practices. It’s time to ban horse slaughter.

              Property Rights

One Congressional aide expressed concern that horse owners have a "right" to send horses to slaughter. Actually, as AAHS points out, "Horse owners’ property rights become an issue when they cannot sell their horses without any assurance they will not end up at slaughter….Horse owners’ property rights become an issue when their horses are stolen out of pastures and barns every year for the horsemeat trade." In fact, when California banned slaughter of horses for human consumption, horse theft dropped 84%.

Besides, having property rights does not mean you can do what you want with an animal. Michael Vick learned that the hard way.   


Did I convince Rep. Matheson to support the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act? Well, he hasn’t signed on as a co-sponsor. I have a feeling his ties to the agriculture and veterinary lobbies that support horse slaughter are more important to him than my vote.  But I haven’t rallied my fellow constituents yet…..


HorseYou don’t need to go to the Capitol to lobby for Congress to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Click here for more information on this law, where it stands now, and how you can help pass it without ever leaving your home!

Remember it’s an election year. The three remaining presidential candidates, all Senators, have all signed up as co-sponsors to this Act. No one should be elected to Congress without agreeing to co-sponsor this legislation. No member of Congress should be re-elected without signing on as co-sponsor to H.R. 503 or S.B. 311.

Contact Animal Law Coalition for help in convincing Congressional candidates or your representative or senators to sign on now as co-sponsors!  


Click here to read  the white paper issued by the Veterinarians for Equine Welfare on horse slaughter.

Click here to read John  Holland’s point by point refutation of the AVMA’s pro-slaughter arguments.

Click here to read how you can help restore the protections of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

by Laura Allen for the Animal Law Coalition

One thought on “A Report from a Citizen Lobbyist on the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act”

  1. Great job Laura! You’ve provided good information, as well as letting people know how to become involved (and how to disprove pro slaughter myths).


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