The Office of Inspector General for US Dept. of Agriculture has released an audit finding what has long been known, "APHIS needs to improve its controls for ensuring that horses being shipped to foreign plants for slaughter are treated humanely."
The USDA, through its agency, Animal Health Plant Inspection Service (APHIS), is supposed to enforce the Commercial Transport of Equines to Slaughter Act regulations found at 9 CFR 88.1-88.6.
OIG found, "[T]here were control deficiencies in how APHIS tags horses that have been inspected and approved for shipment to foreign slaughterhouses. The agency requires shippers to mark such horses with backtags, which are intended to allow APHIS employees to trace horses back to their owner and also to verify that the horses have passed inspection by an accredited veterinarian. We found, however, that the agency’s controls over these tags were weak, and that owners could easily obtain them and apply the tags to horses without APHIS’ knowledge. In addition, APHIS does not currently have an effective control or tracking system to trace all backtags used to transport horses to slaughter."
OIG observed, "APHIS regulations do not allow the agency to deny individuals with unpaid fines the right to ship other loads of horses. In 2008, APHIS issued fines to 23 individuals, but 3 did not pay their fines on time. From 2005 to 2009, a total of 43 violators incurred nearly $174,000 in unpaid fines, yet APHIS allowed these violators to continue shipping horses. APHIS officials explained that they did not foresee this problem when the regulations were originally published in 2001, and thus they did not draft the regulations to prevent individuals from shipping slaughter horses if they have unpaid fines.
"Due to these enforcement limitations, owners have little incentive to comply with regulations, pay their fines, and cease inhumanely handling horses bound for slaughter. During our visit to a border crossing facility, we witnessed two loads of horses, consisting of 68 horses, bound for slaughter at the facility even though the horses’ owner had not paid fines for humane transportation violations."
"Revise Slaughter Horse Transport Program regulations to allow APHIS to deny shipping documents to individuals who repeatedly violate humane handling regulations and who have fines outstanding.
"Develop and maintain a control (database or list) of all individuals who have violated the regulations of the Slaughter Horse Transport Program and have not paid the associated fines.
"Revise regulations or implement adequate controls to ensure that APHIS provides backtags to qualified personnel who can inspect horses bound for slaughter and apply, or oversee the application of, backtags when approving transport documentation. Specifically, this could include "[r]eviewing the proposed rule to evaluate what changes are possible and/or necessary to require that Accredited Veterinarians and/or State animal health officials (in addition to the owner/shipper) either fill out the 10-13’s and apply backtags themselves, or sign the 10-13’s. Another option: Request that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) require that the USDA accredited veterinarian certify the following on the VS 17-140 (US Origin Health Certificate):
(a) Match attestations from the 10-13, specifically that:
- Pregnant mares are not likely to foal;
Foals are older than 6 months of age;
Horses are able to bear weight on all 4 limbs;
Horses are not blind in both eyes;
Horses are able to walk unassisted;
(b) Make a statement that the horses are fit to travel;
(c) State that the inspection was conducted at some length of time less than the traditional 30 days.
"Develop and implement an appropriate control to track individual horses by backtag number on all shipping documents approved so that reconciliation can be performed, violations can be investigated, and enforcement action can be initiated against the horse’s owner and shipper." Options include:
(a) Evaluating the possibility of enforcing the SHTP regulations by Veterinary Services personnel at ports of export, or discuss the possibility of this activity being conducted by another U.S. Federal Agency. This evaluation will be completed by May 2011.
(b) Having CFIA consider a reduced list of ports through which slaughter horses may be imported into Canada. The length of time for this evaluation is unknown as it is dependent on a foreign governmental entity.
(c) Evaluating the possibility of duplicating the horse identification information from the 10-13 onto the 17-140, or to simply merging all of the information from the 10-13 on to the 17-140 and having one document that is certified by an accredited veterinarian.
"Broaden the scope of the regulation of horses sent to slaughter in foreign facilities".
Did OIG Go Far Enough?
Private undercover investigations by Animals Angels have established the USDA and AHPIS have failed miserably in enforcing 9 U.S.C. §§88.4(c) requiring the "[h]andling of all equines in commercial transportation to a slaughtering facility … be done as expeditiously and carefully as possible in a manner that does not cause unnecessary discomfort, stress, physical harm, or trauma." The USDA is required by 9 C.F.R. §88.4(e) "to take appropriate actions to alleviate the suffering of any equine."
Investigations have determined USDA and APHIS have created substantial risk of injury to the public and caused significant injury, suffering and death to horses from failure to enforce standards for conveyance of horses to slaughter pursuant to 9 C.F.R. 88.3 and 88.4(b). Reports establish horses are still transported to slaughter in double decked trailers in violation of 9 C.F.R. §88.3(b). Open trailers are still used at export pens. These open trailers expose horses to the elements and they hit their heads on the low metal pipes. (Exhibit 1 – pictures attached)
Shippers have not driven horses "in a manner to avoid causing injury". 9 C.F.R. §88.4(b) Serious accidents involving double deck and single deck trailers have occurred. (See http://www.equineprotectionnetwork.com/transport/transportindex.htm#Accidents which has a list of all accidents with double deck trailers.
These transports also violate 9 C.F.R. §§88.3(a)(1),(3),.4(a)(4)(i) in failing to protect the "health and well-being" of the horses, crowding horses into trailers in which they cannot even raise their heads during long, arduous transports; and in failing to have sufficient dividers placed between horses. (See Exhibit 2 – pictures)
There is evidence the transports take longer than 28 hours, clearly putting the horses’ well being at risk. (See Exhibit 3)
There are no records maintained by USDA or APHIS that show anyone checks at the point of loading if the owner/shipper was truthful on Form 10-13 and actually provided access to food, water and rest as required by 9 C.F.R. §§88.4(a)(1) and (a)(3)(x), and (a)(4)(b)(3). USDA or APHIS has failed to enforce requirements pursuant to 9 C.F.R. §§88.4(a)(3)(vii), (viii) that owners/shippers issues statements of fitness to travel and descriptions of "any preexisting injuries or other unusual condition of the equine, such as a wound or blindness in one eye, that may cause the equine to have special handling needs".
There are also no records of inspections to confirm that during transit to the slaughtering facility, the owner/shippers "[o]bserve the equines as frequently as circumstances allow, but not less than once every 6 hours, to check the physical condition of the equines and ensure that all requirements of this part are being followed….[and] obtain veterinary assistance as soon as possible from an equine veterinarian for any equines in obvious physical distress." 9 C.F.R. §88.4(b)(2).
Documents and photos released by USDA in 2008 response to a 2005 Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. §552 et seq. request by equine cruelty investigator Julie Caramante, reveal significant injuries to horses during transport to slaughterhouse facilities. Injuries included conscious dismemberment, open fractures, blinded and battered faces. It appears some horses were left to bleed out. http://www.kaufmanzoning.net/foia.htm
A 2009 report of a 30 month long investigation by Animals Angels confirms that injuries and inhumane treatment documented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during 2005 continue. (Exhibit 4)
The Animals’ Angels report shows horses severely injured, left medically untreated, ill, trampled to death and worse on their way to and at slaughter.
The Animals Angels report documents available veterinary care withheld from horses severely injured or near death. Undercover investigators were routinely told, ‘That horse is going to slaughter anyway,’ or the horses were ‘just passing through.’
Treatment of horses designated for slaughter ranged from beating horses and jabbing them in the eyes, to using a cable winch to drag downed horses with a wire wrapped around a back leg. Investigators observed horses being injured or killed after being forced into dangerously crowded pens where they were kicked or trampled. Others were found frozen to the ground after overnight temperatures dropped well below freezing.
Young and small horses, as well as horses injured or weak were trampled to death in trailers crowded with 40 horses. Workers failed to separate stallions, ensuring fierce fighting in close quarters during transport.
Injured and dead horses were found at every stop along the horse slaughter pipeline. At feedlots and export pens horses had no food and water troughs were empty. An export facility veterinarian informed Animals Angels that horses too weak for transport would be left behind to die in the pens.
The Horse Transportation Safety Act, H.R. 305, pending in Congress, would ban the use of double decked trailers for the transport of horses. Even better, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, H.R. 503/S.B. 727, also pending in Congress, would ban the sale and transport of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption.