Secy. Vilsack – USDA Cannot Enforce Horse Slaughter Laws


 USDA/FSIS Cannot Meet the Legal Requirements for the Return of Horse Slaughter to the U.S


Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack:

Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) Administrator, Alfred Almanza, has been
quoted as saying that the agency is moving quickly to accommodate two pending
applications to open horse slaughter plants in the U.S.  Though as I understand since then, the
applicant in New Mexico has withdrawn the application, and the Missouri
applicant is beset with legal problems and was apparently not even the owner of
the property proposed for the horse slaughter facility and cannot acquire any
ownership interest.

a horse slaughter proponent is circulating a "petition" to urge FSIS to move
more quickly in approving applications and make inspectors available for horse
slaughter for human consumption. The USDA has a number of legal obligations
when it comes to slaughtering equines for human consumption; USDA cannot meet
any of these obligations and for this and economic, environmental and other
health and safety reasons, should not allow horse slaughter.

Substantial Taxpayer Costs
with No Economic Benefit

As the U.S.
struggles to climb out of the most devastating economic recession since the
Great Depression, it is puzzling why 
FSIS would take funds from an already depleted budget to use for a
program to inspect horses to be slaughtered for human consumption.  Surely, the threats to food safety and humane
treatment of animals are already significant with a reduced budget.  Why would any funds be used for a program
that results in no economic benefit to the U.S. and instead threatens the
health and safety of our local communities and equines?

Prior to the
closure of the 3 horse slaughter plants in 2007, FSIS spent approximately
$5,000,000 annually for inspectors, basically subsidizing the three
foreign-owned (Belgian and French) horse slaughterhouses. Americans don’t eat
equines so there were no sales of horsemeat domestically and thus no sales tax
revenues from slaughter. Horse slaughter facilities pay virtually no income
taxes. One facility operating in Texas prior to 2007 paid $5 in federal income
tax one year on $12 million dollars in sales. In
the preceding 5 years the federal income tax was .3% or 1/3 of 1% of gross
revenues or sales.  A forensic analysis of the tax returns revealed
that the company avoided U.S. income taxes by selling  the horsemeat at a loss to an entity it owned
in another country and then that entity distributed the product overseas at
substantial profit. With no sales or distribution in the U.S. and no tax revenue,
there is simply no benefit to the U.S. economy from horse slaughter.

property tax revenue to Kaufman, Texas where a horse slaughter facility
operated until 2007 was generally less than $2,000 per year, a mere pittance
when compared to the city’s costs for pursuing the facility’s continual
violations of its wastewater permit and in working to address violations of
regulations of Texas Dept. of Health and the Commission on Environmental
Quality. The city’s legal fees just to address issues related to the horse
slaughter plant exceeded its entire budget for legal fees in one year. The city
was even fined by the TCEQ for the plant’s failure to comply with backflow
regulations that meant horse blood and waste backed up into sinks, toilets and
tubs. When the plant finally closed, the city was left with nearly $100,000 in
unpaid fines for wastewater permit violations.

situation was no different at the horse slaughter plant in Ft. Worth and the
other in DeKalb, Illinois.  In DeKalb,
the horse slaughter facility had waste permits that allowed contamination
levels for waste water that were eight times higher than usual. Yet, the
facility was out of compliance hundreds of times. It was not a matter of having old facilities. The owner, Cavel
International, built a state-of-the-art pre-treatment system that
became operational in 2004. The facility remained out of compliance with its
permit regularly until it finally closed in 2007. The blood and waste from
slaughtered horses oozed from the state of the art tanks. There were also
hundreds of FSIS violations. 

The same
was true of Canadian Natural Valley Farms where a 2008 investigation revealed
the state of the art waste pre-treatment facility overflowed as well with blood
and waste, and large amounts of waste and blood were dumped into nearby rivers.
When the state of the art facility was shut down, the community was left with
environmental contamination and a bankrupt company that claimed $42 million in

None of
this includes the plummeting property values, loss of new business, increased
crime rates and a general stench and pall that hung over the communities. All
courtesy of the horse slaughter plant. This is what President Obama’s USDA
wants for American communities?

If horse
slaughterhouses are allowed to re-open, they would again be subsidized by
American taxpayers. Estimates are that the U.S. government would spend at least
$3,000,000-5,000,000 annually to subsidize private horse slaughter facilities.

On top of
that, the USDA could give foreign owners of U.S. horse slaughter facilities,
such as Bouvry, the Canadian company that has explored the possibility of
opening a horse slaughter plant near Stanwood, Washington, or the Belgian
company, Chevideco, which claims it may contribute to the building of a horse
slaughter house in Oregon or Missouri, a subsidized loan of $750,000 through
the RUS World Utilities Services.

Vilsack, it is outrageous that the American taxpayer should support wealthy
investors in a business that profits from animal cruelty, benefits only foreign
interests and wrecks the U.S. communities where the facilities are located.
This money would surely be much better spent on American interests. It would
seem more appropriate for USDA to focus on the live horse industry worth $112.1
billion of gross domestic product.

Few Low Wage Jobs

argument that significant jobs would be created is specious. Horse slaughter
plants operating until 2007 never created more than 178 low wage jobs -and many
of these were held by illegal aliens. When horse
slaughter plants operated in the U.S., this meant workers and their families
overran local resources like the hospitals and government services. It meant
low income housing and a decline in the overall standard of living.

Contributes to Numbers of Horses in Need

Slaughter proponents have widely claimed that slaughter is
somehow an alternative for "unwanted" horses. Nothing could be further from the
truth. Slaughter actually creates a salvage or secondary market that enables
overbreeding and poor breeding practices. Slaughter and a poor economy have
resulted in horses in need. Slaughter is driven by a demand for horsemeat in
some foreign countries; it is not a "service" for unwanted horses and that is
why, as one of your department’s own studies confirms, most horses, 92.3%, are
healthy when they are sent to slaughter. Kill buyers are interested in buying the healthiest horses for
horsemeat that is sold as a delicacy in some foreign countries.

The rise in numbers of horses in need and drop in horse prices
is a result of the worst recession in memory. In fact, if slaughter controlled
numbers of horses in need, there would be none as slaughter is still available
and horses are sent to slaughter in the same numbers as before the 2007
closings of the slaughterhouses that were located in the U.S. It is the
availability of slaughter that actually increases the numbers of excess horses
and other equines on the market. Banning slaughter would reduce the
number of excess horses and other equines.

Also, slaughter accounts for only about 3 cents for every $100
of the equine industry. It makes no sense for anyone to suggest a limited
salvage market could influence prices in the entire horse industry.

The Live
Horse Industry

Again, it
is the live horse industry that USDA should support. Most horses end up at
slaughter because they are purchased by kill buyers. Many horses could have
easily been purchased by someone else other options include adoption programs,
placing them as pasture mates/babysitters to a younger horse, donating them for
use in horse therapy, or placing them in a retirement home.

Humane Euthanasia is
Available and Affordable

about 900,000 horses are humanely euthanized in the U.S. each year. The
infrastructure could easily absorb those sent to slaughter. The average cost of
humane euthanasia including the farm call and either burial, rendering or
placement in a landfill can be as little as $50 depending on the method used,
and at most $400.

Humane Methods of
Slaughter Act Unenforceable for Equines

is responsible for enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, 7 USC
Sec. 1902(a)("HMSA"). USDA/FSIS failed miserably at this when horse slaughter
was legal. That is because the slaughter of horses
and other equines simply cannot be made humane: Dr. Lester Friedlander, DVM
& former Chief USDA Inspector, told Congress in 2008 that the captive bolt
used to slaughter horses is simply not effective. Horses and other equines, in
particular, are very sensitive about anything coming towards their heads and cannot
be restrained as required for effective stunning. Dr. Friedlander stated,
"These animals regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck, they
are fully aware they are being vivisected." The Government Accountability
Office ("GAO") in 2004, GAO-04-247; and dozens of veterinarians and other
witnesses have confirmed that ineffective stunning is common and animals are
conscious during slaughter. It is simply not possible for USDA/FSIS to make
equine slaughter humane and it is a myth to pretend otherwise. Also, the GAO in
3 subsequent reports in 2008, GAO-08-686T; and 2010, GAO-10-203 and
GAO-10-487T, has continued to find disparities and inconsistencies in FSIS
enforcement of HMSA, an abysmal record of tolerating cruelty at slaughter

Having to provide sufficient FSIS inspectors even to try to enforce
HMSA means even more cost to the taxpayer. For a job that cannot be done when
it comes to equines.

Transportation of Equines to Slaughter Act Unenforceable

GAO has also confirmed that USDA/APHIS has not – and cannot –
enforce transport regulations for equines sent to slaughter. 9 CFR Sections
88.1-88.6. Changing a few words here and there in the regulations will not make
transport of equines to slaughter humane. 
USDA/APHIS allows the kill buyers and haulers to fill out and provide
the documentation – which is routinely missing, incomplete or inaccurate –
relied on for enforcement. It is impossible to enforce regulations when the
information to determine violations is supplied solely by the kill buyers and
haulers, the very people USDA/APHIS is supposed to be regulating.

A 2010 Office of Inspector General report confirmed APHIS lacks
the resources and controls to enforce regulations for humane transport of
equines to slaughter. Not only is the information relied on for enforcement
supplied by the kill buyers and haulers, APHIS continues to approve of new shipments to slaughter by kill
buyers or haulers that have outstanding unpaid fines for violations of humane
regulations. The current regulations do not give APHIS the authority to refuse

OIG also found there is no  adequate
system for tracking the information, such as it is, that is supplied by the
kill buyers and haulers about the horses. It is very difficult to track what
happens to the horses, meaning enforcement is virtually non-existent. Also,
APHIS often does not receive any information from kill buyers or haulers. OIG
noted in 2011 that for the past year or more, APHIS had not received the
required paperwork, owner/shipper certificates, from kill buyers or haulers for
any horses sent from Texas to Mexico.

On top of that, APHIS only has two agents to try to enforce
these regulations. Your agency is hamstrung by its own regulations and cannot
assure humane transport of equines to slaughter. There is every reason to think
your agency could not even begin to assure humane transport of horses within
the U.S. to newly opened slaughter facilities.


The Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") does not regulate
equines as food animals. Americans don’t eat horses and other equines. American
horses are not raised, fed and medicated within the FDA guidelines established
for food animals, making them unfit and unsafe for human consumption. Equines
are given all manner of drugs, steroids, de-wormers and ointments throughout
their lives. Equines are not tracked and typically may have several owners. There is no way to know when they are
sold for slaughter what these animals have ingested over their lives.

danger of American horsemeat to consumers was confirmed in a study, "Association of Phenylbutazone
(Bute) Usage with Horses Bought for Slaughter
" that was published in Food
and Chemical Toxicology
and authored by Dr. Ann Marini, Department of
Neurology, Uniformed University of the Health Sciences; Nicolas Dodman, DVM, Tufts
University, and Dr. Nicolas Blondeau, The Institute of Molecular and Cellular

A kill buyer has no idea of the veterinary or drug history of a
horse or other equine taken to slaughter, and many of the most dangerous drugs
have no or a very long withdrawal period. A typical drug given routinely to
equines like aspirin, phenylbutazone or Bute, is a carcinogen and can also
cause aplastic anemia in humans. It has no withdrawal period. The FDA bans bute
in all food producing animals because of this serious danger to human health.
The FDA and USDA would prohibit Americans from consuming horses because of this
danger. Yet, neither the FDA nor the USDA prohibits the export of American
horses for slaughter for human consumption. It is a grave risk to public health
to continue to allow the export of American horses for slaughter for human
consumption in other countries.

European Union has recognized this and has initiated steps to try to stop the
import into the EU of meat from American horses that may be contaminated. Kill
buyers have been found to falsify veterinary and drug reports to avoid the
restrictions. There is no enforcement at the borders, meaning the US continues
to dump contaminated and deadly horsemeat on Europe and other countries. A
petition has been filed with the USDA to stop the slaughter of many U.S. horses
for this reason.


Mr. Vilsack,
in view of all of this, why would the Obama administration allow, let alone
facilitate as a priority, the opening of horse slaughter facilities in the
U.S.?  I would urge the administration to
reconsider this and instead work with horse owners, animal welfare
organizations, the 80% of Americans who want horse slaughter banned, and end
this grisly practice once and for all. Equines are
in danger and equine welfare is threatened as long as slaughter remains