Transport to Slaughter: Final Rule Passed

On Dec. 7, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) passed the final rule on the Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter. The rule was published in the Dec. 7 issue of the Federal Register, and the 31-page document detailing revisions to the earlier proposed rule can be viewed at The effective date of the final rule will be Feb. 2, 2002.

Approval of the rule marked the conclusion of several years of work by officials who labored over the wording of the regulations, considering the abundance of public comments. The regulations fulfill APHIS's responsibility under the 1996 Farm Bill to regulate the commercial transportation of equines for slaughter by individuals regularly engaged in that activity within the United States. The final rule establishes minimum standards to ensure that horses are transported humanely when being transported to slaughter facilities. The final rule covers food, water, and rest, among other things. Under the rule, the shipper or owner of the transportation will be responsible for overseeing that certain requirements are met during loading and transportation. Additionally, the regulations prohibit commercial transportation of certain horses that are unfit for travel, the use of electric prods (except in severe, human life-threatening situations), and after five years will prohibit the use of double-deck trailers for commercial transportation of horses to slaughter facilities.

To create the rule, APHIS established a working group that included participants from the USDA, including representatives from the Food Safety Inspection Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service. According to the document, APHIS also attended two meetings regarding the statute that were hosted by humane organizations and attended by representatives of the equine, auction, slaughter, and trucking industries and the research and veterinary communities.

"At these meetings, we had an opportunity to listen to diverse opinions. We have relied on the proposed rule and public comment period to obtain comments from all interested persons," said the authors of the document.

The proposed final rule was published in the May 19, 1999, Federal Register. Public comment was solicited at that time, and 276 comments were submitted during the comment period ending July 19, 1999. Those who commented included humane associations, academia, slaughter plants, horse industry organizations, veterinary practitioners, a state government, a foreign government, the U.S. Congress, livestock industry organizations and transporters, an organization representing veterinarians, and private citizens.

The new regulations, found in a new part of title 9 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 88, have been divided into six sections: Definitions (88.1), General information (88.2), Standards for Conveyances (88.3), Requirements for Transport (88.4), Requirements at a slaughtering facility (88.5), and Violations and Penalties (88.6). These regulations apply only to the actual transport of a shipment of equines from the point of being loaded on the conveyance to arrival at the slaughter house. APHIS was directed by Congress to employ performance-based standards rather than engineering-based standards when establishing regulations, and was instructed not to inhibit the commercially viable transport of equines to slaughtering facilities.

A few of the changes that will occur as a result of the rule include the following:


  • Each equine must be provided appropriate food and potable water for six hours immediately prior to their loading for travel.
  • An owner/shipper certificate will accompany every equine throughout transit to the slaughtering facility, and must include a statement of the horse�s fitness to travel (a statement that the animal is able to bear weight on all four limbs, able to walk unassisted, is not blind in both eyes, and older than six months of age, and unlikely to give birth during the trip). The owner/shipper will be responsible for completing this form before shipment.
  • Requirement of immediate consolidation of the two floors in �floating deck trailers� so that they are one-floor conveyances.
  • A five-year phasing-out period for double-deck (�possum belly�) trailers to minimize the economic losses of those dependent on the use of such trailers. The trailers will be banned as of Feb. 2, 2007.
  • To determine whether a transporting individual is subject to the regulations, the USDA may request information regarding the business of that individual, and when such information is requested, it must be provided within 30 days in a format as may be specified by the USDA.


Groups such as the American Horse Council, the American Horse Protection Association, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Horse Defense Fund support the rule. There was some negative response to the rule from other humane organizations that feel that the regulations fall short and will be difficult to enforce. �These regulations will legalize every inhumane practice identified in the transport of horses to slaughter,� noted one humane organization, �AND, put the very people identified as the abusers in charge of the horses. This is the fox guarding the hen house.�

According to APHIS, approximately 200 owners and commercial shippers will be affected by this rule. The average number of equines transported annually to slaughter per affected entity would be 500. The document states that operating costs would increase somewhere between $300 to several thousand dollars annually for these entities, but that for most, the economic consequences would fall somewhere near the minimum point on the impact scale, since many are already in compliance with at least some of the requirements established by this new rule.

Funds have been allocated for public information efforts, and APHIS has developed educational materials about the humane transport of equines. The materials will include an instructional video and other educational tools for the owner/shippers.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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