Bill to Ban Horse Slaughter

A bill to ban the slaughter of horses in the United States and to prohibit the transportation of horses from the United States to other countries for slaughter has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as House Resolution (HR) 3781. The prime sponsor of the bill is Representative Connie Morella of Maryland. The bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Benjamin Gilman and Maurice Hinchey of New York, Stephen Horn and Tom Lantos of California, Walter Jones Jr. of North Carolina, and Frank Pallone of New Jersey.

The bill has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, and the International Relations Committee.

A source in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said, on condition of anonymity, that while there might be support for the bill from animal rights groups, there does not appear to be general support for the legislation. A similar bill was introduced in the House four months ago by Representative Tom Reynolds of New York, the source said, but it died when additional sponsors couldn't be found. Co-sponsors, as listed above, did come forth for HR 3781.

An introduction to HR 3781, which was introduced on Feb. 14, 2002, reads as follows: "To prevent the slaughter of horses in and from the United States for human consumption by prohibiting the slaughter of horses for human consumption and by prohibiting the trade and transport of horseflesh and live horses intended for human consumption and other purposes."

Thus, the bill, if passed, would not only prohibit the slaughter of horses at the three plants operating within the United States, but would forbid shipping U.S. horses to plants in Canada and Mexico.

The major slaughter facilities in Canada are operated by Bouvry Exports, with its chief plant being in Fort MacLeod, Alberta. Bouvry currently slaughters about 50,000 horses per year, with 40% of that number coming from the United States.

The three plants in the United States are Beltex and Dallas Crown in Texas and Cavell, which is located near Chicago, Ill. They slaughter fewer horses per year than Canada. The most recent government figures were about 70,000 slaughtered in 2000. That number has probably risen because of the problems with mad cow disease and foot and mouth disease in Europe. Most of the horse meat from the United States is exported to Europe, with some going to Japan and other small markets.

HR 3781 states, in part, that, "Many (horses) are shipped on double-deck trailers designed for shorter-necked species, such as pigs, cattle, and sheep, and are forced to travel in a bent position."

It appears, the USDA source said, that the sponsors of HR 3781 were unaware that new transportation regulations for horses being transported to slaughter were implemented in early February of 2002 (see article Quick Find #3207 at The regulations set new standards for providing sufficient head room and appropriate ramps and doors in conveyances in which horses are hauled to slaughter. It also requires segregation of stallions and aggressive horses from others on the load; requires that transported horses be healthy physically; and will eliminate the use of double-deck trailers for transporting horses to slaughter in five years.

The new regulations also require that a shipping certificate be filled out for each horse which, in addition to name and address of the shipper and a list of identifying characteristics of the horse, includes a statement of fitness to travel that declares "the equine is able to bear weight on all four limbs, able to walk unassisted, not blind in both eyes, older than six months of age, and not likely to give birth during the trip." Each horse is also assigned a USDA back tag number to further enable officials to track the animal during the transportation and slaughtering process.

The USDA source said that the new system is "working even better than anticipated." The regulations, the source said, will quickly weed out problem haulers.

The source also pointed out that more complexities are involved in banning horse slaughter than is readily discernible. The horse industry does not exist in a vacuum, the source said--"The World Trade Council is involved."

If the United States cuts the shipments of horse meat to other countries, it could have a backlash impact on exports of beef and pork.

HR 3781 has been assigned to a sub-committee of the Committee on Agriculture. As of late February, congressional sources said, little attention had been given to the bill because the new Farm Bill was before a House-Senate Conference Committee and all committee attention was being focused on it.

A similar bill passed two years ago in California has resulted in no convictions, according to a source in that state. "There are fewer horses at auctions, but that implies that horses are going elsewhere," the source said, adding that the "riding horse" and the "slaughter horse" pens were next to each other at the stockyards in Mexico, implying the comparative lack of equine welfare regulation in some other countries.


Legislation affecting horses intended for slaughter is not only a hot topic in federal legislation, but also under consideration by state governments like Indiana. Senator Tom Wyss (R) recently introduced Senate Bill 86, intended to outlaw transportation of horses on double-deck ("possum-belly") trailers in Indiana. Wyss and supporters hold that national slaughter transport regulations will not sufficiently address the issue. The Senate passed SB 86 on Feb. 5, but on Feb. 25, the House of Representatives passed SB 86 with amendments that allow use of the trailers with a minimum ceiling height on each level. Wyss made a motion that the Senate not concur with House amendments, and representatives from the Senate and House have been appointed to confer on the subject.--Stephanie L. Church

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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