USDA Rule Improves Transportation for Slaughter-Bound Horses

Double-deck trailers may not be used to transport slaughter-bound horses to from U.S. farms and feedlots to other way points en route to foreign processing plants under a new rule announced by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on Sept. 7.

Horse processing has not taken place in the U.S. since 2007 when the last processing facility operating the country was shuttered; however, since then, horses have been transported to Mexico and Canada for processing.

Some animal welfare advocates have long considered double-decker horse trailers inhumane because their configuration is not high enough for the animals to stand with their heads extended to the full normal postural height. Interstate highway regulations requiring a 14-foot minimum vertical clearance under overhead structures precludes double deck transports from being high enough to accommodate equines.

Existing USDA/APHIS regulations ban the use of double-decker trailers to transport slaughter-bound horses directly from the U.S. to processing plants in Mexico and Canada. The new rule expands the existing regulation to include the transport of horses from U.S. farms and feedlots to other intermediate points en route to slaughter.

Some advocates believe the new regulation will enhance the welfare of slaughter-bound animals.

"Far too often we have seen the devastating, often fatal, effects of horses being forced to travel in double-decker trailers," said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States. "The ... rule is important for improving the humane transport of horses being shipped to slaughter facilities in Canada and Mexico."

However, Wyoming State Representative Sue Wallis believes the new rule will put equines at risk by increasing costs of delivering horses to foreign processing plants: "The only thing (the rule change) will do is reduce the already pathetically low price of horses that are otherwise unusable, unwanted, or excess and put thousands of more horses at risk of starvation and abandonment because they aren't worth putting on a truck."

Meanwhile, federal legislation that would impose a nationwide ban on the use of double-decker trailers to transport horses remains pending in the U.S. Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation review. Introduced by Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk on June 27, S. 1281, the Horse Transportation Safety Act of 2011, would prohibit the transport of horses in a motor vehicle containing two or more levels stacked on top of each other to or from any point within the U.S. and its territories. Violators could face fines of up to $500 for each horse contained in the trailer.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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