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May 3, 2012

The HSUS and HSI Release Report on Human Health Risks from Consumption of American Horse Meat

Horses not raised for food receive medications banned by FDA and the European Union

Humane Society International

  • In addition to being a source of great pain and suffering for the animals, the consumption of horse meat poses considerable health hazards. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

WASHINGTON—The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International issued a report detailing the food safety risks associated with consuming meat that originates in American horses. Horses in the U.S. are primarily used for companionship or competition, therefore they are not treated in the same way as animals raised for human consumption. Horses are commonly given pharmaceuticals and other substances that have been banned for use in food-producing animals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Union, are toxic if ingested, or the effects of ingestion have never been tested at all. 

“The slaughter of American horses poses a potentially serious health risk to human consumers, yet tens of thousands of horses are still slaughtered for their meat,” said Dr. Michael Greger, director of public health and animal agriculture for The HSUS, HSI and Humane Society Institute for Science & Policy. “New measures put in place in the European Union to address this risk are vital steps to ensure horses who are regularly given phenylbutazone and other EU-banned substances are kept out of the slaughter pipeline.” 

Americans do not eat horses, but each year more than 100,000 U.S. horses are transported over the borders to be slaughtered in Canada and Mexico, and the meat is exported for consumption in the European Union and Japan. Research shows that horses originating in the U.S. comprise a large percentage of the total slaughterhouse output of Canada and Mexico. Audits of Mexican slaughterhouses conducted by the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office have found horsemeat containing harmful residues of several substances prohibited in the EU. A study of the medical records of race horses sent to slaughter shows that horses with a history of phenylbutazone use are making their way to slaughter plants despite the United States’ and other countries’ ban of the use of the drug in food producing animals. Phenylbutazone, commonly called “bute,” is an anti-inflammatory regularly given to horses, and it is known to be hazardous to humans, even in trace amounts.

In 2009, the European Union introduced strict new import requirements with regard to veterinary drug residues. Meat from animals treated with particular substances, such as bute, is not eligible for export to the EU and excluded entirely from the food chain. Countries seeking to export horse meat to the EU are therefore required to ensure that all horses presented for slaughter at EU-certified slaughter plants are accompanied by an equine identification document and a veterinary treatment record listing all medications they have been given in the last six months, and in 2013, lifetime treatment records will be required. These import requirements would render nearly all American horses ineligible for slaughter for export to the EU. 

The Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue have filed legal petitions with both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to block companion, working, wild and show horses from being slaughtered for human consumption, due to the associated health risks associated with eating their meat. The petition documents more than 110 examples of drugs and other substances which are, or potentially should be, prohibited in food-producing horses, describes the horrible way in which horses die at slaughterhouses, and outlines the environmental devastation that has been associated with slaughter plants.

View the full white paper: www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/report_food_safety_horse_slaughter.pdf.

Horse Slaughter Facts:

  • Even though horses are not currently slaughtered for human consumption in the U.S., horses are still being subjected to intense suffering and abuse through transport and slaughter over the borders. Undercover footage shows live horses being dragged, whipped and crammed into trucks in with interior temperatures reaching 110 degrees. Horses are often shipped for more than 24 hours at a time without food, water or rest. Pregnant mares, foals, injured horses, and even blind horses must endure the journey.
  • In November 2011, Congress chose not to renew a prohibition on spending U.S. tax dollars to facilitate horse slaughter. The prohibition had been in place for five years, and the move potentially opens the door for a return of horse slaughter plants on American soil, despite broad opposition to the practice. The USDA documented a history of abuse and cruelty at the U.S. plants, including employees whipping horses in the face, horses giving birth on the killing floors, and horses arriving with gruesome injuries.
  • It is not only old, sick and infirm horses going to slaughter. USDA statistics show that 92 percent of all horses sent to slaughter arrive in “good” condition—meaning they are sound, healthy and could go on to lead productive lives.
  • Horse slaughter actually prevents horse rescue; rescue operators are routinely outbid by killer buyers at auctions.
  • The operation of horse slaughterhouses has a negative environmental impact. All three of the last domestic plants to close were in violation of local environmental laws related to the disposal of blood and other waste materials.
  • Congress is considering the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, S. 1176 introduced by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and H.R. 2966 introduced by Reps. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., to prevent horse slaughter plants from opening in the U.S. and stop the export of American horses for the purpose of slaughter.


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Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations—backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programmes. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide—On the Web at hsi.org

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org

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