Animal rights activists seemed to score a major victory in 2006 when they pressured Congress to defund the federal agency responsible for inspecting horse- slaughter factories. The reasoning was that without Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors, the slaughterhouses couldn’t slaughter, so no more horse meat could be shipped from the U.S. to countries where it is consumed by humans. Two slaughter factories in Texas and one in Illinois kept operating by paying for USDA inspections until 2007, when new state laws shut them down. Domestic slaughter of horses came to an end.
Four years and one Government Accountability Office (GAO) report later, however, the de facto ban looks like anything but a victory for equine enthusiasts. Shortly after the last U.S. slaughter factories closed, the bottom dropped out of the horse market. The high cost of shipping horses outside the U.S. to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada reduced the amount a slaughter horse could fetch at auction. In turn, the number of domestic horse shipping companies and horse auctions decreased by more than half.
This created a new problem. When the GAO interviewed state veterinarians for a report released in June, all of them offered evidence that “cases of abandonments and abuse or neglect have increased” since the cessation of domestic horse slaughter. For horse owners, abandonment makes sense—more sense, anyway, than spending hundreds of dollars on horse maintenance only to lose money when the animals sell for rock-bottom prices to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. Horses that manage to sell at auction, meanwhile, are transported in trailers meant for other livestock across vast distances with little care, food, or water.
Not content to simply defund the USDA, the House passed a mostly symbolic measure in 2009 banning domestic horse slaughter outright. Unaware of the abuses horses were suffering as a result of the previous laws, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) patted himself on the back, saying, “The way a society treats its animals, particularly horses, speaks to the core values and morals of its citizens.”