Food Policy

The Case for Legalizing Horse Meat

The return of domestic horse slaughterhouses will be good for ranchers, butchers, chefs, consumers, and horses.


The USDA has approved the first domestic horse slaughter facility in the United States since Congress lifted a five-year ban on such facilities in late 2011.

The facility, located in Roswell, New Mexico, has already been inspected, one of the last hurdles before it can open.

Four other horse slaughterhouses are also in line to open.

Last week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack indicated the agency will grant the necessary permits so the Roswell facility can soon open.

"We are going to do this, and I would imagine that it would be done relatively soon," Vilsack told NBC News.

The ban was always controversial. And its terrible unintended consequences were both predictable and predicted.

As I noted in a 2011 post at Hit & Run, a 2006 report, The Unintended Consequences of a Ban on the Humane Slaughter (Processing) of Horses in the United States, predicted that "[t]he potential for a large number of abandoned or unwanted horses is substantial" under the ban.

That's exactly what happened almost immediately after the ban went into effect.

A June 2011 GAO report, Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter, revealed that "state, local government, and animal welfare organizations report a rise in investigations for horse neglect and more abandoned horses since 2007[.]"

The report "recommend[ed] that Congress reconsider the ban."

A few months later, Congress did just that.

The main arguments against domestic horse slaughter, as I described in another Hit & Run post in 2011, are that it's somehow inherently cruel to kill horses for food and that Americans don't and won't eat horsemeat.

Neither argument holds up to scrutiny.

"To be clear: Horse slaughter is NOT humane euthanasia," claims the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

But the group's rationale to support its arguments quickly veers from the humane to the irrelevant. The group justifies its support of a ban because previous "slaughtering plants paid no export taxes and little in income taxes… [and t]he slaughterhouses themselves were not clean/green enterprises[.]"

Even if that's all true, it's got nothing to do with horse slaughter.

And then there's this: "Horse slaughter can be done humanely in a well designed facility that has good management," writes Temple Grandin, often hailed as the leading authority on compassionate animal slaughter.

On the issue of an American appetite for horsemeat, there does appear to be a demand.

For every news story that begins with "Americans don't want to eat horse meat…," it's none too difficult to find another news story that lays waste to that claim.

The ASPCA argues, though, that some animals are more equal than others.

"Due to the historic role that horses have played in the development of our country and culture, the ASPCA is opposed to the slaughter of horses for human consumption," says the group.

But in the American melting pot, culture cuts (and cooks) in innumerable ways.

"Horse has a long and proud culinary tradition, and is eaten all around the world," writes celebrity chef, author, and television personality Andrew Zimmern, who supported an end to the ban. "I happen to think horse meat is not only delicious, but also a great alternative protein."

Before you rush on down to your local butcher seeking a cut of said alternative protein, though, bear in mind that the Roswell facility may still face some roadblocks before it opens.

Just this week, a Colorado horse rights group announced it may sue to put the skids on the Roswell facility.

And New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall and Virginia Rep. Jim Moran are among those in Congress who would like to maintain a ban on horse slaughter.

I hope for the sake of chefs, butchers, ranchers, consumers, and horses alike that neither the courts nor Congress ever saddle this country with another horsemeat ban.