Long inquiry reveals further evidence of slaughter abuse

August 10, 2009

Below: Shocking images from Animals' Angels report.

A 30-month investigation has produced further evidence of inhumane treatment of United States horses destined for slaughter.

The poor treatment of the horses is consistent with findings and photographs contained in a 906-page document released by the US Department of Agriculture last year.

The investigation was conducted by Animals' Angels, a Maryland-based animal welfare organisation which engages fulltime investigators in the United States and Canada.

It confirmed that injuries and inhumane treatment documented by the US Department of Agriculture during 2005 are continuing.

Both the USDA report and Animals' Angels' findings document horses severely injured, left medically untreated, ill, trampled to death and worse on their way to and at slaughter.

"Both government records and our report show that being on US soil was not then and is not now the slightest guarantee of humane treatment," Animals' Angels executive director Sonja Meadows said.

While the USDA material relates to 11 months at a Texas horse slaughter plant, the Animals' Angels investigation includes auctions, feedlots and export pens, as well as slaughter plants.

The slaughter of horses in the US, which stopped with plant closures in 2007, continues in Canada and Mexico. Groups advocating slaughter have called for the reopening of US horse slaughter plants, saying horses are better protected by US humane laws than by laws in Canada and Mexico.

However, during the group's investigation, which included repeated visits to auctions, feedlots and slaughter plants, AA investigators concluded abuse and inhumane treatment are inherent to the horse slaughter industry.

"We found the cruelty starts well before horses arrive at the slaughter plant."

The report documents available veterinary care withheld from horses severely injured or near death.

Undercover investigators were routinely told: "That horse is going to slaughter anyway," or the horses were "just passing through".

Treatment of horses designated for slaughter ranged from beating horses and jabbing them in the eyes, to using a cable winch to drag downed horses with a wire wrapped around a back leg.

Investigators observed horses being injured or killed after being forced into dangerously crowded pens where they were kicked or trampled. Others were found frozen to the ground after overnight temperatures dropped well below freezing.

Young and small horses, as well as horses injured or weak were trampled to death in trailers crowded with 40 horses. Workers failed to separate stallions, ensuring fierce fighting in close quarters during transport.

Making conditions worse is the issue of stolen horses, according to Debi Metcalfe, founder of Stolen Horse International Inc, which operates www.NetPosse.com, a horse theft recovery network that averages 80,000 unique visitors a month.

"We have dealt with cases where horses were stolen," said Metcalf. "We later found out that these innocent pets had been slaughtered."

Investigators also discovered at both Canadian and Mexican slaughter plants horses left in bloody "kill boxes", used to restrain horses as they are being killed, during lunch breaks.

According to the report, the horses were "shaking violently as if they might fall down". Plant management told investigators the horses "aren't bothered by it".

The group's investigators documented injured and dead horses at every stop along the horse slaughter pipeline. At feedlots and export pens horses had no food and water troughs were empty. An export facility veterinarian informed investigators horses too weak for transport would be left behind to die in the pens.

"The public has been duped into thinking horse slaughter has ended, but it just moved a few hours further down the road," Meadows said. "It hasn't somehow changed into something it is not. It is the same terrible suffering it was in 2005.

"By the time the horse finally stands in the kill box at the slaughter plant, it is often not the worst thing that has happened to it since this dreadful journey began," said Meadows.

What AA found:

  • A mare down in an auction pen is groaning and barely moving. Investigators immediately notify the auction veterinarian, who refuses any kind of care, saying it would be too 'disruptive' to auction goers. The mare, a "kill horse", continues to suffer in evident pain. She dies 8 hours later.

  • A Horse designated for slaughter has a severe, profusely bleeding knee injury acquired in an overcrowded auction pen. "That horse is going to slaughter anyway, so there's no need to do anything," the veterinarian states.

  • Slated to be auctioned on the following day, many very thin, slaughter-tagged horses are shaking violently in the cold, several without winter coats, and covered with ice crystals. After an overnight low temperature of minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit, investigators find a horse dead, frozen to the ground.

  • Investigators find horses at feedlots in extremely poor condition. Deep mud makes it very difficult for thin, weak horses to walk. Many are emaciated and limping. Some are coughing with signs of apparent strangles infections. Some are injured, some severely. Some are dead.

  • Several horses are observed eating hay that lies on top of dead composting horse carcasses at feedlot. This contradicts biosecurity recommendations by the USDA and the National Agricultural Biosecurity Center Consortium who specify the necessity of keeping livestock and scavenging animals away from composting carcasses. They warn that tuberculosis and anthrax will survive the composting process and that pathogens in the compost can spread diseases in humans, animals, soil and plants. In addition to anthrax, the spread of salmonella, toxic fungi, Fecal coliform, and other pathogens must also be controlled.

  • Investigators contact governing state agencies and learn that horse slaughter feedlot has for many years operated a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) without required permits. Feedlot receives Notice of Violation; no fines or penalties are assessed.

  • State environmental inspectors find feedlot's composting of carcasses is inadequate.

  • State agency investigators cite feedlot for illegal storage of industrial solid waste. No fines or penalties are assessed.

  • Auction workers force horses into dangerously overcrowded pens with 5 to 6 foot ceilings. Kicking, biting and fighting, several horses are quickly injured. Some seem dazed after loudly banging their heads on the low ceiling as they try to avoid being kicked or bitten. Four tall draft horses are forced to hold their heads low and are kicked badly in the face and head. Mayhem continues for 90 minutes.

  • Investigators inform plant veterinarian that electric prods are being used to move horses. She appears genuinely surprised and unaware. Visiting the floor she is whistled at and made fun of by workers and appears generally intimidated. She looks stunned seeing an electric prod hanging next to the kill box. Investigators believe her response and the workers' treatment of her indicate she seldom if ever inspects the kill floor as required by law.

  • At slaughter plant pens investigators find newborn foals, and near-term foals dead, horses down and unable to rise, some are dead. Trucks arrive with horses unable to rise, some dead. In some cases almost all horses are limping as they are unloaded. Plant owner tells investigators that dead horses were "too lazy" to get a drink of water. Horse with broken leg is forced into kill box.

  • European Commission Government Inspectors report conveys alarming condition of horses and conditions at slaughter plant. EU inspectors reference an "abnormal death rate" and violations of EU animal welfare regulations. Plant operations fail to meet required standards. Certificates filed by the plant are false. At this slaughter plant 90% of horses are extremely emaciated. Veterinarians with AAEP and the Unwanted Horse Coalition visit the plant during the same period. They declare the plant is "well-run" and the horses "slimmer." Their "slimness" is attributed to owners keeping their horses for longer than they could afford (Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, January 2009).

  • European Union inspectors report insufficient drug testing, and that US horses arriving at the plant for slaughter are not tested for drug residues at all.

  • Handling of horses is extremely brutal, sticks are unusually thick. Auction workers in seeming rage, hitting with a loud "whacking" sound over the heads of horses, slamming gates on horses' midsections, hindquarters, heads and necks. Workers jab horses in the eyes and face.

  • Horse is unable to bear weight on all four legs. Auction workers are kicking the horse with unrestrained force in the head, stomach, back and hindquarters.

  • Heavily pregnant but emaciated mare violently attacks hay that sympathetic auction visitors toss her. Here, 80% of the horses are extremely emaciated. Worker tells inquiring visitors that these horses are being held for the "humane society" and "fattened up." The horses are later sold to a known kill buyer.

  • Auction workers force 27 horses into pen that would probably hold 8 normally. A smaller horse goes down, cannot get up as it is straddled by another horse and about to be trampled. AA investigator calls out loudly until workers acknowledge and manage situation.