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Shortcomings in slaughter transport safeguards

December 11, 2010

A US federal programme to ensure the humane transportation of horses to slaughter is inadequate, an audit has found.

A horse with a USDA backtag.
© Equine Protection Network
The report by the US Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General looked at the programme run by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (Aphis) to ensurely horses are treated humanely while being trucked to slaughter at plants in Canada and Mexico.

Aphis needed to improve its controls, the audit found.

"At present, Aphis does not deny authorisation to individuals with a record of inhumanely transporting slaughter horses to ship other loads of horses, even if unpaid fines are pending for previous violations," the report noted.

"Regulations simply do not address denying this authority, and so Aphis provides the authorisation, regardless of the owner's history.

"Without regulations or legislation to establish more meaningful penalties, owners have little incentive to comply with regulations, pay their penalties, and cease inhumanely handling horses bound for slaughter."

The audit also found shortcomings in the way Aphis tagged horses that have been inspected and approved for shipment to foreign slaughterhouses.

"The agency requires shippers to mark such horses with backtags, which are intended to allow Aphis employees to trace horses back to their owner and also to verify that the horses have passed inspection by an accredited veterinarian.

"We found, however, that the agency's controls over these tags were weak, and that owners could easily obtain them and apply the tags to horses without Aphis' knowledge.

"In addition, Aphis does not currently have an effective control or tracking system to trace all backtags used to transport horses to slaughter.

"Without regulations controlling the distribution, use, and tracking of these tags, owners can transport horses that do not meet the requirements for shipment."

Aphis needed to seek the appropriate laws and regulatory changes to ensure only qualified individuals, such as Aphis personnel or USDA-accredited veterinarians, apply backtags to horses being shipped to slaughter.

"It also needs to obtain the resources necessary to adequately oversee the Slaughter Horse Transport Programme.

The agency, it said, needed to develop and maintain a database or list of all individuals who have violated the regulations of the Slaughter Horse Transport Program and have not paid the associated fines.

It needed to revise regulations or implement adequate controls to ensure that Aphis provided backtags to qualified personnel who can inspect horses bound for slaughter and apply, or oversee the application of, backtags when approving transport documentation.

It needed to develop and implement an appropriate control to track individual horses by backtag number on all shipping documents approved so that reconciliation can be performed, violations can be investigated, and enforcement action can be taken against the horse's owner and shipper.

Aphis has accepted the findings of the audit and says it is working to improve the situation.



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