Proponents of horse slaughter argue both economic and animal welfare points. First, they argue that the lack of domestic horse slaughter has caused a decrease in the market for horses in general and causes facilities to miss out on a lucrative European horse-meat market. Moreover, they argue, allowing horse slaughter is actually more humane than banning the process.

Dowelllashmet tiffany
Associate Professor & Specialist / Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension

This reasoning is based on the idea that because slaughter cannot occur in the U.S., many horses are simply abandoned when owners are unable or unwilling to continue caring for them.

Moreover, despite the U.S. ban on slaughter, horses in the country are still slaughtered when taken to Mexico and subjected to inhumane and unclean conditions.

Opponents of slaughter claim the practice is inhumane, unjust and immoral. Additionally, groups claim there are environmental and food safety concerns in the slaughtering process at play.

Given the complexity of this issue, many people are left a bit confused about the status of horse slaughter in the U.S. and how the law got to where it is now.


In 2005, the federal appropriations bill effectively ended horse slaughter in the U.S. by including language banning federal funds to pay salaries or expenses of personnel to inspect horse slaughter facilities.

Without federal inspections, slaughter facilities could not operate. Temporarily, the USDA passed a regulation allowing slaughterhouses to circumvent the funding ban by paying their own inspectors.

In 2007, however, this practice was held illegal by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Thus, horse-slaughter facilities ceased to exist in the U.S.

In 2011, however, the federal appropriations bill was passed containing no language banning funding for horse slaughterhouse inspections. Soon thereafter, three slaughter plants (located in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa) sought permits to begin slaughter operations.

When its permit was not granted in a timely manner, a New Mexico plant filed suit against the USDA alleging intentional delay in considering its permit application.

At that point, the USDA granted a Food Safety Inspection Services permit, which provided for federal officers to inspect the plant. A similar permit was granted to the proposed facility in Iowa.

Before inspectors were sent to the plants, numerous animal rights groups, joined by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the New Mexico Attorney General Gary King and actor Robert Redford, filed suit in federal court seeking to prevent the inspection from going forward.

The plaintiffs’ legal theory rested not on the illegality of horse slaughter but instead on an argument that the National Environmental Policy Act should apply to horse-slaughter facility permit applications and a proper NEPA study had not been conducted.

This lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico. The plaintiffs, however, appealed the dismissal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

Initially, the 10th Circuit issued a temporary stay of the lower court’s decision, effectively prohibiting the plants from moving forward during the stay. The stay was lifted earlier this year, and the case remains pending.

While the 10th Circuit stay was pending, the U.S. Congress passed the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. This bill includes language similar to that used in 2007 that prevents USDA funding to horse-slaughter inspectors.

This bill expires on Sept. 30, 2014. The proposed budget for 2015 contains identical language to prohibit funding for inspections.

So where does this leave us? For now, horse slaughter cannot legally occur in the U.S. due to the prohibition on funding federal inspections of slaughter facilities.

Although the 10th Circuit appeal remains pending, its outcome will have no impact on the ability of plants to resume horse slaughter due to the lack of federal funding for inspectors.  end mark

Tiffany Dowell

Tiffany Dowell
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist
Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service