In June 2011, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that the cessation of domestic horse slaughter has unintentionally led to a decline in horse welfare in the United States, has negatively impacted the value of lower-to-medium priced horses by 8-21%, and has led to a 148% and 660% increase of horses transported to Canada and Mexico, respectively, for slaughter.
Congress directed the Government Accountability Office to examine horse welfare since cessation of domestic slaughter in 2007. GAO examined 1) the effect on the U.S. horse market since cessation; 2) any impact of these market changes on horse welfare; and 3) challenges to USDA’s oversight of the transport and welfare of US horses exported for slaughter.
Since domestic horse slaughter ceased in 2007, the slaughter horse market has shifted to Canada and Mexico. As a result, nearly the same number of US horses was transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010, nearly 138,000, as was slaughtered before domestic slaughter ceased.
Available data show that horse prices declined since 2007, mainly for the lower-priced horses that are more likely to be bought for slaughter. GAO analysis of horse sale data estimates that closing domestic horse slaughtering facilities significantly and negatively affected lower-to-medium priced horses; higher-priced horses appear not to have lost value for that reason. Also, GAO estimates the economic downturn reduced prices for all horses by 4-5%.
Local government and animal welfare organizations report a rise in investigations for horse neglect and more abandoned horses since 2007. For example, in Minnesota the number of live horses involved in Animal Humane Society investigations has dramatically increased since 2007.
The GAO analysis shows that U.S. horses intended for slaughter are now traveling significantly greater distances to reach their final destination, where they are not covered by U.S. humane slaughter protections. With cessation of domestic slaughter, USDA lacks staff and resources at the borders and foreign slaughtering facilities that it once had in domestic facilities to help identify problems with shipping paperwork or the condition of horses before they are slaughtered. GAO recommends that USDA issue a final rule to protect horses through more of the transportation chain to slaughter and consider ways to better leverage resources for compliance activities.
The full GAO report can be found at www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-228.