The brutal business of horse meat
February 19th, 2013
11:00 AM ET
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Editor's note: Roly Owers is chief executive of World Horse Welfare and a qualified veterinarian with a lifetime of involvement with horses. He is active in working with governments, sport regulators, veterinary bodies and non-profit organizations to improve horse welfare worldwide.

A welcome spotlight is now being shone on the murky trade in European horsemeat, but the public are still being left in the dark about the brutal treatment and needless suffering of the horses destined for their plates.

Every year around 65,000 horses are crammed into trucks and transported across Europe to the slaughterhouse for what can be days on end in hellish conditions.

Stressed, injured, exhausted, dehydrated and suffering from disease, these horses are desperate for food, water and rest.

No type of horse is spared: including infirm working horses, foals (foal steak commands a premium among those who eat horse meat) and those bred and fattened to obesity to command the highest prices at slaughter.

Few, if any of them, are fit enough to travel on such long journeys - a feat which would challenge even the most athletic sport horses. Many thousands of America's horses are also transported vast distances on journeys to slaughter in Mexico and Canada, so this is not simply a European problem.

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Filed under: Animal Rights • Food Politics • Horse • Meat • Taboos

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  1. backlink

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    April 24, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  2. test2

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    March 17, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  3. Karin Hauenstein (

    According to the Humane Slaughter Act passed in 1958, equines and bovines (cattle) are both supposed to be "rendered insensible" before vivisection, before they hang on the hook. They become meat and officially before they are dead. A large percentage of horses regain consciousness on slaughter lines after they are hanging. The captive-bolt is ineffective at rendering them senseless and they are shot in the head multiple times before their vivisection for harvesting is completed. The effects of this terror is then fed to humans.

    March 17, 2013 at 4:22 am |
  4. Karin Hauenstein (

    Commercial Horse Slaughter is NOT euthanasia! Proponents of horse slaughter are fraudulently using the word euthanasia as synonymous with horse slaughter to confuse the public which is generally ignorant about euthanasia and agriculture issues. It is fairly easy to research this issue objectively using the internet.

    Horses are not raised in the U.S. for human consumption. The captive-bolt kill method, developed for use on cattle, has been proven ineffective and inhumane when applied to equines:

    Please view this video in evidence of this:

    Don't believe the legislators who are pushing commercial horse slaughter in the U.S. They are purposefully misleading the public for the gain of a few and at the cost of consumer's health.

    March 17, 2013 at 3:16 am |
  5. Fitted Carpets

    I savour, lead to I discovered just what I was looking for. You've ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye Fitted Carpets

    February 23, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
  6. Jay

    "Every year around 65,000 horses are crammed into trucks and transported across Europe to the slaughterhouse for what can be days on end in hellish conditions."

    The author forgot the fact that every year millions of cows are kept in feedlots, eating corn, soy, and animal proteins from a trough. Cows are meant to eat grasses, not any of the mentioned ingredients common in cattle feed. The cows also receive large doses of antibiotics and medicines to reduce the rampant sicknesses that run through these feedlots. The conditions cows are kept in, are much more unsanitary and unsafe the a small amount of horse meat slipping into ground beer.

    February 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • AnimalSci89

      Actually Jay you will be supprised to know that cattle stomach's known as Rumen's can digest " corn, soy, and animal proteins from a trough." When feeding cattle you don't actually feed the cow you really feed the microbes in the rumen that are really supplying the animal with the nutrients very little of the feed that is feed actually is digested by the cow in the form that it was feed. So your statement "Cows are meant to eat grasses, not any of the mentioned ingredients common in cattle feed." is not completely correct since you are actually feeding a cow when you feed a cow. Make sense? Probably not but thats really what happens. We, cattle industry, feed the animal feeds that humans can't eat but the microbes in the gut can process and turn into nutrients that the cow can use to grow. It is not economical to feed a heifer/steer only grass to get it to market weight. The last estimate I saw was that it takes 641 days for an animal fed on grass only to reach market weight but if we are feeding our nutritionally balanced rations then they can get there in about 450 days. Thats approximately 1200 pound animals now genetics play a large role in this developement but the animals look much healthier when feed the balanced rations and medicated to keep them healthy. I personally won't eat an animal that hasn't been medicated for certain diseases since you never know what you cold be eating if not properly medicated, of which most animals in feedlots are.

      February 22, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
      • AnimalSci89

        Sorry meant to say you are not actually feeding the cow when you feed the cow.

        February 22, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  7. PonyLady

    I have been around horses for over 60 years. I have ridden, traines, shown, bred and sold horses. And, yes, I have sold to "the meat man" at sale barns. I have no more problem with the raising of horses as a meat animal than I do of cows, pigs, sheep, goats, bison, or rabbits. However, ALL animals deserve to be treated with kindness and respect throughout their lives with us – whether as pets or food. The meat industry has a terrible record in its treatment of animals awaiting slaughter – from the chicken processors to the large animal processors. Packing live animals into trucks so tightly that they cannot move in order to get the most bang for the transportation dollar or holding them in crowded pens without adequate space, food or water is inhumane.
    No kill method is 100% sure, but care should be, and usually is, taken to get as close to 100% as possible. After all, the processing plant does not want a large, thrashing animal on its hands. That slows production and costs time and money.
    Appreciate not only those animals that we are attached to as pets and friends, but also those who will provide us with the food that we put on our tables. Treat them all kindly and with respect – that is the humane and right thing do do.

    February 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • Vegann

      Consuming meat of any kind is nothing short of barbaric, and the blood on your hands is nothing short of murder. How you can celebrate death is beyond me.

      February 21, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
      • PonyLady

        I do not "celebrate" death, however, I do accept it. Humans were created as omnivorous creatures – therefore, we are not restricted to only eating food derived from plants, but also that derived from the flesh of animals. As I respect your desire to refrain from eating meat products, I would ask that you respect my intent to follow my creation as an omnivore.
        I am not "barbaric" and do not feel as if I have "blood" on my hands any more that you feel that you have chlorophyll on yours.

        February 21, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • kmn

      YOU make me Sick!! Shame on you for supporting the sale of horse meat. Horses have a spirit that we can communicate with. A big difference from a chicken or cow. My horses are such an important part of my life.

      February 22, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
      • dsm927

        I understand being able to communicate with horses- I too understand their thoughts (on a very abstract level, of course. It's not like we're dealing with Mr. Ed!) That being said, I think horse meat is delicious- I first tried it as a child when I was visiting my aunt in Marseilles- hey, I'm a carnivore! Meat is good and it's tasty; once the horse has shuffled off its mortal coil, it's no longer a horse; it's lunch!

        February 23, 2013 at 6:46 am |
      • zosthegoatherd

        I fail to see the difference between horse meat and pork... Other than that some people feel horses are pretty and pigs are not. Honestly all domesticated animals have been engineered to be fairly docile and predictable to humans. To some this means that they are somehow different (have a spirit) than the wild animals we evolved killing (when we could) or scavenging (when we could not). What is sick is the way factory farms are run. From animal cruelty to the reckless use of antibiotics, pesticides, mono-culture crops, and genetic engineering, they, like the rest of our corrupt oligarchy are selling out any chance of a long term future for a quick buck Even sicker is that we the taxpayers subsidize the unsustainable and costly way they run factory farms. What is even worse is hoe agro business and seed companies are solidifying their power by criminalizing anyone who might stand in their way by lobbying (buying) politicians and using the ALEC network the Koch brothers put into place to make sure politicians at the state level did what is best for the big companies while throwing the American people under the bus. Unfortunately their is know good way of bringing them down unless people start caring

        March 14, 2013 at 1:00 am |
    • Cierra Rouse

      I read your message and I can't completely take you seriously. Saying that you've been a horse lover, rider, trainer etc... THEN saying you sale your horse to a "Meat-Man" Is utterly stupid. Who contradicts themselves by saying you love the animal and hate the inhumane treatment, YET sale your horse to the slaughter house? No, your are not a horse lover, a horse lover appreciates the animal in ALL way and form and would throw themselves in front of a train for them. A person who truely sees the value of life in that animal would never, ever sale it to a place that would end its days in complete hell to end up on a fat mans plate. Im sorry ma'am, but I cannot agree with you. You are a fake, cold person who needs to reconsider their status when it comes to being a horse "Lover" I feel sorry for your horses and I only hope their days aren't ended by being shocked in the head and hung upside down for its blood to drain. Such a shame... Such wasted life.

      February 25, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • Karin Hauenstein (

      The captive-bolt when applied to equines has been proven ineffective and inhumane in violation of the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. This is one of the main reasons why the plants in TX and IL were shut down in the first place. This fact did not escape recognition by members of Congress. It also casts doubts upon whether the captive-bolt is entirely humane for use on cattle, the species it was designed for. The elevated levels of stress hormones and steroids that are ending up in beef produced through inappropriate (and illegal, multiple) use of the captive-bolt and the significantly increased speed of modern cattle slaughter lines is the "red meat" connection to Colorectal and other gut Cancers which claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans now each year.

      March 15, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
  8. Nick Naranja

    Believe me that people in India probably think we are horrible for eating cows, and muslims and jews think we are dirty for eating pigs. To some, cats and dogs are tasty meals. We shouldn't be taking our values and taboos and applying it to other people unless we want their taboos applied to us.

    February 21, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • Animalsci89

      Completely agree Nick well said.

      February 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  9. Karin Hauenstein (

    What really needs to be considered in this issue is the serious risk to human health that is contained in commercially slaughtered horse meat. The levels of adrenaline and cortisol produced by equines are far, far greater than any legal levels found in any other meat harvested for human consumption. Horses are specifically bred for adrenaline production, not for human consumption.

    The fatally flawed head-shot kill method (severe head trauma) used in all commercial horse slaughter ensures that all of the adrenaline and cortisol that can possibly be produced by the animal is delivered throughout the flesh post shot. This is evidenced to any layman by the pulsing of the animal. In commercial beef production they call this “dark cutting” and the meat is not (supposed to be) legally approved for human consumption. Adrenaline and cortisol consumption by humans causes Colorectal and other forms of cancer.

    It is not just the existence of prohibited medications and other man-made substances in the meat that is illegal-it is the abundance of naturally occurring hormones and steroids that make horse meat more carcinogenic than any other commercially slaughtered meat.

    February 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • What?

      The "dark cutting" you are referring to is caused by a very high 'ultimate' pH (usually in the range of 6.5-6.8) in the meat. The ONLY way this can happen is for the glycogen stores in the muscle to be depleted well before the animal is slaughtered. This is a long-term – many hours, if not days – process, not a short-term "fight-or-flight" response. In fact, an animal with normal muscle glycogen reserves that is subjected to high adrenaline release just before slaughter will have the glycogen 'dumped' into the bloodstream, with the resulting effect that 'ultimate' pH will be quite low (typically 5.5 or less), actually resulting in meat that is quite pale in color. And, contrary to what you posted, there is nothing illegal or prohibited about selling dark-cutting beef in the U.S. After reading what you posted, one can't help but wonder if you truly are this uninformed, or if this "mistake" was intentional.

      And, please cite for us a reference that specifies legally allowed levels of adrenaline and cortisol in "meat harvested for human consumption", preferably specific to the U.S.

      February 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
      • Animalsci89

        At lease someone is educated beyond what the media tells them. Not so sure Miss Hauenstein learned much outside of what the media told her or personal experience. You apparently know more about the meat science behind it. I really wish my degree involved a little about that so I could work that angle to but I am only a production management person who knows full systems but not those little details. Thank you for posting

        February 21, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
        • What?

          No problem. I also have the degree"S" to back up what I'm writing.

          She posts this same BS any time the subject of horse slaughter comes up – word-for-word. She never replies to the "rebuttal", either – I suspect partially because she has absolutely no understanding of what she's writing and, to a greater extent, because she cannot refute the biochemical realities.

          It's real easy to come to a "public forum" and spout BS when you don't have to back up what you're saying (or writing).

          February 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
        • Karin Hauenstein (

          I have not been educated by the media. I have spent nearly 3 years studying commercial horse slaughter, all forms of slaughter and correct hunting methods. If you spend any time at this, like I have, you will find that much of the information that should be available and the research that should be performed is being heavily suppressed by the beef slaughter industry. Their lines are running too fast, they are using captive-bolts multiple times per specimen, which is a clear violation of the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958, and they are not concerned for the quality of beef distributed in processed beef products, such as hamburger, where the visual representations of the meat end product are easily hidden. I have consulted at length with USDA Veterinarian Inspectors who state that the testing for adrenaline and cortisol levels in beef should be extended and expanded for the safety of the consumer.

          March 15, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
      • What?

        I'm still waiting on your authoritative reference that states the limits of adrenaline and cortisol allowed in "meat for human consumption". Having a little trouble finding it, are you?

        I suspect that I'll be waiting a long time, since that information – as it relates to USDA regulations – doesn't exist.

        Don't you hate it when somebody calls BS on you?

        Don't you hate it even more when they can prove it?

        Emotional appeals are one thing, and FACTUAL science-based arguments are another – but lies just don't cut it.

        February 21, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
        • kmn

          You think your responses are scientifically intelligent? You actually appear to be an absolute idiot. Life is more than buildings and paved streets. Would you eat your dog? 'What?' have a degree as an IDIOT!

          February 22, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
        • What?

          @ kmn

          I took no stance one way or the other the slaughter of horses for meat. The lady posted lies. She got called on it. If you don't like it, that's tough. If you think you can do better, you're welcome to try. Your emotional stance doesn't change the FACTS. You can call me an idiot if you want, but it doesn't change the REALITY that she doesn't know what she's talking about.

          February 22, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
        • AnimalSci89

          Boy What these ladies are really not liking you. lol. Gotta love the country we live in don't we. Well at least we can still think what we want. Well as long as the media tells us it is true.

          February 23, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
        • Karin Hauenstein (

          What? (that is a good name for you, btw...) what is your degree in and who do you work for?

          Of course the FDA and USDA have done testing on what is actually in the beef we eat! It would be ludicrous to assume they do not in this day and age, given that we are the most developed country on Earth...

          You say they don't though? That the levels of adrenaline and cortisol in the beef of stressed cattle is not regulated in any way? That it just ends up on somebody's plate? "Dark cutting" beef usually ends up in pet food, but that's just a courtesy by the beef industry? Please, do tell!

          March 16, 2013 at 1:07 am |
        • What?

          @ Karen Hauenstein

          You're the one who posted the BS in the first place . . . you "support" it.

          My degrees are in a VERY pertinent field – the very subject matter, in fact. I can tell you, for a guaranteed fact, that "dark-cutting" meat ABSOLUTELY IS NOT PROHIBITED from being sold for human consumption. I don't know where you got your info, but it is dead wrong – period.

          If you're so sure adrenaline and cortisol levels in meat are "regulated", there HAS TO BE a federal regulation that states it. It should be really, really easy to put this to rest – post the citation. I will gladly retract what I have written if you can prove what you've stated. In the vernacular of an older generation – "either put up or shut up".

          All that you posted in the preceding post is deflection. The burden of proof is on you, lady.

          March 17, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
      • Karin Hauenstein (

        Much of Temple Grandin's research deals with correct handling of cattle immediately preceding slaughter and correct application of captive-bolt slaughter applied to the bovine species. She doesn't know much about horses, though. Since they are a completely different species and resemble deer and elk more than cattle when you consider the commercial slaughter kill process. "Dark cutting" pertains to pH levels that are also affected by the release of adrenaline and cortisol immediately prior or due to slaughter. These two links discuss this:

        Also, I have consulted with veterinarians and other medical professionals regarding the facts of commercial horse slaughter, which has been proven ineffective and inhumane in use on equines. Dr. Lester Friedlander, DVM and former Head Slaughter Inspector/Trainer for the USDA endorses my statements and also the following, his testimony to U.S. Congress in 2008:

        March 15, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
        • What?

          Nice try – you get an "E" for effort, but a "D", at best, for results.

          There is absolutely nothing in your first reference that relates to, or even mentions, "dark-cutting".

          The nice lady who wrote the second article is partly correct on what she states, but she never gets to the "root cause" of the lack of pH decline that causes dark-cutting – which is LONG-TERM stress that depletes the muscle glycogen levels well before slaughter. She is also dead wrong about the quality of "dark, firm, and dry" meat. The meat is DARK in color because the pH is so high. The water content in DFD meat is actually higher than that in regular meat, because of the higher pH. The farther you move from the isoelectric point of the meat, which is typically around 5.1, the greater the amount of water the meat will bind. At a pH of 6.6-6.8, the pH of dark-cutting meat is substantially higher (remember, pH is a log scale) than the pH of "normal" meat at roughly 5.8-6.2. DFD meat, therefore – and in reality – is quite juicy. And it is not "tough" at all. The meat is "firm" because it is holding as much water as it possibly can, akin to the difference between "fresh" produce and "wilted" produce. It is referred to as "dry" because the SURFACE of the meat is dry to the touch – again, because all of the water is tightly bound in the meat. (There will also be minimal, if any, "purge" in DFD meat for this same reason.)

          Find any "real" meat science book and you'll very quickly find that I know just a little bit about what I'm saying.

          Finally, please realize that I have not "promoted" the resumption of horse slaughter. Nowhere will you see that I have done that. What I have done is "call" you on the misinformation you keep posting. Please "clean up your act".

          March 17, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
        • What?

          After reflecting on what I have written, I feel a little "perspective" might be in order –

          Regarding what you keep posting about "dark-cutting" meat, either 1) every meat science class taught at every land-grant university in the U.S. is wrong – and has been for over 35 years – or 2) you are wrong.

          I'll let you figure that one out.

          March 18, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • Karin Hauenstein (

      Dr. Lester Friedlander, DVM and former Chief Slaughter Inspector/Trainer for the USDA endorses the above statement and also the following, his testimony to U.S. Congress in 2008:

      Additional important information can also be found at Comments encouraged and appreciated. Thank you.

      March 15, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
      • What?

        If Dr. Friedlander approved that statement in it's entirety, he must have forgotten his post-mortem muscle physiology. If you're on good terms with him, why don't you ask him about what I posted? I would be interested to hear his response.

        March 17, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
  10. Animalsci89

    I have always wanted to try horse meat but always forget to raise one just for the purpose. Or any old ones we had die I should have tried it then. Don't hate on people that like something you don't. So we in America see Horses as companians I honestly see them as money burning yard ornaments. Thats exactly why we sent all of ours to the sale barn right after the defacto ban went out of effect. Didn't get much for them but it did allow me to buy a few cows so I could grow my cattle business.

    February 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Karin Hauenstein (

      Educate yourself about the issue before you spout opinion and you could be saying very different things. Horses are still and always have been tools. If you can't afford to care for them, then don't raise them in the first place... common sense. This article should deal more with the kill process if they want to report objectively on whether or not the meat is fit for human consumption, which it is not. Regardless of how an animal is raised, what happens in the kill box determines what quality the meat is and for horses, head-shot means tons of adrenaline and cortisol in the meat. Cattle are a different species and captive-bolt stunning was created for them. Still, it sure isn't foolproof! Study this issue and it will open your eyes. Lots of information available nowadays.

      February 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
      • Animalsci89

        Really hate to disappoint you Karin but I have a degree, the reason for the name I use exclusively, that I am pretty sure tells me that I know as much if not more than you about said subject. Everyone gets all attached to Horses just because we don't typically see them as food. I never said I didn't have the money to feed them, horses only nutritionally need to eat grass and hay, of which I have plenty of. I stated that they weren't making me any money which was 100% true. If something doesn't make me money, cattle or horse combined and I don't typically eat it then I send it to a sale barn. All animals are smart in their own way and deserve to be treated with respect. I do understand this concept but I also try to run a business and horses fell out of that model the minute the defacto ban on slaughter went into effect.

        And captive bolt, or rifle shot leads to death in any species just as quick with no more side effects. You clam an increase in adrenaline and cortisol. I do not remember any study ever conducted with more than 20 subjects that showed any of this to be true. I will gladly read if you can provide it to me but I will not change my mind as I have lived and worked around animals my entire life watched them live and watched them die. There is never any difference in species reaction no matter what mode of action is taken to harvest the animal. I do have a small oppostion to the slicing of throats in sheep and goats but thats another topic all together.

        February 21, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
        • Karin Hauenstein (

          You want people to believe that horses are just like any other animal produced for slaughter? They more like deer and elk than cattle when the commercial slaughter captive-bolt process is applied. Have you actually observed the process to know this? Severe head trauma is not an acceptable or correct method for hunting, which man has been doing for thousands of years in a natural environment, not a mere 100 in an artificial one and focusing on only certain aspects of meat quality. There is a lot that has been exposed regarding the effects of the commercial slaughter kill process on both cattle and horses, which the industry does not want discussed. I have personally witnessed the death of many cattle, horses, deer and elk also.

          March 15, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
        • Karin Hauenstein (

          But you also don't "hate to disappoint me..." You set out to try, but you and I both know how different the species of bovine and equine are. I suspect you work in the cattle industry and may use horse slaughter as a profitable way to dispose of used horses?

          March 15, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  11. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫


    February 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  12. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    I prefer to eat the neighbor's pets.

    February 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  13. M T Nest

    This makes me sick. My sis had horses & I see the love she had for them. There are no words to describe how I feel. 😔

    February 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
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