The auctions call them “loose” horses because they are run through the auction ring without riders and are sold mostly to “killer buyers”. Slaughter advocates including the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) call them “unwanted” horses because they clog up the market for new foals and new registration fees. But whatever you call them, they are suddenly in increasingly short supply.
The last three horse slaughter plants in the US were closed in 2007, but the industry quickly shifted to exporting the horses for slaughter in Canada and Mexico. By the middle of 2008, there were more horse slaughter houses killing American horses than at any time in the past decade. Yet the closings galvanized the meat packing industry which saw them as a dangerous victory for “animal rights advocates” and their perceived “vegan agenda”.
Within weeks of the first closings, countless anecdotal stories began appearing about how America is awash in unwanted horses. Lawmakers in almost a dozen agricultural states have put forward initiatives aimed at bringing slaughter back to the US, based largely on these accounts. But the actual sales statistics from the horse auctions tell a very different story.
For example the New Holland auction in Pennsylvania is one of the largest slaughter auctions in the country. In October of 2008, they sold a total of 815 slaughter grade horses at an average price of $323, but despite rapidly worsening economic conditions, by February that number had dropped by 28% to 582 horses and the average price had risen by 31.6% to $425. It is largely the same story at auctions across the country.
Leroy Baker, owner of the Sugar Creek Auction in Ohio, has been heard publicly assigning the shortage of sellers to bad publicity including an HBO documentary about race horses going to slaughter through his auction.
Moreover, the USDA recently fined Baker an unprecedented $162,800 for numerous violations of the Commercial Transport of Equines to Slaughter Act (CTESA). The act prohibits the transport to slaughter of late term pregnant mares, foals, blind horses and horses that cannot support their weight on all four legs; prohibits the use of double deck trailers; and specifies minimal rest and feeding intervals.
And Baker has not been the only source of bad publicity for the horse slaughter industry. In response to a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, the USDA recently disclosed 900 pages of photos documenting some of the grizzliest violations imaginable that occurred at the Texas slaughter plants prior to their being ordered closed in 2007.
The photos, which were taken in an attempt to enforce compliance with the CTESA, show horses with horrific injuries ranging from severed legs to crushed skulls. Still other photos show blind horses, newborn foals and even a mare standing on the unloading docks with her placenta still draping to the manure covered floor.