Monthly Archives: May 2011

Blood Money: The Pipeline to Slaughter

Abused Mare in the pens at Sugarcreek Liverstock Auction

Abused Mare in the pens at Sugarcreek Liverstock Auction

For those who think that only old or sick horses end up in the slaughterhouse, I challenge you to spend a day at the kill auction nearest to your home.  You may be surprised at what you find.  You will see a few horses that are old, thin, or sickly.  You will also notice that the killer buyers rarely bid on these poor souls.  They sometimes sell for $50 or less, compared to the healthy horses that sell from $250 up to $800.  None of these horses were bred to be food.  Every one of them has a name.   At one time, they had people who cared for them.  Due to a cruel twist of Fate, they fell into the hands of killer buyers.  These are people who buy horses with the intent to send them straight to the nearest slaughterhouse.  They will buy the horses as cheaply as possible, load them onto trucks, and send them off to be slaughtered.  The welfare of the horses means nothing to them.  It’s all about the money.

Some horse owners are aware that the horses being bought by a killer buyer will end up on a dinner plate.  Others are deceived by killer buyers who will claim that they are keeping the horse in a forever home.  In reality, some of these people don’t even have a farm where they could keep the horses.  In the worst of cases, thieves will steal horses from loving homes and sell them for meat money.  Auctions typically run once a week.  When a horse is stolen and sold this way, the animal will most likely be dead before the grief stricken owner can locate the missing animal.  Once they arrive at auction, there is nothing but a hip tag with a number to identify them.  Even this will usually only indicate who brought the horse to the auction.   The lucky ones may have either brands or tattoos that can be used to identify them.  For the rest, their past is gone.  Names, former owners, performance history, and any medical history cannot be traced.

The brutal treatment they suffer at some auctions would be unimaginable to those who have not seen it.  Angry stockmen with sticks or cattle prods chase the terrified animals into the appropriate pens at the auction barn.  Many horses are hurt before they ever reach the auction ring.  They slip and fall on the cement floors during their panicked attempts to escape from the stockmen.  Sometimes one horse falls and is trampled by the other before it can get back to its feet.  The stockmen cannot be bothered to use halters and lead ropes.  They usually prefer to chase the livestock through the barns screaming at them while beating them with sticks.  It is not uncommon to see horses with facial lacerations and damaged eyes caused by this rough handling.

Once they reach the pens, they are often packed in so tightly that they cannot move.  Some will panic.  Others will fight to break free.  Stallions and mares may be in the same pen.  Draft horses along side small ponies and even donkeys.  Heavily pregnant mares who could go into labor at any minute may be packed into pens so overcrowded that the mares would be tramped to death if they collapsed to the ground.  Other mares with un-weaned foals still at their sides may arrive at the auction only to be sold to a killer buyer while the terrified foal is left behind.  The screams of the foals are unforgettable.  In some cases, the mare will continue to answer the foals desperate cries from another pen up until the moment she is loaded onto the killer buyer’s truck.

You can always tell horses who came into the auction barn together. They will stay glued to each other unless the stockmen force them apart. If one of them goes down, the other will often stand over their fallen comrade like a guardian angel.  Sometimes they will remain standing there even after the horse on the ground has stopped breathing.

One horse standing over his now dead companion

It does not matter to most of the people at the auction if the horses are injured at the sale.  As long as they can load them on the trucks, nothing else matters.  Horses can be found with duct tape wrapped around their broken legs.  Some may have gaping wounds or contagious diseases.

Either a high fever or thick greenish yellow discharge from the horse’s nose would make the average horse owner call out their vet for a visit as soon as possible.  The sick horse would be isolated until the vet arrived to diagnose the illness.  Things are done  differently at the auction barn.  All of the visibly ill horses are confined to the back of the building where the public is unlikely to see them.  When the auction is finished, the survivors will receive unwanted attention from the stockmen.  After one auction in 2008, there was a very sick horse unable to stand in this pen.  He was a chestnut gelding with two white socks.  I am not a vet but I am fairly certain he had Strangles and a broken hip.  During the auction, he laid on the floor in the pen.  He was burning up with fever and gasping for air in between coughing fits.  He tried to stand up a few times but his left hip would not bear his weight.  After the auction was over, the stockmen came back and tried to remove him from the pen.  When they discovered he could not stand, they should have called the vet and had him euthanized.  Instead, they brought in a BOB CAT and tried to use the bucket on the machine to shove him out of the pen.  The gelding was too weak to defend himself.  After 20 minutes of maneuvering with the BOB CAT, they managed to get the horse where they wanted him.  I never knew the name of this unfortunate horse but I can still see him when I close my eyes.

In the United States, there are regulations concerning which horses can be sent to slaughter.  Foals under six months of age, pregnant mares, blind horses, and those unable to stand are not supposed to be shipped for slaughter.  In reality, it does happen.  The worst penalty the offender may face is usually a fine, which is not large enough to make them think twice.  They will fill the trucks any way they can and hope that no one notices.  If necessary, they will load the horses up with pain-killers to make them appear sound enough to walk through the auction ring.

When the auction is over, a lucky few of the horses may go to new homes or to equine rescue groups for rehabilitation.  The rest will be loaded onto double decker cattle trailers.  The ceilings are so low that most horses cannot stand upright.  They are packed in as tightly as possible and left loose inside the trailers.  If they somehow survived the auction without injuries, the horses will probably not reach the slaughterhouse in the same condition.  Horses are frequently injured during transport but the killer buyer can claim that any injuries happened on the road.

Once they reach the slaughterhouse, they will gradually be forced into a ‘kill box’.  They are able to see what is happening to the horses ahead of them.  Many try to escape but it is already too late.  Their final moments are filled with agony and terror as the people they were raised to trust begin butchering them.  These horses pass through many hands before reaching this destination and there is money changing hands all along the way.  The killer buyers, stockmen, auction owners, truck drivers, and the corporations who own and operate the slaughterhouses all have blood on their hands.  The money they make from the horse meat should be specially printed with red ink.  Their money will not be able to replace the 4-H project horse stolen from someone’s backyard stable.  It will not bring back the patient school horses who taught so many children to ride.  It cannot bring back those Thoroughbreds who ran until their legs gave way beneath them.

ATTENTION:  Top Chef Canada, Food Network, Presidents Choice, and Loblaws,

Is all of this really necessary to obtain meat for a gourmet dinner?


Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


Food for Thought…

As Top Chef Canada prepares to show an episode in which a cheftestant uses horse meat as the protein for a dish, it has come to my attention that those involved with the Food Network in general, and with this show in particular, are under the impression that it is safe to eat horse meat.  As someone who worked as a groom at a racetrack before going off to culinary school, I must inform them that horse meat exported from the United States is not being regularly inspected for drug residues.  Horses here are not intended to be used as food and there is no system in place to track the medications given to a horse or the other substances applied topically to the animal before it arrives at a slaughterhouse. For those of you who choose to eat horse meat, ask the chef or the butcher if they can track the animal’s history from stable to table and guarantee that the animal was never given vaccinations, medications, or de-wormers, which would contaminate the meat.  If the horse was exported from the United States, the answer is NO.  They cannot be sure.

No one who raises beef cattle would be allowed to use the medications frequently given to horses.  The USDA has regulations concerning what medications can be given to an animal intended for food.  However, that does not include horses because we do not raise them for food!  Starting at the bare minimum, most horses receive vaccinations once a year and de-worming paste every 6 weeks.  If they become sick, they are given anti-biotics, steroids, NSAIDs, or other medications.  Phenylbutazone, one of the most common anti-inflammatory drugs given to horses, is known to have harmful effects on humans.  This is why it is no longer used for people but it is still widely used on horses.  I have seen horses with serious injuries being given 1 gram of ‘Bute’ per day for up to a month.  How long do you suppose it takes for the drug to be completely cleared from a horse’s system?  I’m guessing it would take longer than 7 days, which is the average amount of time it takes for a horse to move from stable to table…

Horses in the U.S. are also treated with many topical preparations that are not intended for use on livestock that will be used as food.  For horse owners who use a salve called Furacin, read the label.  It states that the product contains carcinogens and should not be used on animals intended for food.  However, this product is widely used at racetracks.  In the barn where I worked, it was used as a sweat.  The lower leg would be covered in Furacin, then a layer of sheet cotton, plastic wrap, and a standing wrap.   It was used to remove swelling from the legs.  Something similar is done with DMSO, an industrial solvent.  This might be done on a daily basis if the swelling recurred.  Many of the horses who received this treatment were sent to auction and then on to slaughter.  They ended up on someone’s dinner plate.  The killer buyers who sent them to slaughter could not give anyone any idea of what medications or other substances were used on a given horse.  They do not ask and they would not care.  It’s all about the money.

Among the other things used on racehorses, there is an assortment of pre-race injections and other substances that no one would want in their food.  A few of these products include hormones, steroids, narcotics,and  illegally obtained prescriptions intended for humans.  There is no quarantine period for horses to allow them to detox before they are slaughtered.  I have seen retired racehorses who took up to a year to fully detox from all the products given to them during their racing days.  I assure you that the slaughterhouses do not hold them that long before they are ‘processed’.

The methods used to slaughter the horses range from barbaric to sadistic.  Contrary to the lies often told by those who are in favor of horse slaughter, it is not humane euthanasia.  When a vet comes to a farm to put a horse to sleep, the animal is given two injections.  The first makes them unconscious.  The second stops their heart.  Horses in a slaughterhouse are not so fortunate.  Neither of these chemicals can be used because that would taint the meat.  The horses are fully conscious when they are killed.  In Canada, they will most likely receive a gunshot to the head.  In Mexico, the horses are usually stabbed in the neck with sharp knives until the spinal cord is severed.  Then the ‘processing’ can begin.  In the U.S., the most common method was the Captive Bolt designed for use on cattle.  This involved  placing the horse in a ‘kill box’ where a worker could attempt to hit the animal in the forehead with a bolt meant to render it unconscious.  However, the method was meant for cattle, not horses with their longer necks.  If the horses were not effectively stunned, they remained fully conscious while they were being desanguinated and dismembered.  Practices like this are what lead to the closing of the horse slaughter plants in Texas and Illinois.

I cannot understand why anyone would want to eat such an unclean meat taken from a noble animal that was brutally tortured in the final moments of its life.  And for what?  This meat is not used to feed the starving.  It is ordered up by greedy gourmands who pay handsomely for it.  If Food Network wanted to showcase French cuisine, there are many other dishes that could have been used without causing so much controversy.  Choosing to broadcast the episode during May, the same month designated by Canadian equine advocates as Equine Awareness month is beyond insulting.  Up to this point, I have watched every season of Top Chef in the U.S., including Top Chef: Masters and Top Chef:  Just Desserts.  However, after this, I will never watch any part of the series again.

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Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Uncategorized