Congress requests GAO study on horse welfare

Industry associations support the initiative
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Two years after the last U.S. horse slaughter plant ceased operations, the government wants to look into the implications the closures have had on horse welfare.

Congress has requested the Government Accountability Office to study the issue and report its findings by March 1, 2010.

Specifically, the GAO is to look into the following:

  • How the horse industry has responded to the closure of U.S. horse slaughter facilities in terms of the numbers of horse sales, exports, adoptions, and abandonments.
  • The implications these changes have had on farm income and trade.
  • The extent to which horses in the United States are slaughtered for any purpose.
  • Any impacts on state and local governments and animal protection organizations.
  • How the Department of Agriculture oversees the transport of horses destined for slaughter in foreign countries, particularly Canada and Mexico.
  • The manner in which the USDA coordinates with the Department of the Interior and state governments to assist them in identifying, holding, and transporting unwanted horses for foreign export.
  • General conclusions regarding the welfare of horses as a result of a ban on horse slaughter for human consumption.

The request is part of the Senate Appropriations Committee Report, which accompanies the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2010, which provides funding for the USDA.

The House passed its version of the Agriculture Appropriations bill—H.R. 2997—July 9; the Senate passed its amended version of H.R. 2997 Aug. 4. Differences were reconciled through a conference committee comprising members from the House and Senate appropriations committees.

Hopefully, the study results will provide congressional leaders facts on the realties of the issue that will aid them in crafting legislation to aid the horse industry in dealing with the ever increasing number of unwanted horses.


The conference committee met Sept. 30, following the return from congressional recess, and decided the GAO study would be part of the final appropriations bill and its accompanying conference committee report. The bill also includes a provision, introduced by the House, which would, in effect, remove USDA inspectors from horse slaughter plants. Although no plants are operating in the U.S., the provision would also prevent USDA personnel from inspecting horses at any new plants that might open.

The final bill passed the House Oct. 7 and the Senate Oct. 8 and, as of press time, awaited the president's signature.

The AVMA, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Quarter Horse Association, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and American Horse Council support the GAO study.

Keith Kleine, AAEP director of industry relations, said the study should be useful in shedding light on a number of welfare issues surrounding unwanted horses in the United States.

"Hopefully, the study results will provide congressional leaders facts on the realties of the issue that will aid them in crafting legislation to aid the horse industry in dealing with the ever-increasing number of unwanted horses," Kleine said.

He noted that the recent Unwanted Horse Coalition survey (see JAVMA, Aug. 15, 2009) did a commendable job of researching the issue. "But there are still unanswered questions as well as a disparity of opinions regarding how best to address and solve the unwanted horse issue that has only worsened with the recent downturn in the economy," he said.

Kleine continued, "Important information still needs to be obtained, especially on the local and state level regarding rescue, retirement, and retraining facilities and the care they provide. We are hopeful a study from a credible, independent source such as the GAO will help answer some of these questions for the industry and government."

For more information on the unwanted horse issue and the AVMA's position on equine welfare concerns, go to "Unwanted horses."