“Return-to-Sensibility” Problems of Horse Slaughter Proponents

Due to their sensitive nature and flight response, there is no humane way to slaughter horses for food.

(Conclusion of Humane Society International)

Veterinarian’s Oath(Approved by the HOD, 1954; Revision approved by the HOD, 1969; Revision approved by the Executive Board 1999, 2010)Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

(American Veterinary Association’s Veterinarian’s Oath)

Q:  Is the method used to kill the horses during slaughter humane?
A:  Yes. Acceptable euthanasia techniques result in a rapid loss of consciousness, cardiac or respiratory arrest (the heart and lungs stop), and loss of brain function. The penetrating captive bolt is a physical method of euthanasia. Its action is similar to that of a gun, but it does not release a bullet; instead, a steel pin is driven through the skull and into the brain, producing instantaneous brain death. It can be safer to use a penetrating captive bolt than a gun, because there is no bullet and therefore no risk of ricochet or injury to people or other animals from the bullet passing through the animal’s body. In large animal emergency situations, such as fatally injured horses trapped in overturned trailers, the penetrating captive bolt is an accepted method of euthanasia; many large animal emergency rescue units carry penetrating captive bolts for use in these situations.

In the United States, horses were rendered insensible during slaughter using a penetrating captive bolt. The AVMA Panel on Euthanasia performed an extensive review of the scientific literature and determined that, when properly used by skilled personnel with well-maintained equipment, the penetrating captive bolt is a humane method of euthanasia.

Methods that may be used at slaughterhouses outside the United States may be painful and inhumane, and neither the USDA nor the AVMA has any influence or control over them.

(Statement of American Veterinary Medical Association on horse slaughter methods.)

Horses processed for meat represent the lowest economic level of the horse population and typify the unwanted horse in the United States. The phrase “Unwanted Horse” was first coined by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) in 2005 and is defined as: horses that are no longer wanted by their current owner because they are old, injured, sick, unmanageable, or fail to meet their owner’s expectations. Generally, these are horses with incurable lameness, behavior problems, are dangerous or old. They also include un-adoptable feral horses and horses that fail to meet their owner’s expectations because they are unmarketable, unattractive, not athletic, unmanageable, have no color, are the wrong color, or cost too much to care for. Normal healthy horses of varying ages and breeds may also become “unwanted”. In many cases, these animals have had multiple owners, have been shipped from one sale barn, stable or farm to another, and have ultimately been rejected.

(Description by American Association of Equine Practitioners of “horses processed for meat.”)

Advocates in favor of this irresponsible policy, like my former colleague, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), say that horse processing is “not humane.” He’s wrong, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) say he’s wrong. Before they closed, the U.S. plants used “penetrating captive bolt” to euthanize horses, a technique common to the beef industry and considered humane for horses by AVMA and AAEP. As with processing plants for all animals, there are laws on the books for humane slaughter methods for horses, and FSIS inspectors present to ensure those laws are followed.

(Statement by lobbyist Charles Stenholm, Democrat, former U.S. Congressman, in support of horse slaughter.)

“The Chinese are chomping at the bit to buy our horses,” said former U.S. Rep Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas. “The Russians are chomping at the bit to buy our horses. Why can’t we sell it to them?”

(Lobbyist Charles Stenholm quote from January 4, 2011, CBS news report.)

In 17 of the 21 (81 %) plants, all cattle were rendered insensible before they were hoisted onto the bleed rail. The remaining 4 plants had cattle that had signs of returning to sensibility; these cattle were restunned prior to skinning or leg removal. Of 1,826 fed steers and heifers, 3 (0.16%) had signs of returning to sensibility, whereas 8 of 692 (1.2%) bulls and cows did. Return-to-sensibility problems were attributed to storage of stunner cartridges in damp locations, poor maintenance of firing pins, inexperience of the stunner operator (le, shooting cattle too high on the forehead), misfiring of the stunner because of a dirty trigger, and stunning of cattle with thick, heavy skulls.

(Results of 2002 study by Temple Grandin, Report on return-to-sensibility problems of cattle after penetrating bolt stunning in commercial beef slaughter plants in the United States.)

Case studies of six federally inspected pork slaughter plants were conducted to determine the causes and solutions for problems with return-to-sensibility in pigs after electrical stunning. Pigs were held in a V-shaped restrainer conveyor and stunned with a manually applied head-to-body electrical stunner. Within each plant, 100-200 pigs were scored based on stunner positioning, squealing when stunner was applied, and signs of insensibility. Spontaneous eye blinking after stunning (which indicates the pig is beginning to return to sensibility or that insufficient amperage was used) ranged from 0.5 to 7 percent. Signs of possible return-to-sensibility disappeared before bleeding pigs reached the scalding tub. Eye blinking was eliminated by improving bleeding practices, redesigning the stunner operator’s work station to facilitate proper placement of the stunner, redesigning the head electrode to improve proper placement, reducing line speed, improving initial contact of the stunner, and increasing amperage (that was too low for sows). Correct electrode placement, appropriate amperage, and bleeding procedures need to be monitored to ensure the pig is rendered insensible. It is possible to correct problems with electrical stunning, but the procedures need to be monitored. Spontaneous eye blinking (without touching the eye) is recommended for evaluating return-to-sensibility problems under field conditions.

(Results of 2001 study by Temple Grandin of  Report on return-to-sensibility problems of pigs after electrical stunning in commercial pork slaughter plants in the United States.)

Regarding the number of stunning attempts in the present study, only 85.7% of the horses fell at the first shot using the captive bolt pistol, the rest fell with two attempts. Of all the horses used in the study, 57.2% showed return to sensibility signs during exsanguination and the most frequent signs observed in these were rhythmic respiration (47.6%), eye movements (42.7%), vocalization (4.7%), head elevation (12.2%) and attempts to stand (9.5%). The time interval between stunning and sticking was less than 1 min in 4.8%, 1.01 to 2 min in 61.9% of the horses, 2.01 to 3 min in 23.8% and 3.01 to 4 min in 9.5% of the horses. The results of the present study are similar to those found by Cáraves and Gallo (2007), in main horse slaughterhouses in Chile, showing a serious problem in stunning effectiveness. Grandin (1998) indicates that for being acceptable the percentage of animals that fall at the first attempt must be at least 95% and that the percentage of animals possibly sensible from stunning to exsanguination should be 0.2% or less. . . The results of this study show that there is lack of knowledge among slaughterhouse operators about stunning procedures.

(Results of 2007 study of return-to-sensibility problems of horses slaughtered in Chile.)

In this work the slaughter-linked plasma modifications of some stress-related hormones in horses subject to standardized butchering procedures were investigated in order to highlight the compromised animal welfare during pre-slaughter handling. During pre-slaughter, animals show strong hardship behavioural patterns, probably due to being under life-threatening conditions.

Abstract from study of “Stress-related hormones in horses before stunning by captive bolt gun,” showing that horses suffer significant stress before they are shot by captive bolts.

Thanks to a wide variety of local specialties you can please your stomach at any given moment at the Lokerse Feesten. Be sure to try our “Lokerse paardenworsten” (horse meat sausages): tastes much better than it sounds, a perfect dinner dish! Trust us.

(from advertisement for Belgian “Lokerse Feersten” (music festival that prides itself on serving horse meat).

These studies suggest that while the “problem” of animals “returning to sensibility” while being slaughtered is an issue for the pig and cattle slaughter industry, with an unacceptable percentage of animals still conscious while being butchered, it is a tragedy for horses.  If over half of horses are still conscious (“sensible”) while being hoisted by one leg, having their throats cut and being dismembered , and studies show that they also seem to know what is coming even before the attempt to stun them, how can lobbyist Charles Stenholm and members of the AVMA and AAEP sleep at night?

Time we Americans returned to our senses and put an end to the insensibility and brutality of horse slaughter once and for all.

2 Responses to ““Return-to-Sensibility” Problems of Horse Slaughter Proponents”
  1. Marie Meredith says:

    bolts are left in the hands of people who have no clue how to use them properly, nor do they care. it is inhumane, and horses scream and struggle because someone isn’t trained. I am totally against horse slaughter and any vet who tells me it is quick and the horse feels nothing has never viewed the process. Now the American Indians want to open plants to herd in and slaughter our wild animals till they are gone forever. What’s to stop breeding just for slaughter to sart up? Majority of Americans want this barbaric slaughtering to STOP!

  2. john.tray says:

    Very good comment Marie Meredith.
    I totally agree.
    There is no “humane slaughter-methods”.
    You can check a study on internet by some italian scientists.
    http://www.stress-related.hormons.in.horses.before.and.after etc.
    A study shown on the european “science direct” but also on the
    NCBI (US national library of medicine).

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