As of 2010, there are no legally operated horse slaughterhouses within the country. The final horse slaughterhouse, the Cavel international plant located in Illinois, was closed in 2007 due to a state ban. Within the United States, it is illegal to operate or own a horse slaughterhouse. Many unwanted horses are sold at livestock auctions or through independent sales to buyers who then transport or ship the unwanted horses to Mexico or Canada for slaughter. After slaughter, the meat is then shipped to Europe or Asia as a delicacy. Currently, Montana is trying to pass a bill to reconstruct horse slaughterhouses within the state.
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Since 2005, slaughterhouses transported processed horse meat overseas and to local zoos. Uproar about these slaughterhouses came to light when a popular racehorse by the name of Ferdinand was sent to a slaughterhouse. According to ABC News, his meat was sold to a French restaurant that later advertised, "Eat the meat of an American Champion!" Activists and horse lovers then fought to have all slaughterhouses banned within the United States and eventually succeeded.
The process of slaughtering horses begins by administering a blow to the head by a device called a captive bolt gun. Federal law required that a horse be completely unconscious before slaughtering. The captive bolt gun shoots a metal bolt into the brain of the horse, rendering it unconscious. Investigations found that this was not always effective and some horses were still alive while being hoisted and then severed open.
All types of horses were sent to slaughter. They varied in breed and age and there was no restrictions. Horses that were lame or dying were sent to slaughter along with horses that were in good health. Donkeys and mules were also sent to slaughterhouses.
In 2006, there were three foreign owned horse slaughterhouses that operated in the United States. There were two in Texas and one in Illinois. Horses sent for slaughter were transported in double-stacked trucks that were also used to transport other types of livestock such as cattle or pigs. As of 2010, horses are being transported to Mexico or Canada for slaughter. The processed meat is then shipped to countries such as France, Japan, Belgium, Holland and Italy.
Missouri lawmakers have reviewed the prospect of horse slaughterhouses and, according to the April 1, 2010, edition of the Los Angeles Times, the bill passed. It has been expressed by various groups that conditions for unwanted horses has actually declined with the disappearance of slaughterhouses, and that many are left to starve or are abandoned and mistreated. Alternatives to horse slaughterhouses are euthanasia through veterinarian services.
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