Although the last horse slaughterhouse in the U.S. shut down in 2006, nearly 140,000 American horses are killed for food each year. How could that be? Horses are transported to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered just outside our borders. There is a hot dispute going on between ranchers, government officials, and animal rights groups regarding whether the slaughterhouse ban has done more to hurt or help horses.

The closing of the country’s last meat processing plant that slaughtered horses for human consumption was hailed as a victory for equine welfare. But five years later, just as many American horses are destined for dinner plates to satisfy the still robust appetites for their meat in Europe and Asia.

Now they are carved into tartare de cheval or basashi sashimi in Mexico and Canada.

That shift is one of the many unintended consequences of a de facto federal ban on horse slaughter, according to a recent federal government study. As the domestic market for unwanted horses shrinks, more are being neglected and abandoned, and roughly the same number — nearly 140,000 a year — are being killed after a sometimes grueling journey across the border.

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