Regulators hands are tied
The USDA's Slaughter Horse Transport Program, established in 2001, continues to operate despite the ban on domestic slaughter
operations. However, there is little regulators can do to enforce the intent of the program, which is aimed at ensuring horses
intended for slaughter are fit to travel and handled humanely along the way.
The prohibition against using federal funds for inspecting horses destined for slaughter—recently renewed since the initial
2006 action—means the transport program may not inspect the condition of horses headed to slaughter. Instead, they may only
collect and review shipping documents and inspect the conveyances used to transport the horses, GAO says.
A report from USDA's Office of the Inspector General in September called on APHIS to improve controls for the humane shipment
of horses to slaughter, citing deficiencies in the agency's tracking and investigation protocols.
"The only thing they can do under the present situation when they hit the border is to just look at the papers," Moyer explains.
"There's an absence of any inspection at that point because of the legislation. There's no teeth in it because the dollars
to inspect it were removed."
There isn't a clear picture of how many horses are crossing the borders into Canada and Mexico for slaughter, since USDA depends
on numbers from regulators in both those countries for the tally, GAO reports. Some agreements are in place to get information
about horses being shipped for slaughter, but they are not always followed, and there are few resources for enforcement. A
2007 rule proposed by APHIS to protect horses during transport has been delayed, too.
"With cessation of domestic slaughter, USDA lacks staff and resources at the borders and foreign slaughtering facilities that
it once had in domestic facilities to help identify problems with shipping paperwork or the condition of horses before they
were slaughtered," the report concludes.
In 2005, APHIS stopped entering information from shipping certificates into an automated database, says GAO, making it more
difficult for the agency to identify potential violations.
GAO found that from 2005 through 2009, 29 percent of the shipping certificates collected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
(CFIA) and returned to APHIS were missing some or all of the information to be provided at the slaughtering facility. Reporting
decreased over time, GAO notes, with 48 percent of shipping certificates missing key information from 2005 to 2006, and 60
percent from 2008 to 2009.
Reporting from Mexican regulators is not much better, GAO says, with 48 percent of certificates missing key information from
2005 to 2006 and 54 percent from 2008 to 2009. Nearly 40 percent of the shipping certificates turned into APHIS from authorities
in Mexico were missing some or all of the information required, including the date and time horses were unloaded at the border,
Domestic counts aren't being reported, either, GAO says. As of March 2011, USDA APHIS had not received any shipping certificates
from Texas border crossings in more than a year, even though the majority of horses bound for Mexico pass through the state.