ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Over 20,000 American horses a year are destined to be butchered at horse slaughtering plants in Canada and Mexico, and horse meat is sold all over the world.

But, is it legal to eat horse meat in Illinois?

According to the Illinois Horse Meat Act, (225 ILCS 635) “it is unlawful for any person to slaughter a horse if that person knows or should know that any of the horse meat will be used for human consumption.”

The law also says “It is unlawful for any person to possess, to import into or export from this State, or to sell, buy, give away, hold, or accept any horse meat if that person knows or should know that the horse meat will be used for human consumption.”

Killing and butchering horses for human consumption was halted in the United States in 2007 through a series of legislative and judicial actions and has not resumed, but no similar national rules apply in Canada or Mexico. 

A joint investigation and analysis conducted by the Center for a Humane Economy, Animal Wellness Action, and Animals’ Angels revealed that the extraterritorial slaughter of American horses is rapidly waning.

With no markets for horse meat in North America, the slabs of meat are destined for small and shrinking pockets of foreign markets in China, Italy, Japan, Russia, and a few other nations. The number of American horses destined for slaughterhouses has gone from 350,000 in 1990 to 140,000 in 2007 to 20,000 in 2022.

The report finds that the instant a horse is designated a “kill horse,” handling and treatment deteriorate from horses previously treated as companions or working animals. The kill horses have limited value while alive, and inputs in the form of feeding, watering, and care only diminish.

The report summarizes independent findings from investigations carried out at auctions, feedlots, and slaughter plants.

All locations selected for this report were chosen based on 15 years of investigating the horse slaughter industry.

They range from the Presidio Export Pens on the border with Mexico to the Bar S Feedlot in Montana near the border with Canada; from the New Holland Auction in southeast Penn. to the Knoxville Auction in Tenn.; and from Fabrizius Livestock in Eaton, Colo. to the Murphy’s Horse Auction in Mira Loma, Calif. The horses’ journey concludes at a number of horse slaughter plants in Mexico, and at the last two remaining plants in Canada — Bouvry Exports, Ltd. in Alberta and Viande Richelieu in Massueville, Quebec.

Because of potentially lethal drug residues in horse meat, given their backgrounds as companions, working animals, racehorses, and pleasure horses, the European Union banned the import of all horse meat from Mexico in December 2014.

In October 2016, EU Regulation 2016/1832 was implemented, which includes a provision requiring that all horses from the United States be kept in a Canadian feedlot for six months prior to slaughter, and that a monitoring system be put into place to track residues and substances.