11 min read

The Unlikely Horse Meat Pipeline That Goes From Delaware To Russia

For years, Animals' Angels has been investigating the export of US horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. Documenting the horrors of this predatory industry, our investigators have visited every export facility and border crossing these animals pass through during their last journey. Or so we thought. A recent investigation uncovered startling evidence including documents from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that proves 2,253 cows and horses left the port of Wilmington, Delaware on July 16, 2014 on the livestock carrier Abou Karim III.

Bills of lading received from the Port of Wilmington confirm the distressing information that 168 Quarter horse geldings, 1,816 pregnant heifers, and 539 Angus bulls were sold to Russian importers.

The seller, AZTX Cattle Company, is based out of Hereford, Texas.While their website shows a few cattle grazing happily on emerald green pastures, a total of 140,000 animals are kept in barren, dusty pens at the company's two massive feedlots in Hereford and Garden City (Kansas). Their access to any fresh grass as shown on their homepage is non-existent. And as for the horses? You will find no mention of horses on their website whatsoever.

So where are these horses being sent to? What is their ultimate fate? The purchaser is Kaliningrad Meats, a meat processing company located in the Russian Federation. Kaliningrad Meats and Bryansk Meats are both divisions of Miratorg, the largest pork producer in Russia. Miratorg is a huge meat conglomerate with ties to Burger King, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and other large food companies. They don't list horse meat as a part of their food items anywhere on their site, so what purpose could be behind this and possibly other purchases?

The transport

Very little is known about the transport and the transport conditions for the animals during this journey. Assuming that these horses and Angus bulls were loaded in Hereford (which the company's website suggests), the animals had to endure a 1,700 mile transport to Wilmington. The chances that the animals made it to Wilmington in less than 28 hours as required by law are quite slim.

Once their arduous trip ended at the Port of Wilmington, the animals were loaded onto the massive livestock carrier Abou Karim III.

The ship can hold approx. 9,000 heads of cattle and is 123 meters long and 20 meters wide. Its sister ship, the Abou Karim IV (both operated by the Lebanese Khalifeh Shipping Line), is slightly smaller. Both used to be standard container ships but have since been converted to livestock vessels.

Both ships are en route between the US and Russia on a regular basis. Between January 2014 and September 2014 alone, 19,779 animals were shipped from the port of Wilmington. Public documents show that the July 16th. shipment left Wilmington and traveled straight to Baltiysk, Russia. It arrived on August 1st, 2014 after spending 15 long days at sea. Taking into consideration the amount of water and food each animal needs per day, it is highly questionable that these ships can provide sufficient quantities for 2,523 animals.

Inside the ship is a bleak reality. Despite the ships' size, the room allocated for the horses and cattle is small. Horses and cows are squeezed together in holdings that are reminiscent of auction pens but with even less movement allowed. No natural light reaches most of these pens where the frightened animals will spend the next two weeks.

Another major concern is the waste disposal. Cows produce an estimated 145 pounds of waste per day. Livestock vessels are equipped with large tanks capable of holding only a certain amount of manure and urine. Once the tank is full, the contents are discharged into the ocean. However, once the ship gets close to the European coast line, environmental laws prohibit further manure disposal. It is questionable if the storage tank on the ship is capable of holding all of the waste for the remainder of the journey, or if the manure is left in the pens or illegally dumped along the shorelines.

Should any of the animals become injured or need medical aid, there is rarely, if ever, a veterinarian on board. The horses and cattle are likely left to suffer with their ailments and injuries for days on end.

In December 2013 and then again in July 2014, several cow carcasses were found on Danish, Swedish, and German shores. Their bellies had been cut open, their legs were tied, and their ear tags had been removed. The investigating agencies in these countries came to the conclusion that the animals had been dumped from these livestock vessels, further proof of the unlivable conditions these animals are subjected to on a regular basis. After losing their lives, they are dumped like trash into the Baltic Sea...but only after being mutilated in an attempt to keep their abusers from being identified.

Vesseltracker reported that on the morning of July 31, 2014, when near Denmark, three Syrian crew members of the Abou Karim III jumped overboard. Two of the men reached the Danish coast where they were detained by police. The third man made it to Helsingborg, Sweden, and promptly disappeared. Either they were all planning to get asylum, or there was some trouble on board. While not necessarily pertaining to horses or cattle, this speaks to the morale among the crew, which is concerning to us given they are in charge of caring for thousands of living, sentient beings. If such dissent exists among the crew, what concern must they have, or rather not have, for their cargo?

Once the animals arrive at the port of destination in Russia, they "vanish." It is unknown to which facility they are transported and what exactly happens to them.

Animals' Angels will continue to investigate to find out more details about this horrific trade and if there are more US companies providing live horses to the Russian Federation.

What you can do

Getting this knowledge out to the public is a crucial part of bringing about the change we wish to see. But this is only part of the battle! We also need to band together to call for government intervention.

Please, contact your representatives and let them know that we will not stand by and watch our animals being shipped to countries where there are few, if any, animal welfare laws. Send an email or make a phone call to your local representatives denouncing the shipment of live animals overseas. It only takes a moment but the lives you will save are innumerable.

To learn more about our organization or to read our investigations and reports, please visit our website at animalsangels.org.