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Congress recently removed a 5-year ban on funding horse meat inspections thereby opening the door for the resumption of horse slaughter in the United States. This change of heart was due partly to the struggling economy and to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) entitled “Horse Welfare: Action Needed To Address Unintended Consequences Of Domestic Slaughter Cessation.” This report documented the negative impact to the United States horse economy as a direct result of the lack of slaughter of unwanted horses. The action to stop the slaughter of horses, done mostly for humane and nostalgic reasons, ended up backfiring according to the study. Instead of saving horses, horse abandonment, starvation and abuse increased dramatically. Colorado, for example, reported a 60% increase in horse abandonment and abuse since horse slaughter was stopped. The GAO report stated Colorado horse abandonment increased from 975 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009. Horse rescue organizations are overwhelmed and cannot handle the alarming rise of abandoned and neglected horses.
The ultimate affect of the slaughter ban was to make conditions for unwanted horses worse. Instead of being slaughtered under U.S. Rules, Regulations and Inspections, many unwanted horses were transported to Mexico and Canada where U.S. Regulations have no effect. Many of the foreign facilities, especially Mexico, do not compare to the U.S. facilities where the horses are treated more humanely. Sale barns report abandoned horses being dropped off in the middle of the night because many sale barns will not take old horses since they cannot be sold for slaughter.
Many states have reported vast increases in abandoned horses. A recent report from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, reported two abandoned horses were roaming the streets in Center City. The New York Times reported that slaughter cessation forced many breeders and horse owners to go out of business because the inability to sell unwanted horses removed the floor for prices while placing the burden on owners to cover costs of euthanasia and disposing of unwanted horses. The Times reported that the U.S. horse slaughter business generated over $65 million a year before the ban. That loss was insurmountable to a number of horse businesses and owners.
Further, the Equine Welfare Alliance determined the cause of many abandoned horses in states close to Mexico. In its investigation it determined that more than 5,000 horses a year are being rejected for slaughter at the Mexican border and are simply abandoned in isolated areas north of the border. This information came from a European Union Report from a 2010 audit of its horse slaughter plants in Mexico. The report states that Mexico rejected 5,336 slaughter horses out of 62,560 between January and October of 2010.
Even PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor by its founder, Ingrid Newkirk, said the United States should have never stopped horse slaughter. Newkirk said “the reason we didn’t support it … is the amount of suffering that is created exceeded the amount of suffering it is designed to stop.” Newkirk went on to say that domestic horse slaughter facilities are preferable to shipping horses to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.
The last horse slaughter facility closed in Illinois in 2007. However, a Department of Agriculture Bill, signed into law on November 18, 2011, allows Federal inspection of horses intended for human consumption. Meat processors are working on opening facilities in numerous states including Georgia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, Missouri and Idaho. It is anticipated that many of these facilities will be operational in early 2012. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 horses will be processed for human consumption with most of the meat going to Europe and Asia with France and Japan being the top importers. The opening of these facilities should all but eliminate the transportation of horses out of the country for slaughter. The GAO determined that 138,000 horses were transported to Mexico and Canada in 2010.
Even politicians are getting into the act and it’s not along party lines. Senator Max Baucus, Democrat from Montana, said the poor economy has resulted in increased horse abandonment and neglect and lifting the ban on slaughter will create jobs and make sure horses aren’t abandoned or neglected. However, Representative Jim Moran, Democrat from Virginia, wants to permanently ban horse slaughter because he finds the process inhumane. Republican Congressman Adrian Smith of Nebraska said, “While we have a long way to go, responsible processing represents a vital first step in reversing the unintended consequences to blame for the dismal state of neglected horses and their frustrated caregivers across our country. Reinstating a humane, accountable and legal management tool is good for horses, good for owners and is good policy.” Republican Dan Burton of Indiana, on the other hand, sponsored the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011. The Bill bans all horse meat export to packing houses and permanently bans horse slaughter in the United States. Thus, it is clear even our politicians are confused on this issue.
It appears those who oppose horse slaughter see horses as companions or pet animals. Those who are in favor of horse slaughter see horses in a broader sense, including income producing and commodity animals. It really boils down to an issue of choice to the horse owner. Do you want to treat your horse as a pet or as an agricultural product? That choice belongs to the horse owner–not some government agency or bureaucrat who doesn’t know the north end of a southbound horse. The horse is the sole property of the owner. The government does not care for the horse, does not pay for the horse and is not involved with the horse in any manner, whatsoever. To eliminate the choice for purely nostalgic or romantic reasons is troublesome. The last thing an animal owner needs is the government reducing choices to make animal ownership economically feasible. If you don’t want your horse slaughtered–don’t take it to an auction. I do not believe you have the right to tell your neighbor what to do with his horse.
Where do you draw the line? What is next? Veal, beef, chicken, etc. This is supposed to be a free country. I say stop government intrusion into our daily lives. The choice belongs to you. Until the government signs the check for the expense of our horses, it should keep its nose out of our business!
Enough legal talk–it’s time to hitch horses!
Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, PA, where a good bit of his practice involves negligence cases. He and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six-horse hitch for the past few years at most major shows in the East.