with Horse and Hound

Horse Slaughter: A Contentious Issue

nodh.klmAs most of our readers know, horses may no longer be slaughtered in the United States because there are no longer any slaughter houses in operation here. The last horse slaughter facilities closed when, in 2005, Congress curtailed funding to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the inspection of horses in transit to slaughter. The lack of inspection resulted, as it was intended to do, in a defacto ban on horse slaughter.

Some applauded Congress’s action. Certainly the mainstream animal rights activists who lobbied Congress to take that action counted it as a victory. Many, many horse lovers also counted that action as a victory for the welfare of horses. And in a perfect world it well might have been so.

Who can argue that people, before becoming horse owners, ought to have the foresight and the wherewithal to assure humane treatment of their horses, no matter what circumstances befall them, financial and otherwise. In the real world, however, it doesn’t always happen that way.

Who can argue that, rather sending a horse to slaughter, it should be sent to a retirement farm to live out its natural life in peace and green grass. In the real world, however, the number of unwanted horses far outstrips the available retirement facilities.

Here in the real world, with no way domestically of handling the numbers of unwanted horses—more than one hundred thousand per year—those sent to slaughter were forced to endure more arduous transport to Canada and Mexico for the same purpose. Nor were those transports inspected by the USDA to assure adequate space and drinking water for the animals. Once they reached their terminus, especially in Mexico, they were euthanized under conditions far less humane than would have been practiced here under USDA guidelines.

With neither domestic slaughter facilities nor sufficient retirement facilities to absorb unwanted horses, many owners who could no longer afford to care for their horses were stuck with keeping them. These horses may have escaped the transport, but many suffered neglect, disease, and starvation where they remained.

So it came to pass that Congress’s very own investigative arm, the General Accounting Office (GAO), issued a report this year that explained how horse welfare was harmed rather than improved by unintended consequences of Congress’s defacto ban on horse slaughter. As a result of that report, Congress, this year, refused to attach the “no funding” rider to the USDA appropriations bill, thus opening the door to the resumption of horse slaughter in the U.S. That move has been criticized by animal rights groups as well as by many horse lovers, and it is safe to assume that new legislation banning horse slaughter will be proposed.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that there is a market abroad among certain cultures for the human consumption of horse meat. The emotions of many horse lovers in this country provoked by this practice are so powerful that even the knowledge of increased  horse suffering seems not to change their unwavering adherence to the “no slaughter” doctrine.

For a well researched and in depth treatment of this contentious issue along with potential solutiuons, we commend you to an article by Lauren Giannini, “For the Love of Horses,” published in the February 2011 issue of Sidelines magazine.

Posted December 6, 2011