Slaughter Bill is Not in Best Interests of Horses

Slaughter Bill is Not in Best Interests of Horses

By: Staff  Date: 01/16/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Farm and Ranch Almanac |

The slaughter of horses in the United States, one of the most controversial issues in the equine world, is an emotional issue that makes it very difficult to be pragmatic despite overwhelming evidence supporting its continuation.

Animal rights groups are behind a draft bill to ban the use of horseflesh because it supports their hidden agenda to sever human-animal ties and has little to do with their concern for the welfare of horses. This draft bill makes it a criminal offense to sell, or put down, a horse that might be used for human consumption. It is expected to go to Congress this year.

Emotional decisions don’t always result in what is best for the horse. Criminalizing the slaughter of horses is more detrimental to horse welfare than continuing the practice. Animal rights groups would have you believe that good-quality horses that are fit for riding or horses that have massive injury or disease end up on the dinner table. While it is true that the occasional salvageable horse will go to slaughter because it is unwanted or has no economic value, the overwhelming numbers of horses going to slaughter are not salvageable (“Slaughter Horses” by Les Sellnow Dec 1999, Essential Horse). According to this 1999 study, “99 percent of the horses slaughtered for human consumption have lost their value for one reason or another and are not rideable.” Some have leg or lameness problems that don’t allow them to perform. Some have personality problems which make them dangerous to ride. Many are the product of neglect resulting in bad feet and malnourishment, and some are just old and no longer safe to ride.



Horses used for human consumption are required to pass more rigorous examinations than cattle, sheep, hogs and chickens before reaching the consumer. This is because of the rigid rules established by the European Union and the fact that all of our horsemeat is exported. The US Department of Agriculture is responsible for the inspection of all slaughter plants. One of the ironies of this bill is it does not mention horses sold to dog or cat food plants. It only mentions human consumption because the thought of eating a horse sends a stronger emotional message to the public.

Most of the controversy over the slaughter of horses for human consumption deals with transportation. There are horror stories of horses jammed into double-decker cattle trucks, trucked for hours without food and water and arriving at slaughter facilities with massive injuries and general suffering. Historically, there are documented cases of this abuse. In those days, 450,000 horses were slaughtered each year in the US, but today laws are in place to protect the approximately 63,000 horses slaughtered each year. When the horses get to the plants, the USDA rejects horses that have a high fever, central nervous system dysfunction or signs of infection. Any horse found in these categories must be removed, humanely destroyed and the meat must be safely disposed of. In addition, the USDA has to reject the meat of any horse that has signs of bruising

Congresswoman Connie Morella (R-MD) drafted bill HR 3781 (with the assistance of animal rights organizations) that will set a precedent assisting animal rights groups toward their acknowledged goals of a petless/meatless society. HR 3781 will hurt, not help horse welfare. Horses that are unwanted, not serviceable or cannot be ridden for whatever reason must go somewhere. We would all like to believe there is this big pasture in the sky and, most assuredly, many horse owners arrange this for their trusty old steeds, but the reality is, few horses make it to the age to become trusty old steeds, so this bill affects horses that are unfit to ride, unwanted or have no market value other than for consumption. Most horse owners cannot afford to pay board for such horses, and there are not enough rescue facilities to accommodate the sheer numbers. The bill’s solution is for the government and the person in violation to pay the costs associated with subsidizing animal rescue facilities, resulting in substantial expense for the taxpayer because of the enormous number of horses needing a home.

HR 3781 is laced with half-truths and misinformation and will effectively remove equines from the category of livestock. If horses are taken out of this category, owner options will be drastically limited should a horse become a problem. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, an association of horse doctors and veterinary students, HR 3781 will redefine horses out of their federal and state classifications as livestock for welfare, research, liability laws and tax considerations. The AAEP opposes HR3781 because they believe it will lead to more horse abuse from owners who can’t afford to have a veterinarian put a horse down and then pay to dispose of the carcass, a process which costs hundreds of dollars.


Why horses?


Animal rights groups choose horses to make a legislative statement because horses are most likely to evoke an emotional response from the American public. It worked in California, where the California Thoroughbred Association did not initially support the bill but caved in when its membership made an emotional appeal. Most horse owners will blindly support any law they believe will benefit horses, but what horse owners are not aware of is the long term and escalating suffering horses will have to endure if such a bill is passed.

The human consumption message in this bill is an animal rights ploy to gain public support. Had they proposed banning slaughter for pet food it might not have emitted the same response from the public. Removing horses from the classification of livestock will start a domino effect and set a precedent that will allow animal rights groups to work toward reclassifying of other kinds of animals used for food or human comfort. The truth is horses have been eaten since man first ate meat. Horsemeat is still eaten in many countries and there are people in the US and Canada who eat horsemeat. Horsemeat is popular in many European countries because it is almost devoid of fat, very low in cholesterol and high in iron. The meat cuts are the same as cattle or sheep. Unlike other meats, the older the horses, the more tender the meat because when horses age muscle fiber breaks down, making it tender.

At first glance, the bill would appear to allow slaughtering of horses for reasons such as pet food, but at second glance the “intended for human consumption, and for other purposes” wording makes it obvious that “for other purposes” will make any form of slaughter illegal. The American people may not object as vehemently to slaughter for pet food. This is ironic considering horsemeat used for pet food doesn’t have as many restrictions or safeguards as horses used for human consumption.

When considering HR 3781, there are four issues that must be addressed: Animal welfare, human emotion, freedom and liberty, and the animal rights hidden agenda.


Animal welfare

We must address the animal welfare issues to the satisfaction of the average person. Animal welfare is not animal rights. Welfare is care and protection whereas rights are political. We must assure that the abuses cited in this bill to justify the need for the bill no longer exist. If any issues still exist, they can be corrected without the need for a new law.

It is imperative that the care of horses intended for slaughter be humane from the time they leave the farm until the moment they are put down.

The bill is based on major inaccuracies. Section 2 of the bill, Congress makes the following findings, states horses are not used for food and fiber in the US. However, while there is no question that horsemeat is not popular in the US, some families do eat it. Most of them are probably lower income families or people from other countries where horsemeat is popular.

The animal welfare issues cited in paragraph four of the bill are no longer true. They assert that horses are regularly injured and abused during transport. A 1999 study conducted by Dr. Temple Grandin published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association found that owners were the cause of abused and neglected horses, not transportation or care at slaughter plants.

The bill cites poor conditions and callous treatment in slaughterhouses. Another study done by Les Sellnow in December of 1999, published in the Essential Horse states that quite the opposite is true. Horses are treated humanely according to laws already in place for the slaughter of livestock. There is a new federal law called the “Commercial Transport of Equines for Slaughter” which is designed to protect horses during transport to slaughter facilities. It is true countries like Mexico do not have laws as strict as those in the US. Abuses are documented in that country. In recent years the Humane Society fo the US has shown animal abuse films to the government that did not represent the true situation. We must be on guard against that possibility when this issue goes to congress.

USDA reports do not support animal welfare abuses. Processing plants keep horses a minimal period of time and the horses are provided with proper space, water and food. Any animal killed is not a pretty sight but life is ended in one sudden instant. Federal legislation is in place that requires swift humane dispatch of slaughter animals. Ending the lives of horses is no different than ending the life of cattle, sheep, goats or hogs.

The American Horse Counsel believes horses will endure far more suffering should this bill become law. Horse owners need a reasonable way to dispose of horses that can no longer work, have no commercial value and are unwanted. “The AAEP is of the opinion that the international market provides a price floor within the equine industry that ensures every horse has a baseline economic value at every stage of its lifecycle. This is important in deterring neglect and prevents serious welfare problems such as overpopulation.”

Under the proposed bill horse owners who feel it necessary to put a horse down would have no alternative save an expensive veterinarian. The cost of that service and the cost of disposing of the animal would be prohibitive to many. Animal rights groups have openly advocated that making it too expensive to own animals will help them in their goal of a petless/meatless society. The way the bill is written, it could be interpreted that personally putting one’s own horse down using an appropriate firearm in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing would be illegal. Under the current system an owner receives some compensation for an unsuitable or chronically lame horse by being able to sell it.


Human emotion

Regrettably even if we satisfy the welfare issues it will not necessarily resolve the emotional issues, and if we don’t address the emotional issues we lose. In order to defeat this bill and keep it from reappearing in various forms, we must educate the public through the various media that horses will not be abused and that the end will come quickly. Slaughtering horses provides a service that is better for the horse’s welfare than long term neglect. This bill will have an adverse effect on the overall welfare of the horse population and will cause a financial burden on horse owners and taxpayers. Horse organizations are going to find their misinformed memberships supporting this bill, and despite their understanding of the problems created by this bill, the leadership of these horse organizations will likely give into the pressures. If this happens, the real losers will be the horses.



Freedom and liberty

An important issue here is really freedom and liberty. This is not a welfare issue as laws are already in place to protect horses. The rational for the law does not exist any longer. It is a ploy by animal rights groups to further their hidden agenda. We should be able to live our lives within the law and not be dictated to by groups of people who have no tolerance for other life styles. What right has an AR group with an agenda of a petless/meatless society to tell people what they can eat? Horses are eaten around the world. Will there be another law forbidding the eating of other forms of meat next? Horses have always been livestock and should remain as such.


Hidden agenda

Who are the animal rights groups behind this law? What is their bottom line? As written, this bill is pure animal rights doctrine that proposes that animals have equal rights to humans, a doctrine that finds no difference between a ant and a child as stated by HSUS vice president Michael Fox in The Inhumane Society, New York, 1990: “The life of an ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration.”

HSUS is a supporter of this bill.

When Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said, “One day, we would like an end to pet shops and breeding of animals,” she meant all domestic animals (Chicago Daily Herald, March 1, 1990).

According to HSUS vice president Wayne Pacelli, “We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding… One generation and out. We have no problem with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding” (May 1993).

Let us put the issues in perspective. We need to make sure all horse welfare issues are addressed and enforced. We do not need a law dictated by animal rights doctrine that will cause horses more suffering and take away our rights to manage and care for them.

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