The topic of horse slaughter returned to a broad public stage in mid-November. The catalyst was President Obama's signature on the 2012 Agricultural Appropriations bill that did not include a ban on funding USDA inspections at slaughterhouses and of horses in transit to slaughter. The ban's effect was to shutter the last remnants of the horsemeat processing for human consumption business in the U.S. as of 2007. In California, it's been illegal to buy, sell or export horses for slaughter since 1998.
Hopes that the U.S. plant closures would eliminate the possibility of a slaughterhouse end for American horses were countered by the reality that an estimated 100,000-plus horses a year are now transported to Mexico or Canada for exactly that purpose. In a June 2011 report, the Government Accountability Office cited a 660- and 148-percent increase in export of American horses for slaughter to Mexico and Canada, respectively. There were approximately 138,000 horses slaughtered in the States the year before the funding ban went into effect, the report continues. The GOA's report, The Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter, also explains that the funding ban prevented USDA officials from effectively enforcing a 2001 law meant to ensure the safe and humane transport of horses to slaughter. So, horses are still going to slaughter and they have a longer trip with less monitoring of their welfare along the way.
Many connect the elimination of domestic slaughterhouses to the swelling of America's unwanted horse population. Of course, the economy has played a huge part in that.
Well before the inspection ban was implemented in 2007, proponents of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (HR 2966/S1176) and its predecessor proposals continued their efforts to make the slaughter of American horses, here or in Canada or Mexico, illegal. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is among the groups leading this charge. The currently-proposed legislation would place an outright ban on slaughtering horses in the U.S. and on transporting them for the same fate in other countries. The ASPCA estimates this would end the slaughter of approximately 100,000 American horses per year.
Laws with the same intent were proposed from 2001 to 2005 but never enacted. The ASPCA feels the public may be mad enough now to spur their representatives to action. "Using tax dollars to fund this grisly business (by paying for the inspections) is a wildly unpopular decision and has fueled the fire for a complete ban on horse slaughter," says Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. "We stand with the large group of bipartisan leaders on Capitol Hill who have already declared that they will be pressing for accountability and recorded votes on this issue. We applaud Representatives Jim Moran (D-Va.), Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who are eager to bring an end to the cruelties of horse slaughter."
"The majority of Americans are opposed to horse slaughter, and there is no domestic demand for horsemeat," says Senator Landrieu. "Considering that the cost of humane euthanasia for a horse is equal to the cost of approximately one month's care, it is inconceivable to me that a horse owner could not afford to put down a sick, injured or unwanted animal humanely. This fight is long from over. I plan to continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and other advocates to end this inhumane and controversial practice once and for all."
The question of whether slaughter is right or wrong is an emotional flashpoint for most segments of the horse industry. At opposite ends of the spectrum, the ASPCA and like-minded supporters and an organization called United Horsemen, which advocates legalizing slaughter, both contend that they have the horses' best interests at heart. In simplest terms, one camp believes the term "humane slaughter" is an absolute oxymoron and the other feels a bolt to the brain needs to be an option and that it is a better end than neglect and starvation.
Many assert that the slaughter ban has made America's unwanted horse problem much worse. The GOA reports increased cases of neglect and abandonment since 2007. Without doubt, the economy has taken a terrible toll and the net effect has generated too many heartbreaking stories. In a December 11 front page article entitled "Horses, Once Prized, Falling on Dire Times," the Los Angeles Times reports greatly increased incidences of overburdened rescue outfits and abandoned, turned loose and otherwise neglected horses, a trend California Riding Magazine first reported on in July of 2008.
The only thing for sure is that there are no easy answers. After studying lots of facts and opinions from a variety of sources on both sides of the issue, even the GOA was undecided in its recommendations to Congress. "Congress may wish to reconsider restrictions on the use of federal funds to inspect horses for slaughter, or instead, consider a permanent ban on horse slaughter," it concludes. The Office did "recommend that the USDA issue a final rule to protect horses through more of the transportation chain to slaughter and consider ways to better leverage resources for compliance activities."
The GOA report, available at www.gao.gov, is a good resource for those interested in a dispassionate presentation of the history and current facts and findings about horse slaughter and related legislation in North America.