The news that horse slaughter was again made legal has hit the news. Obama has signed a bill funding horse meat inspections and it is expected that slaughter plants will reopen and new ones will be built in the coming months.
This is, of course, a very controversial issue and has opponents and supporters alike. Most horse owners are vehemently against it, stating that horses are like cats and dogs and should be exempt from our diet. In reality, horses straddle a very “gray” area legally. They are technically livestock, but most horse owners view them as family members and pets. There are many cultures that consume horse meat, as well as cultures that will not eat things we consume daily, like cattle and swine. It is important to keep in mind that America is a melting pot, and that many people from many cultures live here. Who are we to say that they cannot follow their own dietary preferences?
As to the topic of slaughter and its impact on the horse industry; no, we don’t like to think of our beloved ponies going to the plant. In fact, horses that have a good home, are successful in their given sport, are well trained, quiet mounts, etc. will keep their places for the most part. There will always be those unscrupulous breeders/owners that will haul an animal to the auction when it is no longer useful, there is nothing that can be done about that, but really, would you rather see them shipped to Mexico or Canada, enduring countless hours of transport to the border to be loaded on double deckers to meet their grim fate at the hands of a knife wielding Mexican slaughterhouse worker or to be transported to a more local plant that can be regulated?
I am not “pro-slaughter”; I am pro-logical solution. You have to remove the emotion, step back and evaluate things in a logical manner. This is hard, I know. But do try.
If we allow the plants to open, require stricter monitoring of the transport, holding, and slaughter procedures; appoint state-approved veterinary supervision of each plant on a full-time basis. Make inspections a regular and closely scrutinized. Require retrofitting of old plants to handle the specific needs that horses present (keep in mind that most current plants were built to handle cattle) and make specific requirements that must be met to build and operate new plants. Put in place regulations regarding condition of the animals to be shipped, make it illegal to ship horses of inadequate body condition and of poor health.
Let’s face it; there are thousands of “surplus” horses in the country. Many are the products of indiscriminate breeding, the racing industry, and the collapse of the economy. The ideal situation in most horse owner’s minds is to have them living out their lives on a farm, running free for the rest of their time on the earth. The reality is, these places do not exist. Do you want a couple of dozen unwanted horses dropped off at your place to have to feed and care for for the next 20 or so years? No one does, that is the problem. Horse rescues can only do so much; there is not an unlimited number of homes willing or able to take a horse that may never be rideable or useable in any way. Horses are expensive pets, we all know that.
One solution suggested by many advocates is low cost euthanasia. Ok, so now you have 1000 lbs of poisoned carcass, now what? Rendering is not free, neither are most landfills (I have been involved in a situation involving euthanasia and a landfill, not pretty), many areas do not allow burial of large animals, many owners have nowhere to bury a horse, and you can’t just dump it in the woods or the back pasture as it can poison scavenging wildlife and local dogs. There is also a risk of groundwater contamination. One means of low cost/free euthanasia is often viewed as too violent and traumatic to the owners. Euthanasia by bullet is very effective and humane, if done correctly. However, finding someone willing to perform this task that can do so reliably is difficult, and once again you have 1000 lbs of carcass, albeit untainted by poison, to dispose of. Burial is an option, as is rendering, neither of which is inexpensive. Burying a horse usually involves the use of heavy earth moving equipment and a suitable location away from groundwater supplies. The carcass can be donated to schools if there are universities nearby that are interested, but this is usually not a viable option. While some big cat rescues will take the remains to feed to their animals, many horse owners find this repulsive.
The slaughter plants could provide a pressure release valve to the overpopulation of unwanted horses in this country. It is not a nice thing to consider, most horse owners are horrified at the very thought. However, there IS a place for them. I believe that if handled carefully and regulated closely they can again become a viable solution for the excess horses that are currently starving because the owners can no longer feed them, that are unsuitable as mounts or pets, that are abandoned to fend for themselves, and that are trucked thousands of miles to suffer a long trailer ride, a stay in an overcrowded feed lot and a cruel death in a foreign plant.
I love horses, I love my horses more than anything in the world. I would NEVER allow one of mine to suffer the indignity of a slaughterhouse. Most horse owners will say the same thing. These are not the horses we are discussing. Yes, there still will be horses that were once champions and beloved companions going to slaughter. These will not be the majority. Each plant should be required to check each horse for identification marks or microchips and confirm that the horse was legally sold by the current owner. Once a horse leaves your possession to live with a new owner, you have relinquished control of that animal unless there was a contract stating otherwise. If you are uncomfortable with that concept, don’t sell your horse. If you can no longer care for it or no longer want it, but are afraid of it going to slaughter eventually if you sell it, put on your big girl/boy underpants and take responsibility for its fate. Euthanize the animal and see to the disposal of the remains, and realize that you are going to have to pay for any expenses incurred.
It is a cold, harsh truth, but it is just that, truth. There are more horses in this country than can ever be absorbed. Think about what I have said, logically, for a while. Do you have a better solution?