When Horse Slaughter Comes to Town: Alternatives to Horse Slaughter

PART 5 OF 5

Thin Gray Line

by JANE ALLIN | March 2010

Thin Gray Line

With the devastated economy and slow recovery together with the closure of all horse slaughter facilities in the U.S., pro-slaughter groups want you to believe that there is no alternative. A study examining horse slaughter trends in the United States, Canada and Mexico carried out by researchers in conjunction with Animal Law Coalition shows otherwise. Backed by data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other government and private sources, the conclusion was that the demand for horse meat is controlled by foreign markets rather than a surplus of unwanted horses. Europeans and Asians regard horse meat as a delicacy.

John Holland, senior analyst for AAHS (Americans Against Horse Slaughter) explains:

Slaughter is useless as a tool for controlling the unwanted horse population and instead simply creates a market that competes with potential buyers of horses and encourages a continuous supply.

“The trends are irrefutable. We found that equine abuse levels are clearly linked to economic conditions but that slaughter trends were antithetical to them for most of the study period.

“The demand for horse meat creates a market where horse slaughter ‘kill buyers’ compete with other people who want to buy horses. This encourages owners to supply that market through over-breeding horses, for example.”

The study’s findings parallel those of an Italian study of horse meat consumption.

Essentially what this implies is that if horse slaughter for human consumption is illegal as well as the transport of horses across borders to Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses, then there will be no incentive for these individuals and the markets will turn elsewhere to find their meat.

Holland goes on to say:

Those demanding horse meat would simply look to other countries for horses. The study also shows that the market has quickly adjusted to large decreases in slaughter in the past, indicating that there would be no significant or sustained increase in unwanted or abandoned horses.”

To further support this premise, the American Quarter Horse Association, an organization that is in fact pro-horse slaughter, accounts for approximately half of all horses going to slaughter. Astoundingly, the Association encourages breeders to breed without consideration to the ensuing surplus of horses. “Many are culls which breeders were unable to sell.”

In a slanted survey undertaken by the pro-slaughter American Horse Council and Unwanted Horse Coalition, remarkably, only 30% of these “stakeholders” thought this was contributing to the over population and neglect. It is important to note that no anti-slaughter groups or individuals were invited to participate in this survey.

R.T. Fitch, author of “Pro-Slaughter group Issues Tainted Survey results” comments:

Americans should be outraged that Congress allows needed legislation to languish and continually be blocked and stalled by special interest groups that perpetuate the over breeding of horses.”

Simply stated, if there is no profitable or easy way to dispose of unwanted horses, fewer horses will be bred.

On a more positive note, several major racetracks oppose horse slaughter – taking away an incentive for breeding or over-breeding is a powerful argument. For example, the New York Racing Association announced in December that they would be introducing an official slaughter policy whereby offending horsemen would be harshly penalized. The penalties are stiff – any owner or trainer who is caught selling either directly or indirectly a horse to slaughter will have their stalls permanently rescinded and prohibited from racing on all New York tracks.

Additionally, the guidelines would encourage horsemen to use and support horse rescue and retirement adoptive initiatives as a recourse to sending a horse to a feedlot (knowingly or unknowingly). “We are fully committed to protecting our sport’s equine athletes,” said NYRA president, Charles Hayward.

He goes on to say, “This policy sends the message that horse slaughter will not be tolerated and that those participating in this practice, either knowingly or for lack of due diligence, will not be welcome at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, or Saratoga.”

Diana Pikulski, executive director of the Saratoga Springs-based Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, said NYRA’s new policy should send a message to those entering the racing world that horses aren’t simply commodities. “It’s a very important development because it means that people are going to be thinking – from the beginning, when they first breed or buy a horse – about what the plan is for the end of their life,” she said.

Moreover, Dr. Patricia Hogan, a veterinary surgeon and AAEP member states:

If we want to be ‘part of the solution,’ then we truly need to examine our role in the problem, and actually put our own house in order. Put some ‘teeth’ into our bite. But that commitment needs to come from within our own circle before we can expect our advice to be heeded by other factions within the racing industry. If we had been truly living by the mantra of ‘putting the horse first,’ many of the issues we are facing today would simply not exist. United we stand, divided we fall. That statement has never been more true for horse racing; and for the veterinary community supporting it.”

Unfortunately, it is a given fact that the depressed economy is making it harder for some horse owners and breeders to adequately care for their animals. Yet, this is no reason to re-introduce a practice morally and socially unacceptable that is rife with unspeakable abuse, adding nothing to the economy and overwhelming the environment around it.

These so-called “unwanted horses” . . . . “are a serious problem . . . . and so broad it impacts the entire United States, not just the horseracing industry. Perhaps it’s time for a wake-up call.” says Tom LaMarra in an article posted in 2008 by Bloodhorse.com.

The pro-horse slaughter AQHA continue to encourage rampant over breeding of horses, complain about how many “unwanted horses” there are, then reportedly lobby to defeat federal legislation banning horse slaughter and pass state resolutions to bring back horse slaughter back to the U.S. Yet the ruse continues as shown in this statement by Tom Persechino, senior director of marketing; “it’s not practical to force breeders to limit the number of horses they breed, but it is feasible to educate them. He said the Unwanted Horse Coalition “believes teaching people to own responsibly will help lower the number of unwanted horses.”

Even so, there are movements within the horse industry to address the surplus horse dilemma. These strategies are aimed at reducing the number of unwanted horses on the front end through responsible breeding and on the rear end through rescue/retirement facilities, retraining for alternative careers, and low-cost euthanasia options. The main objective of these policies is to improve the quality of life of unwanted horses and to reduce their numbers.

Or are they?

These so-called “do-gooders” include organizations such as the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA), the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), the American Horse Council (AHC), and the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC) among others and now a new group called the Equine Health and Welfare Alliance (EHWA).

And what do all of these organizations have in common? They are all pro-horse slaughter – Trojan Horses!

Masked behind policies designed to have you believe that they are looking to “focus solely on issues and mechanisms that protect, promote and preserve adequate humane measures of basic needs for the horse” lurks the portentous indulgence of greed.

As Caroline Betts, PhD and Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Southern California, cleverly points out in her article, “The economic reality of scarce and toxic horses”:

I was not surprised that Dr Tom Lenz, past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, readily credited the organisation for coining the phrase ‘Unwanted Horse’ in his article ‘The Unwanted Horse in the United States – International Implications.’

“It is a coup d’etat of language choice for those American equine practitioners lobbying hardest to maintain a US export market for horse meat. Dr Lenz manages to equate ‘unwanted’ with ‘slaughtered for human consumption’ and with ‘should be slaughtered for human consumption, but aren’t, because we need additional slaughter plants on American soil.’

“Horses slaughtered are neither privately nor socially ‘unwanted,’ for they command a positive price both at auction and at the slaughter plant gate – and I suspect that if they did not, we would not be having this debate at all. As any Economics 101 student can tell you, positive prices signal not ‘unwanted-ness,’ but scarcity.”

Betts concludes:

The flesh of ‘unwanted horses’ is acknowledged to be toxic when consumed by humans. And who among the politicians, equine practitioners, and veterinarians lobbying to prevent a ban on the slaughter of American horses – in the name of equine welfare – would wish to be responsible for the deleterious impact for human welfare associated with promoting the slaughter of toxic horses?”

In a letter to the editor of HorseBack Magazine, Betts proposes some reforms:

Why, instead, aren’t these states considering the establishment of temporary state funded horse rescues, with jobs in them that provide tax revenue, until the economy recovers and the horses can find homes? Why aren’t they providing additional funding and jobs for Humane Societies and Animal Control agencies to cope with whatever is being claimed that they are having to deal with? Why not do something that BENEFITS HORSES as well as creating some jobs? And why not impose a state tax on horse breeders to help fund it all?”

In an article entitled “Stop Horse Slaughter: Is There Another Solution?” Betts suggests we should enforce laws or rules that govern the ownership of a horse or horses.

Maybe we should be required to obtain a license for breeding horses. Maybe we should put limits on how many horses may be bred a year. Maybe we should have to be licensed to own a horse just like we have to be licensed to drive a car or to go hunting. With horse ownership, and even breeding ability, open to just anyone, there are too many people who can’t or don’t know how to care for their animals and too many horses who aren’t useful. We, not the slaughter houses, are our horses’ worst enemy.”

In summary, the fragmentation of the US horse industry as a result of the continuing dispute over the horse slaughter industry and unwanted/surplus horses has formed a stark, emotional rift in the time-honored collaboration that ordinarily exists inside the industry.

Key to success is to place the onus of accountability on horse owners. First and foremost horse owners need to scrutinize and understand the complexity of the unwanted horse issue and how their actions affect the existing difficulties. They must recognize that responsible breeding, buying or disposal of their animals is paramount to resolving the current situation.

Sadly, the horse slaughtering industry remains insidious, brutal and unforgiving. Economic woes, environmental ruin, community stigma and negative press are only a small fraction of the price to pay. Reflect upon your own self-respect and compassion and then decide what price you are really willing to pay.

As Laura Hillenbrand, author of “Seabiscuit” once said:

Here are these exquisite, immensely powerful creatures, who willingly give us their labor in return for our stewardship. They have attended us throughout history, bearing us across frontiers and into battle, pulling our plows, thrilling us in sport, warming us with their beauty. We owe them more than we can ever repay. To send these trusting creatures to slaughter is beneath their dignity and ours.”

Thin Gray Line

Sources and Notes:– “When Horse Slaughter Comes to Town” is a 24-page, fully-referenced document for use in lobbying against horse slaughter. We are serializing the document in five parts on Tuesday’s Horse to educate the public about the significant negative impacts should horse slaughter come to their community.

Access “When Horse Slaughter Comes to Town” in its entirety for lobbying purposes here. pdf

© Int’l Fund for Horses