Written by VIVIAN GRANT
Milt Toby has examined the GAO horse slaughter report and the surplus horse population. Toby does not question that overbreeding is at issue, but questions how is it to be controlled.
In his post on TheHorse.com, Toby states:
An overabundance of horses and the ongoing recession are obvious contributors to a slide in prices for horses and an increase in abuse and neglect. Closing slaughter plants in Illinois and Texas, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have been a factor. Ending slaughter in the States is an easy whipping boy when it comes to growing animal welfare problems, but the GAO numbers indicate that the cessation of slaughter here has had almost no effect on the horse population.
This doesn’t mean that overpopulation is not a serious problem; it is. But what should be done? A weak economy and the resulting drop in sale prices has caused Thoroughbred breeders to cut back and it makes some sense to expect the overall horse population to drop for the same reasons. Should legislatures and breed organizations take action to hasten the process along?
Beginning in 2009, the United States Trotting Association placed a restriction on the number of mares that could be bred to certain stallions. The books of Standardbred stallions which never had bred a mare or which never had a list of mares bred submitted to the USTA were limited: 140 mares for trotting stallions and from 160 mares (in 2009) to 140 mares (in 2011 and thereafter) for pacing stallions. As far as I know, there have been no legal challenges to the rule.
The American Quarter Horse Association was not so lucky when it tried to limit the number of foals produced through embryo transfer. A group of prominent breeders argued that a restriction on the number of registered foals produced from a single mare in a year was an illegal restraint of trade and violated antitrust laws. They sued the AQHA, asking for millions of dollars in damages. The lawsuit eventually was settled and the rule was changed to allow the registration of multiple foals produced from the same mare through embryo transfer each year.
Any attempt by a breed organization to limit the number of horses bred or registered is subject to a similar restraint of trade argument in court. And even if successful, such rule changes would not affect the vast number of unregistered horses produced every year. Federal or state laws aimed at controlling horse breeding also would have to pass free trade muster and neither the feds nor the states have shown any interest in this approach.
According to recent figures, more American horses are being killed for their meat in horse slaughter plants across U.S. borders in Canada and Mexico than when horse slaughter was conducted on U.S. soil. Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible, to assess the true impact of the cessation of domestic horse slaughter on equine welfare, or the horse industry itself, including breeding practices, because the slaughter of American horses has never stopped. It just changed location.
Insofar as overbreeding, one could reasonably project that without the all too convenient disposal option that horse slaughter offers, breeders would be forced to control the number of horses they bring into the world themselves.
When you have a horse breeder who purports himself to be “typical” of his industry stating that he has to “breed 100 horses to get one ‘good one’,” it begins to give you an insight into breeding standards and how they impact both the surplus horse population and horse slaughter issues.
Would the outright banning of horse slaughter for human consumption of the American horse return horse breeding to quality over quantity? One would hope, and expect so.
Read Milt Toby’s full post here.
Milt Toby is an author and attorney with a lifelong interest and involvement in the horse industry. Toby is a past Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association’s Equine Law Section. His website is www.miltonctoby.com.