Author’s Note: This post is purely editorial in nature. The views expressed in this post are 100% mine. I have not canvassed my clients or the other members of my firm to get their take on horse slaughter, nor do I intend to do so. My views are not necessarily the views of my clients, my firm, or the other lawyers who practice at my firm.
First off, I cannot express in words how much I detest the word “ban.” I dislike it so much that I wish Merriam-Webster would take it out of the dictionary. Why? Because “it ought to be banned!” has become the battle cry of the self-righteous busybodies, some of whom are multi-million dollar concerns, and others who are just individuals who have far too much spare time on their hands. The do-gooders who relish the phrase “it ought to be banned!” are known to meddle in other people’s business, usually with the goal of using our government to force their will upon us, their fellow citizens.
Photo: A horsemeat sandwich, as served by street vendors in Venice, Italy
Let’s for a moment put the word “ban” in perspective. Killing people is not “banned” in the United States. Our citizens may kill another person in self-defense. Police officers and members of our Armed Forces may kill people, and do so regularly. Similarly, the use and distribution of powerful, addictive narcotics is not “banned” in this country. Doctors administer and prescribe opioids and other powerful drugs daily. Yet some people think there out to be an outright “ban” on horse slaughter in this country.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. That’s about where we’re headed if our federal government kowtows to the
radical powerful anti-horse-slaughter lobby, and enacts an outright prohibition of horse slaughter.
Unintended Consequences of the Closure of the U.S. Plants
To generally summarize this June 2011 Government Accountability Office report, the horse market tanked after the closure of the U.S. horse slaughter plants in 2007. The GAO gave multiple reasons for the decline—including the drought and the economy, but the cessation of domestic slaughter was clearly indicated as a factor in the report. Veterinarians surveyed by the GAO reported that horse welfare declined across the board, with a 50% or greater increase in abandonment and neglect cases in some states. The nationwide capacity of horse rescue facilities is about 6,000 head of horses, and the vast majority of these are already full. Legislative prohibitions on using federal funds for inspecting horses prior to slaughter impede USDA’s and APHIS’s ability to oversee the transport and welfare of U.S. horses intended for slaughter. The number of horses shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter increased by 660% and 148%, respectively, after the closure of the slaughter plants. This resulted in total distance travelled by slaughter horses to increase by approximately 200 miles. Once a horse crosses the border into Canada or Mexico, APHIS no longer has authority to oversee their welfare, and our laws related to the humane slaughter of animals no longer apply.
While some anti-slaughter advocates place blame on market forces and irresponsible owners, PETA generally agrees with the GAO’s conclusion that horse suffering has increased due to the closure of the slaughter plants. But what is PETA’s answer? “Let’s ban horse slaughter…and let’s also ban the export of horses to other countries for slaughter!” There is certainly a lot of banning going on with this seemingly untenable position.
I never understood why is it suddenly inhumane to slaughter a horse, but not other mammalian livestock such as a pig, cow, or sheep. One reason opponents give is that horses are "pampered", and are used to being treated as pets. Even if this were true of all horses, what of the FFA and 4-H show animals that go to slaughter each year? There is no outcry to ban the slaughter of these animals. Further, it is also puzzling to me that the majority of people who believe horse slaughter is barbaric support abortion in humans.
Fact: there is an unwanted horse problem in this country. There are simply some horses who are not adoptable—perhaps because they are dangerous, or perhaps because the cost to “repurpose” them and care for them throughout their life far outweighs their potential usefulness to humans. Some anti-horse-slaughter advocates outright deny the unwanted horse problem. They argue that virtually every horse is adoptable, and that the ones who are not adoptable should be euthanized by a veterinarian and disposed of properly. Some statistics on the high cost of euthanasia and proper disposal have been published here. In general, anti-slaughter advocates are short on pragmatic or realistic solutions to the unwanted horse problem.
If virtually all horses were adoptable, there would be no need for horse slaughter. The U.S. slaughtered approximately 105,000 horses in 2006, the last full year the Texas and Illinois plants were operational. See GAO report at 8. This is a manageable number, especially when you look at the amount of money that has been poured into the “horse slaughter ban” efforts. The Humane Society of the United States, which is just one of the many animal rights advocacy groups in this country, had approximately $150 million in revenue for 2010 alone. These numbers, on their face, seem to indicate that the HSUS could have, possibly single-handedly, rehomed those horses that were adoptable, and caused those that were not adoptable to be euthanized and properly disposed of. Meanwhile, the HSUS has paid lawyers and lobbyists untold amounts to promote its political agendas such as a federal ban on horse slaughter and horse export for slaughter.
According to this HSUS publication, horse slaughter was costly to taxpayers. But even if the slaughter companies paid all costs associated with horse slaughter through a fee-for-service program or the like, HSUS says it should still be banned. But the HSUS has not published estimated figures on what it would cost our taxpayers to enforce their proposed ban on the export of horses for slaughter. It is common knowledge that we cannot even control the movement of illegal immigrants or illegal drugs across our borders, and we’re spending millions of taxpayer dollars on those efforts. Also, the HSUS is silent on the amount of domestic revenue and jobs that were lost when the slaughterhouses shut their doors.
Obstacles to Re-Implementation of Horse Slaughter in the U.S.
If I were an investor looking to put up the capital to build a new horse slaughterhouse in this country, I would first determine solutions to the serious economic and political hurdles currently facing this industry in the United States. Namely,
· New European Union regulations that will become effective on July 31, 2013 will require all non-EU countries to provide lifetime medication records for all horses entering the EU food chain. Furthermore, horses that have been given certain commonly-used drugs, such as phenylbutazone, must be excluded from the EU food chain.
· The threat of domestic terrorism on the slaughter facilities by animal rights activists. If you do not believe this problem exists, a federal law was enacted to address the issue.
· The possibility of future legislative changes that may directly or indirectly hinder operations. The federal government has already pulled the rug out from under the slaughterhouses once. There’s no telling whether they’ll do it again.
· The ever-presence of the shrill, combative, mostly female anti-slaughter advocates who will stop at nothing to turn public opinion against the slaughterhouses, no matter where they decide to set up shop. If you do not believe these women exist, I urge you to do a Google search for “horse slaughter”, or check out some of the comments to this previous post. While the presence of these "hecklers" is really nothing more than an annoyance, the unwitting or naive in local communities sometimes give in to them—if for no other reason than to shut them up.
If the European Union no longer wants our horsemeat, and the Asian or South American demand is not enough to sustain the industry, the free market economy will bring an end to horse slaughter. The anti-slaughter advocates agree—indeed, this is the only real economic issue they have latched onto. But if this is something that will go away on its own, why do we need a ban? Your guess is as good as mine. I would think that given the amount of money and time the anti-slaughter camp has spent to bring about anti-slaughter legislation, they can’t stop now. It would be unthinkable to them that they threw away millions trying to force their will upon us, instead of using their time and money to save the adoptable horses that either died of neglect or were inhumanely butchered in Mexico as a result of their efforts.
It is a myth that horse suffering has decreased now that slaughter is no longer an option. I applaud organizations such as the self-sustaining equine sanctuaries and rescues, veterinary associations, and the Unwanted Horse Coalition for doing what they can to reduce the amount of unwanted horses. If we want to improve horse welfare, we should be spending our time and money helping these organizations help horses—not on political agendas.
And if we must regulate the industry, let’s keep regulating horse transportation and institute methods of humane slaughter such as those proposed by Temple Grandin for the cattle industry. But we can only control how horses are treated as long as we allow them to be slaughtered within our borders.
Jane Smiley, contributor to the New York Times Horse Racing Blog, may have put it best when she said:
We must recognize that there is a market for horse meat (not only for human consumption, but also for zoo and circus-animal consumption) and that in a starving world, a source of protein should not go to waste for sentimental reasons. It is sentimentality that has resulted in profounder cruelty to our horses – because we don’t accept that they are animals and have a utilitarian purpose, we hide from what happens to them, and so what happens to them happens in secret.
Current Status of Federal Laws Affecting Horse Slaughter