12/02/2011 2:20PM

Hovdey: Time to get serious about slaughter

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Well, that’s it. When a subject close to the heart of the game you love is lampooned by The Onion − “America’s Finest News Source” − then you’ve arrived. Where you have arrived is another matter.

For those who spend their time surfing the more intellectually fulfilling websites, The Onion is pretty much Mad Magazine meets Laugh-In, with healthy dose of snark from the Stewart-Colbert side of the spice shelf.

This week, in The Onion’s “American Voices” feature of three average Americans (same faces each week, different names) who air their opinions regarding topics in the news, the issue was “U.S. Horse Slaughter to Resume.” Their responses:

“Yuck! What have they been putting in my horse cakes?”

“Hey, everybody complaining about excessive government regulation, the Obama administration hears you. Now go eat some horse meat.”

“This opens the door for Roy Rogers to bring back the Triggerburger.”

The spoof was inspired by the action of Congress to lift the ban on the federal inspection of horse meat operations, which became effective in 2007. As a result, the remaining U.S. slaughterhouses − all foreign-owned − went out of business. The latest move by Congress comes with no funding for inspectors, but that point is moot. A USDA spokesman said that if a horse meat slaughterhouse went back into operation the agency would be obliged to provide federal inspections.

The U.S. government has been dancing around the horse slaughter issue for decades. According to advocates, an outright ban on all aspects of the horse slaughter business, along with the sharp teeth of well-funded enforcement, is the only real solution. However, such legislation is routinely stalled by a handful of go-to legislators influenced by ranching and commercial breeding interests. The 2007 legislation was meant to be a stalling point while forces were mustered to enact a more comprehensive ban. But then came the economic crash and the 2010 midterms, and here we are, at a point where even the slaughter of horses is politicized, slipped into an emergency funding bill.

It is a rare issue that unites the nation in unqualified disgust. The Penn State athletic department’s problem with child molestation comes immediately to mind. But even mass killings give rise to notions that the killer had a right to own his gun, so it should come as no surprise that the slaughter of horses for human consumption has and will forever have a strong core of support in certain corners of the American body politic.

At the end of the day, the argument in favor of a privately owned, government regulated horse slaughter industry comes from those who believe that all material goods should be in some way monetized, and that horses are not exceptions. Don’t be so shocked. There is a current presidential candidate who holds that children should replace adult janitors in the cleaning of their schools − for pocket money. In the slaughter debates, always listen for the code words “animal agriculture,” as in how the federal ban of 2006 ruined “an entire sector of animal agriculture for purely sentimental and romantic notions.” That’s from Sue Wallis, a state legislator from Wyoming.

Those who promote such a philosophy sweep aside all arguments deployed by those seeking an end to the horse slaughter industry. It does not matter that horses in the U.S. are not bred and raised for their meat, like chickens, cows, and fish. They do not acknowledge that equine slaughter amounts to the torture of a natural flight animal. Nor does it matter that among domesticated animals the horse holds an iconic place in the psychological landscape as an indispensable partner in the American story.

The 2007 ban on inspection of slaughter plants did not stop American horse owners from selling their animals to buyers shipping cargo to Canada and Mexico, where slaughterhouses still hum. It has been documented that Thoroughbreds still end up on those trucks in numbers that should humiliate anyone who draws a nickel’s profit from the racing and breeding business. A lot of those people will be gathering this week in Tucson for the University of Arizona’s annual Race Track Industry Program Symposium.

Unfortunately, the symposium did not have room on its 2011 agenda for the challenges of racehorse retirement and the transport of horses for slaughter − Thoroughbreds and otherwise. Here is a partial list of the subjects the leaders of the racing industry will be addressing when the annual symposium convenes this week in Tucson:

“Computer applications and their uses in racing, managing your business on the internet, social networking, social media and advanced deposit wagering, new frontiers in wagering, new developments in the tote, reaching and teaching the horseplayers of tomorrow, the takeout.”

In order to break up the frat house craziness inspired by those panels, there will be discussions of veterinarian/client relations, veterinarians and animal welfare, and driving sustainable growth in racing and breeding. Something called “So You Want to Be a Steward” is also on the list, but the meeting room is a broom closet, so I think that might be a practical joke.

Fingers crossed, the ongoing issues of humane racehorse retirement and the renewed threat of slaughter could creep into one of the veterinary panel discussions, if only as a question from the audience. After all, horse slaughter is not really a horse problem. It’s a people problem.