03/15/2013 5:01PM

Jay Hovdey: Slaughter once again a hot, polarizing topic

Email

So it’s once again into the breach, with federal legislation that would effectively ban the horse slaughter business in the United States introduced this week in Washington, D.C., by a collection of senators and representatives who would give the effort a gloss of bipartisan suport, if there still is such a thing.

The Safeguard American Food Exports Act (SAFE) is sponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Reps. Jan Shakowsky (D-Ill.) and Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.). Positioned to amend the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, the bill first will be taken up by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

On the face of it, the SAFE Act seems timed to take advantage of the international uproar over the contamination of some packaged European foods with unregulated horse meat. In fact, the bill has been in the works for the better part of a year and finds itself injected into a equally heated domestic climate, with a lawsuit effort in New Mexico to reopen a slaughterhouse and legislation moving rapidly to encourage a slaughter industry in the state of Oklahoma.

There is not now nor ever has been a federal ban on horse slaughter. In fact, there is a thriving horse slaughter business in the U.S. even though slaughter plants have been idle since 2007, when USDA inspections were defunded. Estimates indicate that upward of 150,000 horses of all breeds are purchased and hauled across state lines to slaughter facilities in Mexico and Canada each year, some of it done legally, some of it not, depending on where the horses originate and which state lines are crossed.

The defunding for inspections was lifted in 2011, based largely on conclusions drawn from a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that cited anecdotal evidence from veterinarians as to a growing number of abandoned horses. Ever since then there have been efforts to get the horse slaughter industry rolling again.

Polls indicate that around 80 percent of Americans oppose the slaughter of horses and are even surprised it is an issue. For most of those polled I would imagine the idea is abstract, residing in the same morally distasteful category as child labor or blatant racial discrimination.

However, the reality of horse slaughter draws sharp battle lines between those who support slaughter as a justifiably monetized end-use for a domestic animal and those who oppose the practice as a cruel violation of a deeply held cultural taboo. The introduction of the SAFE Act means those sides will be gearing up again, so in the spirit of following what is sure to be a fascinating political process, here are a couple of spectator tips:

Give a wide berth to anyone who uses the word “process” or “harvest” each time you ask them about “slaughter.” Processing is to slaughter what “enhanced interrogation” is to torture, as in:

“AQHA believes that reinstituting domestic horse processing will improve the economics of the horse industry by reintroducing a base price for horses and it will give owners one more option to have available should they need it,” according to former American Quarter Horse Association president Peter J. Cofrancesco.

Question the assumption that the lack of a domestic horse slaughter industry over the past six years has resulted in an increase of mistreated and abandoned horses. As Vickery Eckhoff writes in Forbes.com:

“The argument tying abandonment to slaughter is being used specifically because nobody knows where the horses come from. Nobody ever mentions the more likely motivation that someone might wish to avoid taking them to auction because they are afraid they will go to slaughter, or they are afraid their sorry condition will be seen and reported.”

And do not be surprised to learn that the American Association of Equine Practitioners, supposedly representing the industry’s front-line veterinarians, is just fine with the idea of domestic horse slaughter, at least according to its latest position statement:

“The AAEP recognizes that the processing of unwanted horses is currently a necessary aspect of the equine industry, and provides a humane alternative to allowing the horse to continue a life of discomfort and pain, and possibly inadequate care or abandonment.”

But do give the AAEP extra credit for working both “processing” and “unwanted horses” into its party line.

In the past, there have been some groups in the Thoroughbred racing industry coming off a little wishy-washy over wholehearted support of an end to the U.S. horse slaughter business, despite the towering influence of activist owner-breeders like the late John Hettinger. With the introduction of SAFE, they have another chance to step up. When contacted this week National Thoroughbred Racing Association president and CEO Alex Waldrop seemed to be heading that way.

“The NTRA opposes the slaughter of Thoroughbreds for human consumption,” Waldrop wrote in an email communication. “We have not taken a position on the most recent legislation but will continue to focus our efforts on providing all horse owners with safe, reliable retirement and retraining alternatives.”

Anyone who has read this space in the past knows where this reporter stands, which is firmly alongside those who view horse slaughter for human consumption as a fundamental violation of a promise made to a sentient creature who is bred and raised to be a domestic companion or a performance athlete. Yes, they cost a lot, they get sick, and they sometimes hang in the shadow of the wire with a pick five on the line. They still deserve a decent end to a life they did not choose.

Anita More than 1 year ago
Most of the people that own horses to race;i'm sure that they have gotten enough of money off the horse;that when it came the horse time;the owner could afford to have a vet come out and put the horse to sleep the human way;and better for the horse.They could also afford to have some with a backhoe to come out and dig a hole for the horse.i Had my mare for over 30 yrs she was my best friend;and there was no way she was going to slaughter.She got very sick;i had to call the vet out;they put her down then i got a farmer with a back hoe to come and dig a hole to buried her.It only costed me $300 to together;I was not working at the time;but was able to put my horse down the rigth way.I know that people that race horses make a lot more than that.But when the horse can longer do anything for these horse racer;they just throw up there hands;and just send them to be slaughter;with no concern for the horses.These kind of people don't need a horse.
Constance Gonczy More than 1 year ago
Look at the entire picture people! It isn't just the typical owner 's cost of euthanasia but what to do with the carcass!? Multiplied by 150,000 or more a year? Of course the slaughterer gets the call because money makes the decision. I hate the situation but don't see an alternative for at least the aged or terminally ill horse. Unfortunately, too many of those horses at the slaughter are not in that category. from someone who had the option of burying her 30 year old mare after having her euthanized.
Nikki Peppers More than 1 year ago
There is no excuse good enough to warrant the extreme terror and suffering that we put these horses through when we send them to slaughter. It is part of the responsibility thing of owning and caring for an animal. If someone had to watch their horse be slaughtered I guarantee VERY FEW people would ever send them. These horses deserve better than that after a lifetime of friendship and servitude to us undeserving sorry excuses of human beings! So you are saying it's okay after telling these horses from day one "trust us, we won't hurt or eat you" and then when we're through with them we do exactly that??? REALLY????
Harlie Conn More than 1 year ago
horse businss was good when we had horseslaughter plan in marion ohio we had bar all in the town people dids good it was call the glory days every one make money ohio people had jops ky people works at the plan yes people was doing good how people cant do no good horse sale cants run if you dont have killer buyer to buy the killer horse it puning the horse people out
JoJo Zumwalt More than 1 year ago
While the USDA claims to have excellent inspection protocols; realistically the USDA cannot follow a cut of meat once it has been stamped and left the facility for distribution to brokers all over the country. Labels can be swapped at any time; records can be falsified at any step of the way, as was proved in Europe. Vet records for the majority of horses across the country horses are non existent so identifying any medications past or present would be impossible, that is a huge risk to take. Horses sent to auctions by private individuals and others do not carry vet records with them, many of these are the horses that are bought up by the kill buyers across the country and sent to slaughter. My horses are supplemented and given medications (wormer for instance) that is clearly marked by manufacturers as "not intended for livestock for human consumption". So I know the danger there. Most of the general public, that has no experience with horses, would not have any idea of the dangers present in these products; of which many are known carcinogens. The AAEP argument that slaughter is a humane alternative for the unwanted or sick and injured is ludicrous. I can't even believe they would make such a statement; full well knowing the process and treatment of slaughter bound horses. Horses are a companion or sport animals, they are not considered livestock or bred for food in this country. Horse meat is not on the public menu, therefore there is no reason to promote a business slaughtering our companion animals for export to foreign countries. The majority of Americans will not eat horse meat. The only market for them is by foreign operators. The meat processing companies claim to bring jobs into communities, the number of jobs offered and the wages will, at best, be at minimum standards as is common in the industry. They claim that they will bring revenue to the community; the majority of these operators are foreign entities; they will not be required to pay local or state taxes; using loopholes in our already faulty tax system. They will make the profits and none of that will be shared with the communities. The negative pollution and ecological impact; as has already been proven in other facilities, specifically Kauffman TX, will have a very detrimental impact on the peace and health of their communities. These businesses are fined for EPA and pollution violations over and over again, with no remedies, or compliance, this is a further burden to tax-payers. The welfare of the horses needs to be considered in this as well. It is well known and documented as to the abuse and torture that horses endure while traveling to, and being slaughtered. The current procedure using captive bolt is not appropriate for a horse and results in the animals having to be repeatedly struck and most often vivisected while still alive. You can see where I stand.
Lise McLain More than 1 year ago
Hi! Slaughtering of horses is bad for the racing industry. It turns me off personally. Fans love the horses as well as the sport. Slaughtering for any reason is bad for the racing industy. Adoption and retraining programs are on the rise, and that is the way to go in order to entice new fans and actually keep old fans. I personally believe that horse racing is a dying industry and it will further die if the slaughtering of horses is justified. Owners need to responsible. Most fans love the horses and to read that even one horse was slaughtered is a turn off and disgusting. I have been a thoroughbred horse racing fan since I watched Barbaro win the 2006 Kentucky Derby, and when I read about neglect, abuse, abandonment, and the slaughtering of horses, I have the urge to turn away from horse racing. Look what happened to DynaKing; he was abandoned, and it was a tragic story. Overall, slaughtering of horses is bad for business. Thank you! Lise from Maine
Nikki Peppers More than 1 year ago
I feel the same way LIse. I love watching racing but not when all I can picture is what they're going to suffer after their people are through with them. It disgusts me and makes me sick. I hope the racing industry continues to try and do the right thing
Ron Parker More than 1 year ago
Spot on, Jay. It is interesting to point out that recently a Canadian slaughterhouse rejected shipments of U.S. horses since they felt that with the prevalence of drugs in the U.S. the horses might be too toxic to eat safely. "We don't want them, it's too risky," one spokesman told potential buyers. European food safety officials have warned Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses that this potential toxicity makes U.S. horses unacceptable for consumption. And Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a vet on the faculty of Tufts University, observed that "Race horses are walking pharmacies." So there is a glimmer of hope on an international level assuming (big if) that health issues effectively curb the market for slaughtered horses. Now if we can get rid of these idiots in the U.S. that want to open their own slaughterthouses, maybe the horses have a remote chance of humans simply going about their business killing one another instead of chopping up the animals they breed in the name of "sport" and greed.
Harlie Conn More than 1 year ago
u.s need horse slaughter to get the sale back going bad horses are killing the sale of a good horse some people will say i am not buy one i will get one out of the hills they going to die any way they dont get no feed and hay any way
Cathy Montgomery-Sheppard More than 1 year ago
Love the last line. That says it all. Breeders need to be held accountable for some of this problem. Just not right to breed them, sell them, then walk away with a pocket full of money, with no concern toward the hoses's future...
Harlie Conn More than 1 year ago
aqha is right people cant buy feed and hay for horses best to sale no good puting horses out in the hills to die you no people need money and the people that eat horses will buy best way sale and get money it will help the good horses sale high it killing the horse sale cants run no killer buyer it going to take horse slavghter
Lisa Johnson More than 1 year ago
"AQHA believes that reinstituting domestic horse processing will improve the economics of the horse industry by reintroducing a base price for horses and it will give owners one more option to have available should they need it,” according to former American Quarter Horse Association president Peter J. Cofrancesco." This train of thought makes me sick. "Base prices" of horses is NOT to be decided by the pound!!! It is by the breeding, the quality, the talent and the soundness of said horse. Mass producing 100s of foals in a year (with the help of embryo transfers) at a single farm totally oversaturates the market IMO and we already know how many babies actually make it to the track regardless of their purchase price or any other factor. What happens to the rest? There is absolutely nothing (again in my opinion) humane about horse slaughter. The bolt gun was created for cattle. Even a horse on death's door in the conveyor belt line at the slaughterhouse KNOWS something's up, can smell, see and hear horses screaming, and will fight to the end to keep on his feet. Even a sick or elder horse would put up something of a fight to have its head held still for the application of the bolt gun. They are not and have never been like cattle. Bolt guns aren't 100% effective on a placid cow or steer. Guess what the rate is for horses? I don't have that number but I can guarantee too many horses are still alive when they start to get sliced open. That should NEVER happen to any animal. It shouldn't happen to ONE animal. While we can never expect idiots to quit breeding animals that will never be on anybody's short list, we CAN expect humanity. As much disgust I have with a horse slaughterhouse back in business in the USA, it is still a far cry better to have a horse not have to travel sick, in foal, dying, fractured, torn up, and injured out of the country where there is NO USDA, no rules and regs, no regard for anything. Shipping them like sardines 1000 miles to a worse ending is not my choice, not my desire. I hate the thought of a slaughterhouse PERIOD but keeping the horses in the US to me, is a better option. Not bringing unmarketable horses into this world to begin with would be the best option. But I easily forget that everyone owning a horse that still has testicles or ovaries is going to breed because "hey, his momma or his daddy was so and so a hundred years ago". Yeah, that's going to help the horse industry. And to the first commenter below me, Ann Mitchell Adam, I don't understand how you think the USDA would monitor or control any racehorses or other equines drug intake? Seriously??? And there are several 'retirement' funding farms, invididuals, etc who are on the 'up and up' and actually do a good job with what they have and save a lot of horse lives, but the numbers are stacked against the few do gooders. Too many of our population are horrifed that other countries actually purchase our horses' flesh for consumption but not enough people do anything about it once they are informed. People being people, they think the puppies and horses are going to make them rich quick. Get real, people. There simply aren't enough homes for all the animals people keep breeding and there never will be.
Ann Mitchell Adam More than 1 year ago
Sentience requires the ability to feel suffering. I agree with the stand. But, I also acknowledge that horses, dogs, cats and many other animals world wide are suffering in the extreme. I do wonder also about the USDA supervision of US slaughter houses possibly serving to help clean-up the drugging of thoroughbred race horses. Then there is the possibility of creating a "retirement fund" for racing horses that would help towards their re-directed life. This would also create scamers in this, knowing human beings! Over riding all this tho', is the fact that the Federal government is yet again trying to take over a State law area and there goes away more individual freedom. Be very careful for what you wish. We can't even get right taking care of other human beings.
franjurga More than 1 year ago
Thanks for such a great synopsis of the situation, Jay. One of the things that bothers me is that groups like the AQHA and AAEP have every right to endorse horse slaughter in the USA if they wish, but what about the dissenting opinions of so many of their members? I'd like to see those and other organizations mount campaigns and funding to assist owners who could benefit for less expensive euthanasia rather than send their horses to an auction where they'll likely go to slaughter. Gelding (castration) clinics were the first step; high-profile owner education, support for rescue/retirement operations and assistance for euthanasia are the next, but I don't see much movement in that direction. Rather than splitting into two camps, can't do-able compromises come to the fore that might benefit at least some of the vulnerable horses, some of the time, and lead to a new appreciation of the value of a horse's life?