Ban on horse slaughter generating ‘unintended consequences'

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2012 -Since the reversal of the ban on U.S. horse slaughter plant inspections in the fiscal 2012 agricultural appropriations bill, companies have been seeking locations for horse slaughter and processing plants in the U.S. But ban supporters are trying hard to keep them out.

United Equine LLC recently considered a location in the Twin Cities Industrial Park near Mountain Grove, Missouri. The organization abandoned the plans after local protests, but CEO Sue Wallis said other locations in Missouri will continue to be considered.

A site in Hermiston, Oregon, is gaining attention as a potential location for a horse processing plant and joint rejuvenation project organized by United Horsemen. The plant would process more than 100 animals per day and employ between 50 and 100 workers with a total project cost of approximately $3 million.

In addition to slaughter, the plant would include an onsite equestrian “Rest and Rejuvenation Program.” According to United Horsemen, a horse entering the program will be evaluated and then go into either training, rejuvenation or processing. The project description states that “for horses that have lived past their useful life, are unsound, un-trainable or otherwise not suited for re-homing, a humane system of slaughter will be utilized.”

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“Equipment and management practices approved by Dr. Temple Grandin will ensure a minimum of stress and pain,” states the United Horsemen project. “Horses will be handled humanely and respectfully, employees will undergo proper training, and the facility will be monitored to prevent mishandling and abuse.”

Despite claims of humane treatment before slaughter and potential “rejuvenation” of older horses, some horse fans remain strongly opposed to any horse slaughter facilities.

Equine Advocates Rescue & Sanctuary in Chatham, N.Y. will host the 2012 American Equine Summit on March 31 and April 1. The summit's objective is “to reverse the damage done by Congress in November 2011 by mobilizing an effective grassroots movement to end the slaughter of America's horses in the U.S. and abroad.” Former Congressman John Sweeney, R-N.Y., primary sponsor of the House version of the 2006 American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, will be among the speakers at the event.

"It's just plain wrong when lobbies for the agriculture and Quarter Horse industries can influence members of Congress to supersede the will of the more than 80% of Americans who want a federal ban on horse slaughter," said the president of Equine Advocates, Susan Wagner.

According to the summit announcement, University of Southern California economics professor  Caroline Betts will discuss the ”discrepancies” in the 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the closings of horse slaughter and processing plants in the United States.

The report, “Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter,” was developed after the Senate Committee on Appropriations directed that the agency examine the status of horse welfare in the U.S. since horse slaughter operations ceased in 2007. The GAO found that, after U.S. slaughter facilities were shut down, the slaughter industry grew across U.S. borders. From 2006 through 2010, Canadian and Mexican imports increased by 148% and 660%, respectively, with the total number of horses imported into the two countries from the U.S.  for slaughter increasing from about 33,000 in 2006 to about 138,000 in 2010, according to GAO. The GAO also found that the number of “unwanted” and neglected horses increased since 2007.

OFW Law Senior Policy Advisor Charles Stenholm said opening a horse slaughter plant in the United States is best for the industry as well as equestrian welfare. He said “even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) would rather see horses slaughtered here than have them shipped to Canada and Mexico,” where travel and conditions are unregulated by USDA. Stenholm also said “it's a private property issue,” meaning that a ban would take away the owner's right to sell a horse for slaughter. The federal government does not have the power to tell a horse owner what to do with his or her horse, other than treat it humanely, said Stenholm. He said stringent laws apply to specialized slaughter treatment for horses and “most vets agree it's a humane way to end the life of the horse.”

“Horses are undoubtedly special,” the former congressman from Texas said. “But they're livestock. The idea that you can take away the salvage value of horses is having a devastating impact on the industry right now.”

GAO showed a statistically significant reduction in average sale price across all price categories after the cessation of slaughter in 2007. For example, the average sale price for horses in the lowest price category (20th percentile), dropped by about $110 per head (from $433 to $323), and the average price for the highest price category (80th percentile) dropped by about $140 per head (from $2,380 to $2,241).

According to GAO, both advocates and critics of the slaughter issue have raised concerns about unintended consequences of the cessation of domestic slaughter. For example, “both sides note that horses intended for slaughter must now travel much farther distances to foreign slaughtering facilities, potentially, during some part of that trip, in conveyances designed for smaller animals and without adequate rest, food, and water,” according to the report.

Slaughter opponents also want the ability to export horses for horsemeat ended altogether. Front Range Equine Rescue (FRER) and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a legal petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent former companion, working, competition and wild horses from being “qualified” for human consumption. According to HSUS, more than 100,000 American horses are sent to slaughter each year, mainly for consumption in Europe and Asia.

However, even if Congress approves a ban on any horsemeat for export, the problem of growing numbers of “unwanted” horses would not be solved. The GAO noted that: “State and local governments, tribes, and animal welfare organizations, especially horse rescues, are facing growing pressures to care for abandoned and neglected horses at a time of economic recession and tight budgets.”

According to an Oregonian interview with Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine veterinarian, Jacob Mecham, some horses are in chronic pain and others have medical conditions that are incurable, leaving no option but to euthanize them. The drug to euthanize a horse costs $150 alone, and that doesn't cover other costs and disposal of the carcass, he said.

“Many people just don't have an extra $500,” Mecham said. “When they took away the slaughter plants, there was a lot of pain and suffering for horses.”


Original story printed in March 28, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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