by Jesse Bussard
Recent reports of the reinstatement of horse slaughter have been filling the media ever since the passage of an ag appropriations bill by Congress back in November that refunded federal inspection of horse meat in United States slaughterhouses. Many of these reports make claims that horse slaughter plants will be reopening in the next few months.
Throughout the horse industry there are people on both sides of the fence on the issue of horse slaughter. Some view it as a way to easily decrease the unwanted horse problem in this country and in return generate revenue and animal protein that will feed the world. Many of these individuals who are “pro-slaughter” own horses of their own but have come to realization that death by slaughter is far better than death by starvation, abuse, and neglect.
Others vehemently oppose the idea and feel that horses should never be subjected to such a fate. These individuals view the horse in an almost sacred way, saying that the horse is the iconic symbol of the American West and deserves treatment as such.
Then of course, you have your group of folks that are on the fence about the issue and can’t make heads or tails of either side’s arguments.
I’ll get right down to the nitty gritty here. The facts are that up until 2007 horses had regularly been slaughtered in this country. It wasn’t until 2006 that Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by defunding USDA inspections of horse meat in US slaughter houses. State laws shut down the three remaining horse slaughter houses in Illionis and Texas in 2007. Up until November 2011, the non-funding essentially prevented any other slaughter houses from opening. No inspection = No sale.
But that didn’t stop US horses from being slaughtered. Instead of being slaughtered in the US these horses are now trucked to Canada and Mexico to reach their fate. Recent government reports show that in 2010, 138,000 horses were exported for slaughter out of the US. That’s essentially the same number of horses that were slaughtered per year before the ban in 2007.
Some say the ban on slaughter was one of the main factors to blame for the rise in unwanted horses. I can’t say I agree with that. If the same number of horses were being slaughtered after the ban as before the ban then how can that be? I feel that it’s more likely this issue has been ongoing and that the ban just amplified it. Bringing back horse slaughter won’t magically fix this problem. The unwanted horse issue is a multifactorial problem that will take strategic planning by the horse industry and making some hard decisions that I don’t think, as a whole, they are ready to make yet.
Those in favor of a ban on horse slaughter are extremely passionate about their cause and well organized. They’re going to come back at this. Though most equine and veterinary groups oppose the ban, it’s still a controversial issue for the horse industry at large.
The main point is the removal of this ban does nothing but set the stage for the next step in the debate over slaughter. And until that debate is settled, I don’t think there will be any horses slaughtered on US soil anytime soon.