Bo Derek, Willie Nelson, the Barbi twins, the American Welfare Institute, and the Humane Society are currently pushing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA), which would ban the killing of horses for human consumption and bar the export of horses for slaughter. Advocates have already won state laws that shut down the three remaining domestic horse slaughterhouses (two in Texas and one in Illinois), which exported mostly to France and Belgium. Now horses are being exported for slaughter to Canada and Mexico; conditions in the latter are said to be especially grim
The American Welfare Institute says of the situation:
Betraying our equine ally
Horses have served humans throughout history, carrying us on their backs, tilling our fields, drawing wagons and carriages, enriching our lives as friends and companions. In the United States, horses have never been raised for human consumption, yet American horses are being killed so their meat can satisfy the palates of overseas diners in countries such as Italy, France, Belgium, and Japan.
Just this week, Derek and her annoying
husband boyfriend, John Corbett of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), went to Capitol Hill to drum up support for the bill. So far, the list of its bipartisan congressional backers include Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and John Ensign of Nevada. And why not? After all, who wants to see Black Stallion turned into sauerbraten?
But wait a moment. Are French horse eaters worse than American cow, pig, or chicken eaters? Keep in mind that unlike the last three animals, horses aren’t raised for food. Animals raised on factory farms live in infinitely more squalid circumstances than horses destined for the dinner plate. Bo and her friends say that transport conditions to Mexico are appalling, with, in the words of the American Welfare Institute, horses “typically hauled for more than 24 hours without rest, water, or food in trailers that provide little protection from weather extremes. They are often forced onto cattle trailers with ceilings so low they injure their heads.” That may well be true, but shutting down the domestic slaughterhouses has increased exports. So now more horses are being sent off to Mexico.
But, runs the counterargument, if the AHSPA passes and the export trade is banned, American horses will roam free and live happy lives. There are hundreds of horse rescue operations in existence, they say, and unwanted horses that would otherwise be slaughtered would be adopted and cared for.
But is that really the case? Most horses sent to slaughter are past their prime and unwanted by the farmers or ranchers who own them. Patricia Evans, of Utah State University’s Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Sciences Department, says that more horses are being abandoned now that domestic slaughterhouses have been closed. The advocates “predicted that shutting down domestic slaughterhouses wouldn’t increase neglect and abuse, but we’re in the real world,” she said. “Unfortunately, kids get abused and so do animals.” (Evans will be speaking about the issue tomorrow at 10 a.m. Mountain Time on KPCW, an NPR affiliate in Utah. A link should be available at the station’s website.
Linda Wilson Fuoco wrote an article in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in which Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society, said that owners who are abandoning a horse should instead have a veterinarian “euthanize” it or send it to a horse sanctuary. Unfortunately, Fuoco wrote, “Every horse rescue and farm animal rescue that I deal with currently has a ‘no room in the inn’ sign on their barn doors. They all have waiting lists.” As to euthanasia, Fuoco said that would cost more than $300 between fees for the vet and burial charges (tombstone excluded). As nice as that would be, a lot of horse owners simply aren’t going to pay that much for an animal’s funeral, which would explain why more horses are apparently being abandoned.
Clearly, this is a charged issue—horses are beautiful, noble animals, but they’re also relatively low-fat with plenty of iron. And the proposed legislation, rather than protecting horses, may lead to more suffering animals, rather than less.