It is past time to ban the slaughter of horses originating in the United States
It was a little less than 2 months ago that I began writing my series on horse slaughter and the auction pipeline scams. I have met some amazing people and organizations and learned some discouraging facts about others. The vast majority of readers have shared my thoughts and opinions and have expressed a real interest in learning more. A minority of respondents have been defensive or dismissive, offering worn-out excuses for maintaining the status quo.
I received a much-appreciated comment on the last post in the form of a link to a very recently released report addressing this disgusting practice. The resport, Landmark Field Investigation of Horse Slaughter in North America, was co-written by Wayne Pacelle, President of Animal Wellness Action, and Sonja Meadows, President and Founder of Animals’ Angels. I have referenced Animals Angels in this series repeatedly. I will be summarizing this comprehensive, extensive report to the best of my ability. However, I can’t encourage you enough to read the entire report yourself.
The most-often repeated excuses for supporting horse slaughter
As I have extensively researched this subject and conducted numerous interviews, there are a handful of excuses that consistently surface from the very small minority of people who want to see this practice continue. What are these “reasons” that we simply must have horse slaughter options for American horses?
- We need an outlet for the “vast numbers” of surplus horses that would result if this option were no longer available.
- Euthanasia is too expensive, when as an alternative the owner can profit from selling their horse to auction.
- Horses are “livestock” and need to be viewed through that lens.
- We need slaughter houses located in the United States so that we can “oversee” the practice more efficiently.
- It provides income and jobs for people.
- Slaughter is an appropriate and humane end of life.
I am going to examine each and every one of these defenses. The basis for my rebuttal to these lame excuses is thoroughly outlined in the recent report I just referenced. There is one consistent answer to most of them, with a secondary explanation covering the remaining faulty rationale.
The single best response to someone who supports horse slaughter
I have repeatedly stated the absolute, unequivocal fact that the number of horses subjected to slaughter has bottomed-out in the last decade.
The slaughter of American horses each year has dropped from nearly 350,000 in the 1990sHorse Slaughter in North America: U.S. Live Exports Fade as Foreign Demand Abates
to 140,000 in 2007 to 20,000 today.
TWENTY THOUSAND HORSES. Truly, that is 20,000 too many who have to suffer such a horrible fate. But let’s examine all of those long-standing excuses as to why we must continue allowing this “industry” to survive. By the way, what is an “industry”? An industry is a group of manufacturers or businesses that produce a particular kind of goods or services. We are discussing an American “industry” so let’s not tell ourselves that providing horse meat to Asia or Russia benefits many Americans.
The low-lifes that support this “industry” in any fashion do not qualify as any type of legitimate business. Furthermore, an industry that will not only survive but grow has huge profits, market demand surge, and soaring sales figures. I will concede that the aforementioned low-lifes are generating huge profits for themselves. However, they lose when it comes to a market demand surge and soaring sales figures. Twenty thousand horses do not a market demand surge make. Why are we letting this small band of cruel human beings operate such a hideous pipeline?
Let’s get back to answering those rationalizations in my bullet list above.
We need an outlet for the “vast numbers” of surplus horses that would result if this option were no longer available.
Vast numbers? Is 20,000 a “vast” number? That amounts to roughly 400 horses per week going to slaughter. At 30 horses per truck (minimum!) that’s two truckloads a day at most. Don’t forget that this number is continuing to drop. Are we going to let this happen to America’s horses and defend it by saying we can’t do better for the amazing creatures that raced for us, transported us, and ran barrels for us?
There are more than 500,000 horses dying every year in the United States, and horse slaughter provides an end-of-life outcome for only 3% of them.
More thoughts on “population control”
I had the opportunity to visit with Wayne Pacelle and there are a couple of his thoughts that I want to share this week. Next week I will provide more details about our conversation.
Wayne commented that slaughter proponents view this as a homelessness issue, whereas slaughter opponents view it as a rescue opportunity. We don’t send our dogs and cats off to slaughter houses! I worked some magic with my calculator. The ASPCA reports that 6.3 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. They also estimate that there are 164 million dogs and cats in the United States. That means that 3.8% of the total number of dogs and cats find themselves in a shelter for whatever reason. Approximately the same percentage of horses that meet a cruel fate at the hands of the kill buyers.
To suggest that the horse slaughter industry is, in any way, providing an important safety valve in controlling captive horse populations is akin to claiming that random acts of violence by street gangs are contributing to human population control. The killing, at present levels, has a negligible continent-wide effect on population size, and its practices are as coarse and cold-blooded as they come.Wayne Pacelle
The simple answer to horse slaughter proponents is that the numbers no longer support allowing this cruel practice to continue. This is a RESCUE opportunity, not a problem of HOMELESSNESS.
The reason slaughter proponents want this “industry” to survive is because they don’t want to be responsible for the animals who gave their all to their ungrateful owners. There are certainly small animal owners who don’t think twice about dumping their old or unwanted “pets” (read: property) at shelters or on the highway. However, there are far more responsible pet owners who do the right thing for their companions. Likewise, many responsible horse owners do right by their equines. A small percentage don’t. This leads right into Reason #2.
Euthanasia is too expensive, when as an alternative the owner can profit from selling their horse to auction.
A well-placed bullet is cheap. Moreover, it is far more accurate than a captive bolt gun attempting to kill a terrified, thrashing horse. Many large ranches have dirt-moving equipment, making burial quite doable. What is lacking is not usually money, but rather commitment. It is true, you can sell your unwanted horse at a kill auction and make a few hundred bucks rather than spend money. Turn your back and walk away, caring nothing about what your horse will experience when you leave with your money in your pocket.
What is the true cost of euthanasia?
According to this article from the Equine Rescue Network, it costs less than $400 per horse! That quote includes veterinary-assisted humane euthanasia and processing by a rendering plant. Rendering a horse carcass for by-products is a very different thing than sending a living horse through the slaughter nightmare.
An article in the Holistic Horse supports the figures given by the Equine Rescue Network, although they provide a less-succinct number. Although this article is 9 years old, it still supports the premise that an appropriate end-of-life solution is very affordable. Let’s look at some additional numbers.
A website called Horse Rookie published this article a mere 2 months ago. It lists the yearly costs of horse ownership by state. The average was around $9,000 (although in some states it was over $11,000.) That translates into $750/month. If we round up and say it costs $600 to euthanize and dispose of a horse, that amounts to less than one month’s care of your horse.
In Part Two of this series, I discussed Vet Direct Safety Net, a program offered by AAEP. Owners who truly don’t have the money for a humane end-of-life solution can appeal to this AAEP program and apply for funds. Sound Equine Options in Oregon offers a no-cost euthanasia option. All you have to do it fill out some paperwork.
But again, it begs the question… how can an individual who purports to be financially able to feed, house, maintain feet and teeth, vaccinate, and otherwise care for a horse not have the funds for a humane ending? Even if that humane ending is the result of making the commitment to find a rescue or sanctuary placement? Is that few hundred bucks gained from a nefarious sale really worth it?
Horses are “livestock” and need to be viewed through that lens.
This was the explanation recently offered by a reader of a previous blog. It is true, horses have a “livestock” classification for agricultural purposes. However, the vast majority of horses in this country are not viewed by their owners with the same lens as cattle, sheep, and pigs. True livestock production industries have a myriad of regulations when it comes to husbandry, transport, and slaughter. There is veterinary oversight! (See Part One!) Where are those regulations pertaining to horses? They can’t be “livestock” one minute and “not livestock” the next.
We need slaughter houses located in the United States so that we can “oversee” the practice more efficiently.
The reader who maintained that horses were livestock also believed that the US needs to reestablish slaughterhouses. Interestingly enough, her explanation for why owners couldn’t afford an appropriate end-of-life solution was because the economy was so bad. She said, “People lost their livelihoods with the plummet in the market. It just now is recovering, but it’s still not stable. That supposed 3% doesn’t deserve to be processed in a rigorously inspected, low-stress plant?”
I find it fascinating that she thinks someone should fund a “rigorously inspected, low-stress plant” for horses in the United States, perhaps so that she can feel better about dropping off her horse at the kill auction? I suggested to her that economics works for, or against, everyone and no one will start a slaughter plant in the United States at this point. The groundswell is against the “industry” and clearly, the numbers aren’t there to make it profitable.
Does my reader that would like to see “rigorously inspected, low-stress plants” think that the people who are going to work that plant are somehow going to be better representations of compassionate human beings than the ones already doing the job? Although I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit with Temple Grandin, I do know that she has stated that someone needs to be constantly monitoring conditions at slaughter plants because the employees will not self-police. Again, there are not enough horses that need processing to justify the building, maintenance, and oversight of a humane facility.
It provides income and jobs for people.
This barely deserves mention. The only people getting rich on this industry are doing so literally on the backs of downer horses transported in overcrowded, filthy trucks.
Slaughter is an appropriate and humane end of life.
Before addressing this most horrendous of excuses, I must warn you that what follows will be some very disturbing photos. The photos I will show were taken during the investigation outlined in the article I really think you ought to read in its entirety. Be forewarned, they are very disturbing.
The investigation encompassed looking at kill buyer auctions, transport, and slaughter facilities. Unthinkable abuse was documented in multiple locations during every aspect of this practice. The article states:
After examining the treatment of horses at auctions, holding, and transport points, we conclude that these animals—most of whom provided years of faithful service and companionship or run free on public lands in the American West—are routinely subjected to a level of mistreatment inconsistent with the dictates of our anti-cruelty laws and at odds with the norms of our longstanding appreciation of these animals.
In the interest of keeping this post to a readable length, I am going to share what the investigators witnessed at the feedlots. Next week, I will share details about the auction houses, the trailer-to-trailer sales, and other atrocities discussed in the report.
Conditions in feedlots
Once a horse is designated as destined for slaughter, any mediocre care they received prior to that classification evaporates. Any money spent on a needy horse cuts into profits. There are feedlots in Shelby, MT and Alberta, Canada, both owned by Bouvry Exports Ltd. Once again, I will quote from the report:
The paperwork, photos, and videos provide evidence of the carelessness and ruthlessness of Bouvry Exports Ltd. Management comprised of people who are apparently fully aware of the operation’s animal welfare issues, but who are choosing to willfully ignore them.
Remember what I said about the “quality” of individuals who work at slaughter plants?
Because of the concern of residual drug concentrations in horse meat, all equines destined for slaughter must be held for 6 months prior to slaughter in Canada. They are held in pens that provide no shelter from harsh Canadian winters, with temperatures that can drop to minus thirty degrees Fahrenheit. One can only assume that water is frozen and not readily accessible. In the summer, constant dust results in horses coughing continuously.
On every single visit to the feedlot, investigators found dead horses in the feedlot and foals frozen to the ground. Scavengers feed on the carcasses. The feedlot is managed by a skeleton crew of employees. Here are the graphic photos I warned you about…
There is no part of me that can understand that someone who purports to value and appreciate horses can see these photos or read that report in its entirety and think that this is a practice that should continue. There is not enough demand for horse meat or by-products to warrant continuing to allow American horses to be subjected to this cruelty. It is an “industry” that supports the lowest of the low and allows irresponsible owners to turn their backs on the animals who once served them faithfully.
There is much more that I want to cover, and I will do so next week. I will share information about the export pens and the documented spread of Equine Infectious Anemia in Colorado. This happened forty-seven miles from where I live and many exposed horses were never identified. I will discuss the brokering that occurs behind-the-scenes and the appalling but prevalent falsification of documentation. I will be having a conversation with Temple Grandin and getting her feedback on this report.
Before I sign off this week, I’d like to share some points I pulled from something I encountered during my research. This editorial is representative of the rhetoric that supports horse slaughter. It was published on August 4, 2022 in AgDaily. It featured a lovely photo pulled from Shutterstock, showing a sweet little girl and her horse. There are several comments I pulled from that article that relate to what I have shared already.
The author states:
Britannica defines livestock as domesticated animals kept for meat, milk, and sometimes, farm or ranch work. Horses, in particular, are large, dangerous, expensive livestock. I find this to be a very peculiar definition of horses in America.
Simply put, the average U.S. horse owner can’t afford to support an animal that isn’t useful. Really? If this is true, perhaps the average U.S. horse owner shouldn’t have horses.
Why not allow them to be legally and humanely euthanized, processed in domestic facilities, and made useful for consumption by humans or other animals? (Her link is to another pro-slaughter AgDaily article.) “Legally and humanely euthanized”… There is nothing that resembles “euthanasia” in this practice. Additionally, there will never be sufficient numbers of horses going to slaughter to support a domestic plant. Proponents need to give up on that because it won’t happen. The tide is turning.
Join me next week for the next installment!