COLUMN: Horse slaughter still haunts industry

by Bernard Shire
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Since it’s October, there’s nothing wrong with a little talk about haunting. As far as the meat industry is concerned, one issue that still haunts the industry is horse slaughter.

But there’s no horse slaughter in the United States anymore, many might say. The few remaining horse slaughter plants in the US were put out of business by the federal government, including the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA). So what’s that got to do with US food production?

Two years ago, there was an attempt to resume commercial horse slaughter in the US, but it was blocked when President Obama signed a budget measure withholding money for required federal inspections of the slaughtering process. At the time, the measure actually provided temporary funding for the federal government. But it stopped the USDA from spending money for inspections necessary to slaughterhouses to ship horse meat across state lines, and eventually export it to overseas consumers. The President’s action came as a judge stopped a New Mexico company from moving forward with plans to start slaughtering horses.

Actually the last slaughterhouse in the US had closed back in 2007, a year after Congress withheld inspection funding from USDA. But federal money was restored four years later, with three plants in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa trying to start horse slaughtering. They failed, and a lawsuit by the New Mexico attorney general contended the plant trying to start up in New Mexico would violate the state’s environmental and food safety laws.

Last year, a bipartisan group of US Senators introduced a bill in Congress to ban horse slaughter. Horse slaughter is currently banned by an amendment included in the federal government funding package. But the prohibition of funding for horse inspection only runs from year to year.

Horses have been consumed by human beings for food for thousands of years. But there is no doubt that a heavy majority of the American public is strongly opposed to horse slaughter, for various reasons. One thing consumers may not be aware of is that American horses, used in races and other activities, are treated with drugs that aren’t approved for use in animals intended for consumption by humans.

There is also a strong feeling among Americans that like dogs and cats, horses are companion animals and should not be used for food. Many people think horses are deserving of more humane consideration, because Americans see them as working animals, or used for sport – horse racing – and because they are not bred or raised for food here. When horses were slaughtered here, about 90 percent of the meat was exported for human consumption overseas, with the remaining 10 percent going to zoos to feed big cat carnivores, like lions and tigers. Horse meat was outlawed in pet food in the 1970s.

American consumers these days have a lot of concerns and a great deal of interest in where their food is coming from, and how it gets to groceries and markets. There’s a lot of attention focused on animals – both food animals, and companion animals – and how they’re treated. And while horses aren’t part of the slaughter picture in the US, there is concern right now about large numbers of American horses – 130,000 each year – being shipped to Mexico, Canada and other countries for slaughter. Even when American horse slaughterhouses were still operating years ago, large numbers of horses were shipped across our borders to be slaughtered elsewhere. Animal welfare groups are pushing Congress to enact the Safeguard American Food Exports Act before it adjourns its session. This is legislation to enact a permanent ban on horse slaughter, and prohibit American horses being exported to other countries for that purpose. This is not new legislation.

And while the meat industry won’t be involved in getting this legislation passed, meat and poultry slaughterhouses and processors should probably quietly hope that it does get passed. The meat industry has enough on its hands PR-wise without having continuous controversy about slaughter, even if it’s not slaughter directly tied to the American meat industry. Totally banning horse slaughter will remove many negative associations clinging to the meat industry, feelings that may exist even among people who enjoy a good steak.


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READER COMMENTS (6)

By mary k Baker-Lauderdale 5/14/2017 12:25:01 AM
There isn't any reason for our wonderful horses to be sent anywhere to be slaughtered! They are great animals and deserve to be treated as such. They have been our lives blood for hundreds of years and we need to respect them and give them good homes in their old age.Our wild ones should stay free on the land that is theirs' and not have helicopters chasing them down and separating families. Horses are tight knit units and grieve when being divided. We in the USA do not eat our pets{the majority of us} and do NOT want to see them sent any where for inhumane slaughter. It should be BANNED everywhere!!!

By Melinda Grayson 4/17/2017 11:00:14 AM
That's funny that you make the point that horse slaughter hurts the meat industry -- I dropped meat entirely in 2007 when I learned more about horse slaughter, and then I even moved away from all dairy 3 years later. There are probably many like me. People fear the drugs in horse meat and the fact that some of the exported meat surely makes its way back into other food products sold in the USA. No amount of PR from the beef industry will convince Americans that the contamination from exported horsemeat cannot possibly exist.

By Marjorie Garcia 10/14/2016 9:48:33 PM
The law to prohibit the transportation of horses to other countries for slaughter MUST BE PASSED. Stop slaughtering horses PERIOD...no more round ups either!

By Carol grant 10/14/2016 4:04:15 PM
They may be not slaughtering in America, but aren't they still exporting live horses to slaughter.

By Judy Keenan 10/14/2016 2:52:42 PM
You are absolutely right about all of this! I was so horrified and even traumatized by the cruelty and the wickedness about horse slaughter that I actually quit eating pigs and cows and barely eat dairy products anymore either. The dairy and meat producers would do wise to get on board and help us shut all of the horrific horse slaughter plants down in Canada as well and to close all of our borders USA and Canada alike for export of our horses to Mexico and anywhere else for slaughter. You hit the nail on the head when you said it taints their industry too. Once I learned the truth about horse slaughter I can't even stomach the thought of eating meat anymore.

By Diana Kline 10/14/2016 2:11:26 PM
This is a very well-written and researched article. Thanks.