The Dartmoor Hill Pony Association said developing a market for Dartmoor pony meat is a bid to save the species. The ponies traditionally have been used as work animals for pulling carts and farming. The ponies are a hardy breed suited to surviving extreme weather conditions. But the number of surviving ponies has dwindled to just 1,500 in 2011. The DHPA presents its rationale for the plan on its website.
"Due to the economic problems being felt in this country and abroad, the sale of horses and ponies has dramatically decreased. For semi-feral herds across the UK this has become a huge problem. Dartmoor relies on its herds of ponies to keep the careful ecological balance. Without the ponies, the moorland would become vastly overgrown, not only preventing the vital income brought by tourists but also greatly damaging the habitats of a number of insects and birds and other animals."
The association said an abattoir has been chosen "that deals compassionately" with ponies.
But critics of the plan argue that slaughtering the ponies for meat is unnecessary and could cause tourists to stop visiting Dartmoor. South West Equine Protection has started a petition against the ponies being used for their meat. The group believes the plan promotes overbreeding the ponies for profit.
"South West Equine Protection want the government to take a stand and enforce removal of stallions or vasectomizing stallions grazing on Dartmoor Commons to reduce the numbers of ponies running on the commons," the petition states. "Continuing to overbreed ponies to go into the human food chain is not solving the problem but encouraging over breeding and poor quality ponies. Stop overbreeding ponies and remove stallions.”