Monday, April 8, 2013

The Lesser of Two Evils: The Issue of Horse Slaughter

As an equestrian and horse-owner, I have recently been asked on numerous occasions if I support or oppose the calls to re-open horse slaughter houses in America. I found it was my duty to research the matter and come to a just conclusion. I began this research paper with neutral feelings- I could see both the positives and negatives of reopening the slaughter houses. However, after hours of research and heart-wrenching articles, I have come to a solid conclusion. Pushing aside my powerful feelings to drive home and hug my horses this very second, I have found that we must pick the lesser of two evils when it comes to horse slaughter houses. I support the re-opening of horse slaughter houses; deciding that heavily regulated American slaughter houses will provide a better fate and more positive side effects than allowing horses to be exported over borders and subjecting them to especially grim fates abroad.

The halt on American horse slaughter houses began in 2006. Congress no longer allowed federal funds to be used to inspect horses in transit or slaughter houses by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2007, one year after the new bill provision, the final three slaughter houses in America closed when their state laws upheld the federal decision ("Horse Welfare" 7-8). Coinciding with these closings, the number of horses slaughtered per year in America came to a screeching halt from nearly 105,000 in 2006 to about 30,000 horses in 2007 ("Horse Welfare" 16).
Image from Horse Welfare

Unwanted horses from all across the nation are sent to the slaughter houses. Not just old, crippled horses are sent. Quite literally unwanted and specifically, uncared for horses. These may be horses that did not make it on the track, unwanted pasture horses, or horses that can no longer be taken care of because of individual burdens.

The abuse of the animal begins not in the selling, but in the transportation to the slaughter houses. Once the horse is purchased by a “kill buyer” they are loaded into double-deck trailers generally intended for cattle or other common livestock. The road trip to the slaughter house may be long and grueling. Often no food, water, or easy rest is offered for the animals ("Animals' Angels Compilation Report Horse Slaughter" 1). Horses, although herd animals, are not always sociable with one another. Kicking, biting, and tight quarters cause injuries and suffering for all the animals in the unsuitable trailers.

Image from Animals' Angels
Upon arrival to the slaughter house, the horses are unloaded into waiting pens. At this point, some horses may be dead upon arrival from the transportation or too severely injured to even get off of the trailers. In my opinion, the most horrific aspect of these poorly developed slaughter houses follows the transportation. From the waiting pens, the stressed horses are ushered through chutes- the final stage of their journey. They are then paralyzed by a captive bolt gun. In the article, “The Slaughter Process: Walking the Halls of Horror", the captive bolt gun and the killing process is further described as “a device powered by compressed air that drives at high speed a steel bolt to the target, theoretically causing brain damage resulting in loss of consciousness. It does not kill, actual death is caused by exsanguination (loss of blood) caused by throat slitting.” The captive bolt gun does not work well with the horse; the animals are not restrained (causing the target to be missed) and workers are not trained well enough to use the gun. In Canada, a .22 carbine gun intended for small animals may be used. As one can imagine, this results in the horse being shot many times in order to kill it (if the shooter is lucky and does not miss). In Mexico, a more gruesome method is used. The horse is stabbed in the back of the neck, breaking the spinal cord, by a type of dagger in order to immobilize them. They are then consciously hoisted in order to have their throats slit ("The Slaughter Process: Walking the Halls of Horror").

Image from Horse Welfare
              There have been three major side effects of closing the slaughter houses in America. First, the amount of horses being exported across our boarders has increased drastically. Nearly 99,000 were exported in 2007, with around 78,000 being sent for slaughter. The numbers continued to rise, with the last statistic being collected in 2010: 168,011 total horses were exported with 137,984 destined for slaughter ("Horse Welfare" 17). This is a huge difference in numbers from when slaughter houses were open in America. It also subjects the horses to the even less regulated and horrific methods of slaughter in our bordering countries.

The second side effect has been a decline in horse prices. Opponents of slaughter houses argue the drop in prices was due to economic conditions. Supporters of slaughter houses insist the decline in prices was caused by the closing of the facilities. However, research has shown that it is most likely a mix of these two.  Refer to the excellent diagram in the “HorseWelfare” article by the Government Accountability Office on page 22 (or shown below). This diagram argues that both economic conditions and the closing of the slaughter houses had an effect on horse prices- with the lowest percentile of priced horses being affected most by the slaughter house closings. An interview by Courteau provides the personal account of a horseman and his views of the closings, “’When they took the kill market away from us, that took the wholesale out of the deal,’ Palmer, who's spent his entire life around horses, told me. ‘A horse is worth $500 to kill. If you wanted to take one home, you had to outbid the killers.’” These dealings allowed for a more competitive buying market. 
Image from Horse Welfare

Lastly, the closing of the slaughter houses may have caused an upturn in animal abuse. “Horse Welfare” summarizes this problem best, “Horse welfare in the United States has generally declined since 2007, as evidenced by a reported increase in horse abandonments and an increase in investigations for horse abuse and neglect” (23). Because people have no venue to send their unwanted horse, the horse ends up being neglected or abandoned.

Image from sixteenhandshorsesanctuary
 Recently opponents against slaughter houses have introduced a new act called the Safegaurd American Food Export Act. This act would officially ban slaughter houses in America, prohibit the exports of horses for slaughter, and protect the public from horse meat consumption (“Equine Advocates”). After the summary of the history and effects (before and after) of slaughter houses I have provided, one may be tempted to support this act. Initially, I also had feelings of support for the act. However, one must look at the complex system of these slaughter houses.

Denying that there is an unwanted horse problem in America is completely naïve. These unwanted horses are what initially fueled the slaughter houses. Without this venue for getting rid of the horse (and all the other burdens that occur with it) the animals may be subject to abuse and even more painful causes of death (Krehbiel). Abuse, starvation, and untreated wounds are all possibilities with an owner who simply has no excess funds or a potential buyer for the unwanted horse. This fate is far more painful for the animal in the long-run than being sent to a slaughter house.

A horse meat sandwhich- image from Rowe
As another factor to strengthen their arguement, opponents of horse slaughter often argue that horse meat is toxic to eat. As a painkiller, horses are sometimes given a common drug called phenylbutazone. Obviously, ingesting this drug as a human would be a bad idea. Henry Gee discredits these claims in his article. First, horses exposed to “bute” are prohibited from being slaughtered. Second, even if the horse did have bute in its system, it would be about a millionth of a dose (Gee). Supposing there was this miniscule amount of a dose in the meat, it still would not be enough to cause the meat to be toxic or harm any person consuming it. Keep in mind, human consumption is not the only use for the horse meat. For example, zoos and circus animals may also be fed from this source of meat (Rowe). 

Supporters of reopening the slaughter houses do not lack credibility. In conversation over the Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act of 2009 (prohibits US slaughter houses and exporting/importing for that purpose), both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners have said that the Act fails to take into account the long-term welfare of the horses that are not slaughtered (Lewis 2). People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has also thrown in their support to reopen the facilities. Rachael Whitcomb summarizes their views, “In fact, the group says the suspension of domestic horse slaughter caused more suffering for horses, not less. The group says the only ban that would work would be a dual ban on live export and slaughter.” Three well-known organizations have chosen to support horse slaughter houses. The credibility that can be assumed with these groups adds to their argument and should cause readers to also consider these groups' reasoning, which parallels my own.

Image from cartoonstock
Lastly, applying economic thinking provides some enlightenment on how people may react to the openings. Alison Rowe, a professional in law and well-educated horsewoman, says, “If the European Union no longer wants our horsemeat, and the Asian or South American demand is not enough to sustain the industry, the free market economy will bring an end to horse slaughter.” The supply of the unwanted horses will be enough to satisfy the small demand of the economy.

It is ignorant to believe that horse slaughter would come to a complete end with the banning of domestic slaughter and exporting horses for slaughter. It is because of this that I have come to the personal conclusion that American slaughter houses should be re-opened. However, only under tighter regulations and more humane practices should they be allowed. A new method of slaughter needs to be introduced- one adapted to the anatomy and nature of the horse. Along with this new method, workers need to be thoroughly trained on proper and humane methods of treatment towards these animals. While they are destined for slaughter, proper treatment must always be maintained. It is with the realization that the horses’ welfare is in jeopardy if exported to our neighboring countries or allowed to be neglected by an incapable owner that I support the re-openings. By practicing responsible animal treatment and introducing more equine-adapted slaughter methods, I believe America can not only pave a new road in humane treatment, but also find a solution to the unwanted horse issue and the declined economic value of the horse in our country.

Print Works Cited
Courteau, Darcy. "They Kill Horses, Don't They?." Atlantic Monthly (10727825) 309.2
             (2012): 17-18. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
Lewis, James M. "Big Battle Shaping Over Horse Slaughter." DVM: The Newsmagazine Of
Veterinary Medicine 40.4 (2009): 1-69. Academic Search Premier. Web. 
            1 Apr. 2013.
Whitcomb, Rachael. "Horse Slaughter For Meat Could Return To The United States."
DVM: The Newsmagazine Of Veterinary Medicine 43.1 (2012): 30-32. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.