Horses dumped like unwanted cats

When a Kentucky reader stopped by Farm and Dairy’s booth at Farm Science Review, we chatted a bit about the extreme dry conditions down there, and the lack of pasture and feed for livestock.
“And for horses,” he added. It’s so bad that some horse owners, unable to pay for higher priced feed and hay, were simply turning their horses loose, he said.
Now that’s an unjustified reason for abandoning a horse, but the American Veterinary Medical Association reports this week that efforts to close the three U.S. horse processing plants have also led to increased abandonment and neglect – not the result the Humane Society of the United States was looking for when it pushed for the plants’ closings.
The last U.S. horse slaughter facility in operation, located in Illinois, closed Sept. 21.
Background. No one is wild about the slaughter of horses, particularly for producing meat for human consumption. (Horsemeat is considered a delicacy abroad.)
Current legislation, reintroduced in both the House and Senate this year, would make the slaughter of horses for human consumption illegal. The measures would also ban the shipping, transporting or sale of horses for slaughter for human consumption. Both bills are identical to legislation introduced last Congress. The House version passed last year; the Senate version was never considered.
The American Veterinary Medical Association is not pro-horse slaughter, either, but opposes bills banning slaughter because it says there’s no place else for the 100,000 horses that go unwanted each year in the U.S.
“If they think that by passing one of these bills they’ll get rid of the problem of unwanted horses, they’re simply fooling themselves,” said Mark Lutschaunig, a vet and director of the association’s governmental relations division.
Lutschaunig said the AVMA has confirmed reports of horses being abandoned or transported to Mexico, where there is no USDA oversight of the horses’ welfare or humane slaughter.
According to the USDA’s weekly livestock export summary for Oct. 4, so far this year, more than 31,000 slaughter horses have been exported to Mexico, compared to 6,391 in the first nine months of 2006. The last week of September alone, 1,300 slaughter horses crossed the border.
The Houston Chronicle ran a Page 1 article last month about the conditions of horse slaughter in Mexico and it’s not a comfortable story. At least at the U.S. plants, horses were killed quickly and painlessly, according to comments from animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, who was quoted in the article.
We hear the local stories of unwanted horses here at Farm and Dairy, too. Just about every month, the newsroom gets a call from a new horse rescue effort, begging for publicity (and funding).
Now the concept of eating horse meat is appalling to me, but there has to be some humane end-of-life option for unwanted horses. If the end use was not human consumption, could we not agree that a slaughter facility is a necessary component of the industry?
Obviously, many would say no, but I haven’t heard any solutions from them.
* * *
And just in case you were wondering what’s going on with the farm bill: The Senate ag committee postponed its farm bill deliberations yet again, and is now scheduled to begin marking up the farm bill Oct. 23.
The National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research reports the Senate leadership is losing patience and has said the House version would be brought up on the floor if the ag committee doesn’t tender a farm bill before the Thanksgiving recess.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at editor@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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