Chris Heyde / Animal Welfare Institute / March 22, 2013
The Animal Welfare Institute applauds Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for joining the Animal Welfare Institute and the majority of Americans who feel there are better, more humane, more responsible options for horses nearing the end of their lives or their careers than being slaughtered for meat.
Secretary Vilsack, while speaking with reporters earlier this week, called on Congress to come up with other ways for this country to handle aging horses than to slaughter them for meat for human consumption. Secretary Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, noted that in his home state horses work with inmates in prisons, and that this helps prisoners acquire job skills for when they rejoin society.
AWI has long advocated this kind of alternative to slaughter, along with many others such as therapeutic riding, riding school programs, or even second careers in a variety of equestrian sporting events. These alternatives are a way to provide second careers for horses, while making a valuable contribution to society and the economy. In 2009, AWI screened a documentary called Homestretch on Capitol Hill, highlighting a very successful prison rehabilitation program involving rescued horses.
According to the Indiana Department of Corrections website, their “program helps end needless abuse and slaughter of retired race horses by providing humane, viable rescue programs, including permanent retirement and private adoption for thoroughbreds at the end of their racing careers. Offenders are taught equine skills and not only maintain these animals, but also help retrain them so they are suitable for use in qualified handicapped and other therapeutic riding programs.” This laudable program is not only beneficial to the horses; it is a boon to the prisoners and to society. The recitative rate for prisoners participating in the South Carolina Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances program at Wateree River Correctional Institute in South Carolina was dramatically reduced when compared to the rate for prisoners in the general population of the same institution. Those not in the horse retirement program were many times more likely to commit additional crimes and return to prison.
“We commend Secretary Vilsack for his sensible decision,” noted Chris Heyde, deputy director of government and legal affairs for AWI. “USDA has not been attempting to regulate, and thereby sanction, this brutal business for 6 years, and it is important to move forward not backwards.”
An additional factor that weighs heavily in favor of Secretary Vilsack’s call for humane alternatives is the federal government’s growing budgetary crisis. If the Department of Agriculture were to resume inspection of horse slaughter facilities—something it has not done for several years—the department would be forced to divert limited manpower and funding in order to finance the effort because Congress did not provide additional funding when it removed the annual prohibition on inspecting these facilities. The timing could not be worse, given the current congressional emphasis on shrinking, not expanding, government expenditures.
“A recent national survey found that over 80 percent of Americans support a ban on horse slaughter and Secretary Vilsack is right in representing that position,” said Heyde. “AWI urges everyone who supports an end to horse slaughter in favor of more humane and responsible alternatives to write Secretary Vilsack at AWI’s Compassion Index and urge him to work with Congress on passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act.”