Don’t reopen plants that slaughter horses for food
Most Americans disapprove of slaughtering horses for food — 80 percent, according to a recent national survey. Responsible American horse lovers, breeders and owners shudder at the thought of any horse of theirs — horses born and raised to be competitors and companions — ending up on a foreign dinner plate.
For decades, it was a clandestine industry in the U.S. quietly operating in small towns and sending the meat only to foreign markets. Once the Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare groups started paying attention, it wasn’t long before those plants were shuttered. Now, there’s a move by longtime proponents of horse slaughter to reopen plants here at home.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that he’s not supportive of these efforts and that he hopes there can be a “third way” to manage America’s horse population, and that we can develop a system to deal with homeless horses without slaughtering them for food exports.
Just last week, the White House recommended in its proposed budget for 2014 that Congress bar funding for placement of federal inspectors in plants, a requirement to certify the horse meat for sale. Should Congress include similar defund language in its fiscal year 2014 appropriations bill, it would arrest plans by horse slaughter enthusiasts to open plants in the first place, and it would reinstate language that was in agriculture spending bills for several years as a bulwark against the reopening of plants that hadn’t operated since 2007. President Barack Obama’s move should give a lift to authorizing federal legislation — the Safeguard American Food Exports Act — to ban horse slaughter and the export of live horses for slaughter.
The horse slaughter industry doesn’t “euthanize” old horses — but precisely the opposite: Young and healthy horses are purchased at auction, often by people misrepresenting their intentions, and sold to slaughter plants where they are killed to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported that 92 percent of American horses going to slaughter are in good condition and would able to live healthy and productive lives.
When plants operated on U.S. soil, the USDA documented severe cruelty, including broken bones and eyeballs hanging from eye sockets by a thread of skin. Inside the slaughterhouse, where the air is infused with blood and death and the smell of iron, horses endure fear and torment, particularly when there are repeated attempts to render them unconscious.
Beyond being a predatory, inhumane enterprise, the horse slaughter industry could also be endangering human health by peddling tainted meat. Recent revelations in the European Union about horse meat masquerading as beef products and containing drug residues that fail to meet EU food safety standards represent one of the biggest food scandals in recent years. It’s of keen interest to The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International because we’ve been warning European authorities of the risks to human health posed by consuming horse meat imported from North America.
American horses are raised for use in show, sport, work and recreation and are regularly administered drugs that are expressly prohibited by current federal regulations for use in animals intended for human consumption. For example, a common pain reliever routinely administered to all types of horses, phenylbutazone, is known to cause potentially fatal human diseases. Then consider the hodgepodge of drugs used in race horses — including cobra venom and cocaine. Thousands of these horses are sold at auction for slaughter within days of their last race, resulting in potentially toxic horse meat being sent overseas. There is no known safe level for consumption of these drug residues in horse meat, and there is no system in the U.S. to track medications and veterinary treatments given to horses to ensure that their meat is safe for human consumption.
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