Habitat founder: Horses are companions, not food
Published July 16, 2012
HITCHCOCK — The founder of a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates horses seized by law enforcement testified at a recent Senate hearing, speaking in opposition to reinstating horse slaughter in the state.
Jerry Finch, 54, of La Marque, founded Habitat for Horses in 1998 in Hitchcock after rehabilitating two skinny horses in his backyard. The organization has since saved 5,178 horses from abuse or neglect and adopted 4,660 of them.
Finch went to Austin on Tuesday and joined former Kaufman Mayor Paula Bacon and Keith Dane, director of Equine Protection at The Humane Society of the United States, to testify at the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs in support of keeping the state’s 1949 ban on horse slaughter for human consumption.
“Our position has always been that horses are companions and not for consumption,” Finch said. “We don’t feel like these horses need to be taken to plants in Mexico and destroyed in the most inhumane way then shipped to Europe for food.”
Former Congressman Charlie Stenholm testified on behalf of the Livestock Marketing Association before Committee Chairman Craig Estes, saying the inability to sell horses at auction leads to neglect when some owners can’t afford the upkeep.
$39 Billion Industry
There are 9.2 million horses in the United States, and 4.6 million people enjoy horses, Stenholm said. That equates to 400,000 full-time jobs in a $39 billion industry that has a $102 billion result on the U.S. economy leading to $1.9 billion taxes, Stenholm told the committee.
“If you don’t want to see a horse go to slaughter, then don’t bring it to our market,” Stenholm said, noting 173,000 U.S. horses were exported for slaughter in Mexico and Canada last year.
“If you take the position that we ought not to allow horse processing, horse slaughter in the United States, what are you going to do with the unwanted horses?” Stenholm asked. “We’ve got a tremendous number of horses of which the people that own them cannot afford to dispose of them.”
Horse slaughter plants stopped operating in the United States after the federal government took away funding for the inspection of horse meat. Funding was recently reinstated, but the future status of funding federal horse meat inspectors is uncertain, testimony revealed.
Elizabeth Choate, director of government relations and general counsel for the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, testified the cessation of horse slaughter led to decreased auction sales.
“Prices hit the floor,” Choate said, leading to an 8 to 21 percent decline per head at auction. In contrast, the economic downturn led to a 5 percent decline, she said.
Colorado showed a 50 percent increase of neglect cases, Choate said.
From 2006 to 2010, horse export increased 660 percent to Mexico and 148 percent to Canada, Choate said.
Bacon, Kaufman mayor from 2003 to 2007, told the committee a slaughter house opening would affect a city’s crime rate, infrastructure, water quality, costs to taxpayers, schools, hospitals, housing stock and future development.
Bacon showed the committee a graphic claiming that when the horse slaughter plant in the city was forced to close its doors in 2007 the crime rate “dropped like a rock.”
“I think you’d be better served to have a lead smelting plant and a bunch of sexually oriented businesses up and down the strip than a horse slaughtering plant in your community,” Bacon said.
Finch testified a new European Union law to take affect in July 2013 would be a financial hurdle for anyone seeking to profit from horse slaughter in the United States.
The new law states horses slaughtered for human consumption in Europe would have to have documentation stating they were free of certain drugs from birth to death. Most horses in the United States are given such chemicals, because they’re not raised for human consumption here, Finch said.
The United States would have to spend millions implementing a national identification system and force owners to pay hundreds of dollars per animal to enter them into a national database, Finch said.
“You’re asking for another massive government system to appease foreign companies that make a profit selling horse meat to consumers in Europe,” Finch said.
Slaughter houses won’t take sick or lame horses, and those rejected at the border are left there to die, Finch said.
No body wants to eat them, either, Dane told the committee. Dane said the average cost of euthanasia and disposal of a horse is what an owner would spend for one month’s care of that horse.
Horse slaughter does not solve a problem or cure ills. It encourages bad behavior of people breeding too many horses, Dane said. Opening the door to slaughter houses would be a black eye for the state, he said.
By The Numbers
• 5,178 horses saved from abuse or neglect at Habitat for Horses.
• 4,660 horse adoptions at Habitat for Horses.