by Jerry Finch, in collaboration with a lot of wonderful supporters
WARNING: Extremely graphic photos below.
Now that industrialized horse slaughtering has become more widely known and is under more fire from the public, a number of individuals and organizations that benefit either directly or indirectly from the industry have come to its defense. They argue that the reason to reopen the US slaughter plants is that there is a “horse problem” in the United States. In fact, they are the real problem. The poisonous, parasitic nature of horse slaughter and its apologists negatively impacts not only the rest of the horse industry, but also the communities that are forced to host these parasites.
The most obvious consequence of horse slaughter is the promotion of systematic mass breeding, which causes the horse market to be over saturated. Careless or unscrupulous horse breeders continually pump out more supply than there is demand. Before the latest economic downturn, they could be guaranteed, from this dumping ground for their excess horses, in the range of $400 to $600 per head, sometimes more, depending on weight and conformation. Handily for them, they had to expend only minimum effort for these handsome returns on their discards.
But today, while they continue to intensively breed tens of thousands of mares every year in search of a single “champion,” breeders can no longer fetch the same high prices for either their undesirable discards or their “champions.” These days, with the economy in the tank, breeders are forced to take huge financial hits not only in horse sales but in the prices they receive in the slaughter market for their best and worst horses—their “sludge” and their “stars.” Thus, many horses have suddenly turned into the equivalent of unwanted, unprofitable industrial “byproduct.”
Some vulture-like breed organizations—specifically the American Quarter Horse Association and its satellites in the paint horse and reining horse realms—not only actively promote mass breeding but are also the staunchest supporters of horse slaughter, to the dismay of most members when they discover this open secret. The AQHA’s anti-horse attitude arises from its focus on the bottom line. Quite simply, the bulk of its revenues comes from foal registration fees.
Not surprisingly, 70% of the US horses who are slaughtered are Quarter Horses, according to USDA data. Thus, you could say that the top officials in these organizations are responsible for the majority of the horse flesh peddled in the auction rings. For without the slaughter option, big-time breeders would have to take responsibility for the lives they bring to the world. That is, they would have to make drastic cuts in their obsolete, mass-production breeding programs. Of course, all small-time “backyard breeding” would also have to deal with the fact that there are no slaughter available for the “discards.” Another unintended consequence of horse slaughter is a rise in crime rates—specifically crime related to horses and property. Horse slaughter is an excellent outlet for stolen animals, providing thieves with fast cash and a way to physically destroy evidence of the crime. In fact, according to data from the California Livestock Identification Bureau, reported horse thefts dropped by 30% a year after passage of a ballot-initiative banning horse slaughter in that state. Clearly, without nearby horse slaughter plants, there are fewer incentives for thieves to steal horses.
But that’s not the only type of crime that would decrease if horse slaughter is suppressed. There’s also the wide range of crimes that pervade communities in which the plants are situated. For example, after Dallas Crown was forced to close in March 2007, a noticeable drop in general crime was observed in the area: robberies decreased by 65%, assaults by 61.7%, and car thefts by 83.3%, while murders and rapes decreased from 5-to–6 per 100,000 inhabitants to exactly zero. These drops substantiate the theory that horse slaughter is, and always has been, a magnet for con men and convicted felons. Predictably, some renowned killer buyers have rap sheets.
Also connected with horse slaughter are thousands of instances of animal transport and handling regulation violations—usually with tragic results. From not providing horses with food, water, or rest to shipping blind and lame horses, these crimes go unpunished, either because they are not reported or because, when violators are caught, the authorities in the criminal justice system are lax about enforcement. Without this deadly industry, “upstanding” individuals engaged in the cruelty so commonplace at auction sales—Leroy Baker, Terry Saulters, “Ole” Olson, and Don Nickerson, to name a few—would no longer be rewarded for their misdeeds. The horror stories from horse auctions would become a thing of the past.
In addition, since nobody really wants to work in such miserable places, horse-killing plants have to settle for employees of questionable ethics, whose backgrounds tend to include criminal records and reported troublemaking in their communities. A good many have the status of illegal immigrant. Sad to say, immigrants, especially illegal ones, are preyed upon by both small-time and big-time criminals.
Then there is the predatory, even “criminal,” nature of the horse slaughter industry itself. It subjects workers to all sorts of corporate abuses, ranging from low wages to substandard working conditions to forced overtime without compensation. This unethical industry gets away with its “crimes” because the workers have no voice, no power, no union—and thus cannot fight back. The inequality between employer and employee, combined with the high turnover associated with slaughterhouses, creates a pseudo-sweatshop environment in which workers are exploited and discarded, having no access—either on the job or after they depart—to healthcare benefits or unemployment assistance. Of course, this predator-prey relationship puts a further strain on county and state resources—that is, on taxpayers.
Worse still is the climate of violence, fear, and unrest fomented by horse slaughter, an atmosphere that often transfers to home life, resulting in episodes of domestic violence, child abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction—not exactly ideal for building healthy, prosperous, safe families or communities.
Another little-known effect of horse slaughter is the ecological and related economic damage caused to communities that host horse slaughter plants.
There are hundreds of instances of wastewater violations found in the archives of the cities and counties that host (or have hosted) a horse slaughter plant. Horse blood is difficult to treat, apparently due to the amount of antibiotics routinely administered to horses in the US. This creates a problem in the water treatment tanks at the plants.
The tanks work by decomposing organic waste by means of bacteria, creating as a final product an organically activated “mud,” which is the substrate containing the bacteria. The “mud” is then pumped back into the tank to be reused while the treated, less toxic sewage can be dumped in the city wastewater system. However, due to the high bacterial count and the time needed to treating horse blood and parts, these treatment tanks do not work properly and the plants end up overflowing into the wastewater system. Such sewage contains high levels of ammonia, which is highly toxic to aquatic species, and promotes a water condition called eutrophication, resulting in the death of all forms of aquatic life save for anaerobic bacteria, some algae or those tolerating very low oxygen concentrations.
Despite the fact that such waste exceeds the maximum allowed levels of ammonia and biological oxygen demand (BOD), the plants systematically dump it into their cities’ wastewater system or directly into the ground or in bodies of water. Such activities not only damage the ecosystem but also put a strain on a city’s wastewater treatment systems, which, after years of continuous violations, become crippled and unable to process water adequately.
Most infamous is the case of Kaufman, Texas, whose mayor, Paula Bacon, for years denounced the violations and problems caused by the Dallas Crown horse slaughter plant. Among the problems she cited in her constant updates to the Kaufman City Council were complaints from neighbors of foul smells coming from the plant; horse blood seeping out of bathtub faucets and drainage pipes and even running in the streets; varmints gathering to feed on horse parts left outside the plant. Topping it all off was the repeated failure of the city’s wastewater plant. After years and years of chronic noxious waste discharges from this “corporate neighbor,” Kaufman’s wastewater plant became unable to process all the waste it received, and City Council had no choice but to upgrade it at the expense of local taxpayers. Now that the plant is closed, the small Texan town is stuck with the loans to pay back on an oversized water treatment plant it no longer needs.
But there’s more to this mess. Not only did Dallas Crown continually violate the terms of its wastewater permit, it also refused to pay the corresponding fines, to the point of having their permit withdrawn several times. The plant then had the gall to sue City Council, which added legal expenses to the taxpayers’ burden.
Still more outrageous is the fact that when the permit withdrawal case was heard, it was revealed that Dallas Crown had managed, through its network of front companies, to pay the astounding annual sum of $5 in federal taxes, despite reported gross sales over $12 million per year. To date, the fines Dallas Crown accumulated during its years of operation have yet to be paid by Chevideco. (To learn more about this travesty, read the letter that Mayor Bacon wrote to the National Conference of State Legislatures.)
These problems were not exclusive to Dallas Crown. There are similar pollution reports, with alarmingly similar patterns, from other plants, including Cavel International in Illinois and its successor, Natural Valley Farms in Canada.
In some instances, the plants have been so inconsiderate of their neighbors that they have dumped horse parts, offal and blood into huge pits on their property or in adjacent fields; the piles of body parts soon growing to enormous proportions. Animals’ Angels Canada and the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition published a detailed report of these abhorrent deeds, which you can read here.
Some readers might be tempted to think that perhaps US and Canadian wastewater regulations are just too strict. They might also conclude, if they listen to the likes of horsemeat lobbyist Sue Wallis, that disgusted local authorities and residents who have spoken out against the plants, causing them to be spotlighted in the news, are on a “witch-hunt” against these enterprises. The truth is, however, that the same problems arise wherever horse slaughter operations open, even if local authorities are more permissive or, worse, completely ignore the problems.
According to El Sol de Zacatecas, a local newspaper, the Fresnillo horse slaughter plant (owned by the same corporation that operated Beltex in Fort Worth) in August 2008 dumped, for the fifth time, thousands gallons of blood and sewage. Two main avenues of the city were flooded, and the inner premises of a hospital were affected. Reminiscent of the industry’s practices in the US, the plant simply washed its hands on the issue, despite numerous complaints of unbearable stench, which was aggravated by suffocating summer temperatures in Mexico.
As we have seen so far, horse slaughter creates all sorts of problems for everyone it touches—human and horse alike. It is important to realize that slaughter creates an unsound horse market. By promoting the mass production of horses, the horsemeat multinationals keep in business the worst players in the horse industry—the disreputable breeders, dealers, owners, trainers. When they flood the market and the slaughter pipelines with thousands of often-untrained-or-untamed horses, they cause overall quality of horses to drop and thus overall prices of horses to fall. Then they end up pointing the finger at those who oppose slaughter, acting as though we caused the problem.
It is equally important to understand that horse slaughter causes, rather than alleviates, horse abuse and cruelty and crime and theft, as well as environmental hazards, economic woes, reduced quality of life, and safety issues. It is like a pestilence that mows down all within its reach.
So why do its advocates keep repeating the mantra about the need to keep the horse slaughter plants open? Why do they insist upon legal protection for the evil deeds perpetrated against the horses—deeds that impact not only every horse but also every human sucked into the slaughter industry’s vortex? The answer is simple – quick and easy money. Challenged to come up with any other reason, they can’t do it. The bottom line is the bloody dollar bills in their pockets.