From fiscal year 2006, until very recently, Congress has annually prohibited the use of federal funds to inspect horses destined for food, effectively prohibiting domestic slaughter effective 2007. Eliminating funding for inspections meant that uninspected horse meat could not be sold. Congress, faced with complaints over the unintended consequences of this ban, ordered the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study of these effects which are contained in a June, 2011 report to Congress.
Among their most noteworthy findings were a major increase in domestic horses being exported for slaughter, primarily to Canada and Mexico. From 2006 to 2010 these exports increased to Canada by 148 percent and to Mexico by 660 percent. From the animal rights groups’ perspective this made an already bad situation worse in that horses were being transported long distances to facilities which lacked the protections for humane treatment that had previously been afforded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s regulatory oversight.
With domestic slaughter facilities closed, two additional adverse effects became apparent. First, according to GAO figures covering the period 2004-2010, horse prices, per head, suffered an 8-21 percent decline at auction sales, with the greatest price drop in the lowest price category. Without the slaughter market more of these “low-cost” horses were sold at auction and in other venues often for “pennies on the dollar.”
This very cause has been cited by numerous horse owners as the reason for the spike in local reports of horse neglect and cruelty. In a July 23 telephone interview, Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain pointed to this factor as well as the depressed economy for the upsurge in such cases. Dr. Strain said that he is of the opinion that state animal cruelty laws are adequate. He did note, however, that the sheer number of these “low-cost” horses and the lack of resources to enforce these laws makes for a difficult situation.
Strain’s observations are corroborated by state veterinarians, contacted by the GAO, who also reported an increase in the number of horse abandonment, neglect and cruelty cases. Due primarily to a lack of resources, at the state level, hard data to support these conclusions were not easy to come by. Two states that did collect such data were Colorado, which showed a 50 percent increase in such investigations from 2005 to 2009 and Indiana, which showed a 100 percent increase in 2006-2009. The GAO also noted that the weak state of the national economy had contributed to the increase of horse neglect and cruelty cases.
Breaux Bridge resident Glenn Patin, who has seen firsthand the result of these factors, has worked tirelessly to address horse neglect and cruelty that he alleges has taken place next door to his home. Patin related account after account of horses being severely neglected while the situation got little to no response from animal rights organizations and law enforcement authorities. He said he feels that the organizations he has provided this information to have turned a deaf ear.
Having done exhaustive research on minimum requirements for grazing, maintenance, and health and safety standards for horses – as well as the minimum annual costs involved – Patin is of the opinion that persons who buy horses at ridiculously low prices might not have the financial means nor the knowledge to properly maintain the horses.
Patin says that he and other members of the community, horsemen in particular, are outraged by the neglect and abuse that goes on unaddressed.
Some relief in the abundant supply of cheap horse may be on the horizon. According to the Nov. 29, 2011, issue of the Christian Science Monitor, federal legislation was passed that month reinstates federal funding for USDA inspection of horse meat intended for human consumption.
According to a July 19, 2012, article in USA Today, horse slaughterhouses are being planned in Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming. In Wyoming, state Rep. Sue Wallis, who wants to run slaughter operations in Missouri and Oklahoma, says that primary customers for horse meat are abroad. She goes on to say that there are markets in dozens of countries and horse meat is 40 percent cheaper than beef, so demand is rising as Europe’s economy worsens.
While renewal of funding for USDA inspection gives a green light for meat processors to resume the slaughter of horses, that does not mean the problem of a burgeoning “low-cost” horse population and the associated problems will quickly vanish.
In Texas, where two of the last three U.S. horse slaughterhouses were operating before the 2006 ban, a long-ignored state law criminalizing horse slaughter for human consumption has been brought to the fore and upheld in federal court. To reopen Texas slaughterhouses the legislature would need to repeal the 1949 law.
And it’s not just in Texas where they don’t like the idea of eating horses.
“It’s ultimately a value question on how we value horses in the United States,” said Wayne Pacelle, national president of the Humane Society. “Last thing we’re going to do is set up a commercial operation and sell the meat of dogs and cats in other countries. It’s unthinkable!”
Pacelle disputes the GAO’s conclusion that the slaughter ban contributed to abuse, neglect and abandonment. He says that the number of U.S. horses slaughtered remained constant, around 140,000, before and after the ban, whether they were killed domestically or in other countries.
Proponents of the domestic slaughter ban say there should a ban on the exportation of horses for slaughter as well. But others say that a proven demand will stymie any attempt at choking off the supply. Temple Grandin, an animal behaviorist and consultant to the livestock industry, says horses would end up in an underground market in Mexico where “there’s no supervision at all.” Instead, she advocates humane slaughter facilities and independent video monitoring to ensure that horses are not subject to undue suffering.
While the debate rages nationally, the inhumane treatment of horses here locally will in all likelihood continue unless more resources are applied to the problem.