It’s been quite some time since I’ve talked about horse processing. But with the bipartisan passage through the House and Senate of the H2112, The Conference Committee Report on Spending, which among other things, funds the USDA, there’s been quite the controversy stirred up again about Horse Slaughter. The President approved the bill and signed it on November 18th. How this affects horses is simple. Only a few states, Texas, being one of them, make it illegal to process horse meat.
Let’s begin by debunking the myth that horse slaughter became “illegal”. What forced the closures of the processing plants the US had, was the bill passed in 2005, prohibiting funding to pay USDA meat inspectors to inspect horse meat, for human consumption, bound for dinner plates overseas.
With that said, those of you who have been reading here for quite some time, know that I make no qualms about being in favor of processing facilities. However, a few weeks ago, I wrote, what I think, is probably my most eloquent explanation on the need for them, and I thought I’d share it here. I’d love to have a dialogue with you if you can be nice.
The term, “humane” is a human notion and by very definition applies to humans. It’s one to which the horse doesn’t relate. The horse understands and lives in the moment. And by treating a horse as a human, we’re disrespecting them. I’m not saying this is cause for abuse. I’m saying we need to treat a horse like he is- as a horse. I’ve written an entire diatribe on the difference between animal rights and animal welfare, so before you go thinking I’m just mean, you should go read this.
Further, I’m not saying we can’t do slaughter better. I’d love to see a facility designed by Temple Grandin, placed on several hundred acres where horses can eat some grass and live normally for the last few hours of their life. I’d also like to see facilites in about every 3rd -5th state. That would do away with the long trailer rides. I’m also in favor of only transporting them in trailers designed for horses.
What I’m not in favor of is
1) People’s emotions running amok which is what got the horse into this mess.
2) People spewing forth untruths. If you didn’t spend a couple hours reading the GAO report on the State of the Horse Industry (if you did, good for you! I did too!) I’d prefer NOT to hear from you. If you’ve read it and still think we can save them all, good for you. I applaud your passion, though I vehemently disagree with you.
3) People who tout and, or believe that breeders haven’t stopped breeding due to the state of the market. It’s not true. I know at least a six breeders (ourselves included) who have changed their breeding program due to the market- why breed horses the market won’t support? There are also many people who bred horses for a living that have left the industry due to horses being worth next to nothing.
4) I am not in favor of are people refusing to look at the facts, logically.
5) I despise those that spread mistruths- those people that believe breeders get tax incentives without talking to breeders first. If they’re (tax incentives) available we’re certainly unaware of them. Or the myth that all the horses that end up in the killer have bute (a carcinogenic) in their systems. We don’t, as a rule, take our horses to the vet, and rarely do I use Bute in my horses. I do keep it on hand, but I can tell you that most all the horses we send, have never ever had a dose of bute. While I can’t speak for other ranchers, I’d venture to say that many of the horses they send are also bute free.
I have heard it said that 70% of Americans are opposed to horse slaughter. That’s well and good, but of those 70% how many are actually horse owners? According to 2007 numbers of the AVMA, only 1.8% of US households actually own a horse. So essentially people who are unwilling to take on the responsibility of a horse, are continuing to throw fits, when they clearly don’t have all the facts. It is expensive to keep a horse. And if you can’t feed your family, how are you supposed to feed your horse? If you can’t afford to feed your horse, how are you supposed to pay to put him down (and if he’s perfectly good why would you want to?)? If you can’t put him down, and can’t feed him and can’t find a rescue to take him, what do you do with him? Previously, they’d take him to a sale barn, and he may or may not go to the kill buyer. But now, you take that horse to the sale barn, and it may actually cost you money (that you may or may not have) to sell that horse.
People who were/are in the equine industry knew that what did happened would happen. These weren’t “unintended” consequences. This is exactly what we expected to happen. If there were no floor price on your car when you needed to be done with it, (as in scrap metal) a lot of you would be upset with that because you’d have something worthless that you couldn’t even give away- save for to your local junk man- assuming you have one. A team of researchers at Utah State actually did a study on the industry in 2008- here’s what they have to say: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. And here’s where you can read what the industry looked like in 2007. If, for example, we made it say, illegal to sell houses to a certain sector of the economy, that’d be like telling a contractor, “I realize you build houses for a living, but guess what? You can no longer sell your houses in such and such a market.” Your career as a home-builder is now jeopardized and you would be all kinds of upset. As much as anti-slaughter folks hate to look at horses as a business, an entire sector of the economy, one that was the third largest in GDP has been destroyed. But it’s okay if we ruin people’s careers, livelihoods, and passions. We’re saving horses, right?
I love my horses as much or more than every other “horse lover”, as I choose to make my living, however sparse at times it may be, from the back of a horse; but I also love my horse enough to let him have a purpose in life and death. That doesn’t mean that every horse I ever own will go to the kill pen when his life is over. But I have sent horses to fill a Frenchman’s belly. It’s much kinder to do that than to have them die in a nasty South Dakota winter; or starve to death because his teeth have fallen out of his head and he can’t eat. Most times if that’s the case, we’ll help them along, but we don’t like it to get to that point, so we send them off before they get there.
I’m not sure exactly what happened that has made it culturally acceptable to butcher cows and eat them, but not acceptable to butcher horses. So many of us have forgotten that up until the 70s horse meat was available in many local meat markets.
The “unwanted horse” problem is compounded in the Western US (South Dakota being in the Western US), on many Reservations. The feral horse population is estimated to be 60k on the Navajo reservation; upwards of 20k on others. Many Native Americans that made their living riding and training these horses have been left destitute due to the price that trained horses are currently bringing; and the overflow of horses is ruining the landscape- killing off precious vegetation for other species- and that problem is worse on the drought ridden Navajo Reservation. Grass isn’t infinite, contrary to what many animal rights advocates will argue. Horses are much harder on the ground than cloven-hooved animals. People around the country are now giving horses away that are trained, if they can find someone to take them, so anyone who trained a good using horse, may have trouble getting their money (read: time) out of a horse they’ve trained. Oh they may be able to sell him, but for a penance of what their time is actually worth. I suppose to make it more relatable, let’s say your job warrants $20/hour, but there’s now too many of you in the field, so the economy will only handle paying you minimum wage now. I bet you’d be all kinds of thrilled about that- especially if what you’re doing for a living is your passion, something you’ve always wanted to do. And maybe it’s all you know how to do. What are you going to do now?
I know that for many, I’ve wasted my breath. I’m not going to change the minds of the militant anti-slaughter folks, but there are many of you on the fence that are open-minded enough to realize that this issue is truly about doing what’s right for the horse. I’m not trying to tell anyone that they have to send their horse to be dinner; I’m simply asking folks to be open-minded enough to allow that as an option.
From what I understand and have read, it sounds like the USDA is gearing up to do it better this time, but I fear even that won’t satiate a lot of you who say it will. I would encourage all of you to read up on what’s truly going on (look at the numbers- I believe at one time in the late 80s, to early 90s we processed almost 300k horses in one year). Start thinking logically, and realize that good horses aren’t an accident. Someone put thought into that breeding; and if you don’t have people around to put thought into breeding you’ll be left with whatever someone who decided a baby horse “would be cute to have” making those decisions, or performance horse folks who aren’t necessarily concerned with raising “gentle”, trainable horses. I’m certain that’s not what the industry, or those of you that have been around a nice horse want or need either.
PS. Comments will be kept open as long as people can be nice. If you’re mean, disrespectful, or start with personal attacks, you will be banned.