Thursday, March 7, 2013

What's The Beef?: Why Domestic Horse Slaughter Should be Seen as a Humane Option

Fellow 4-Hers will know that County Activities Day time is just around the corner! This Saturday our county will be coming together for demonstrations, speeches, action exhibits, and interpretive readings. It's a lot of fun, and marks the first of the qualifying 4-H events of the year. I know everyone in our club always looks forward to hanging out with friends and supporting others.

This year, I'll be doing a speech on a rather controversial topic: horse slaughter. Yes, I own horses, but I am firmly pro-horse slaughter! I feel very strongly about this issue, and am so excited to finally be presenting it! I feel the issue provides a lot of food-for-thought, so I thought you guys might be interested in reading what I have to say! This week for my multi-genre writing class we had to write persuasive pieces, so I sort of killed two birds with one stone during this project. What I'm technically showing you is the essay portion, but the speech will be almost exactly the same. :)

So without further ado....

What's The Beef?:
Why Domestic Horse Slaughter Should be Seen as a Humane Option

When asked if they've ever eaten horse meat, most Americans would reply, "Of course not!". Due to a recent scandal concerning Ikea's Swedish Meatballs substituting horse meat for beef, however, you may not want to be so sure. After an inspection in the Czech Republic, traces of horse DNA were found in the frozen meatballs intended for Ikea's in-store cafeterias and sale. Following the discover, meatballs were taken off the shelves in most European countries, including France, Hungary, Britain, and the Netherlands. it is presumed that slaughter houses, and perhaps even the manufacturers themselves, have been switching out beef for the cheaper option of horse meat. Don't worry, however, as there is no evidence that U.S. Ikea chains have been selling anything other than 100% beef.

While there's no denying that masquearading meat is a scary thought, many have taken this as an opportunity to attack the horse slaughter industry in general. Horse lovers and animal rights activists alike talk about the majesty of the horse, and demand a stop to this 'grisly practice'. Should horses be considered 'above' other livestock? Is horse slaughter really inhumane? Or ar people's opinions ruled by their emotions, rather than what is best for the horse industry?

Contrary to popular belief, horse slaughter in the U.S. has been practiced until just recently. In 2006, Congress placed a ban on the use of federal funds for inspect of horse's meat for slaughter. In effect, this ban ended the practice. In November of 2011, President Obama lifted the ban, essentially allowing the practice to start again. When acquainted with the true facts behind horse slaughter in the U.S., it's easy to see how not only individual equines but the horse industry as a whole will benefit with the legalization of horse slaughter.

The 70% of Americans who oppose horse slaughter like to argue their side with one main point:
"A symbol of grace and beauty, horses have contributed greatly to our society throughout history. They have carried us into battle, plowed our fields, and served as endless sources of inspiration. Americans hold horses in high esteem and believe they deserve respect and dignity." (HSUS,, January 24, 2013).
As a fellow horse owner, I agree that equines are graceful, athletic creatures that we should respect and cherish. However, the thinking that horses are 'above' other species of livestock is ridiculous. Just because our society has used horses as a source of transportation and recreation, rather than a source of food, doesn't make them any more essential than beef cows or swine. 

The practice of horse slaughter in the U.S. would provide another humane option to horse owners  When it comes time for an elderly horse to be put down, most owners are forced to turn to euthanizing. Vet bills, not to mention excavating costs, can easily reach over $1,000 dollars. Selling a horse to a slaughter plant would not only relieve owners of the cost, but enable all of the horse to be used instead of wasted int he ground. Furthermore, horse slaughter also provides a place for unwanted horses, whose owners are unable to care for them during this economic downturn. According to a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in June of 2011, state and local governments as well as animal welfare organizations have reported a rise in the number of horse-related investigations since 2007. In Colorado, the investigations increased from 975 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009. That is an increase of roughly 600 investigations. Many western states have also eluded to rise in the number of abandoned horses. If horse slaughter is provided as an option for horse owners, there will be a decline in the number of abandonment and neglect cases. 

It's important to realize that once the ban was created, it didn't stop American horses from being sent to slaughter. Many were simply transported over the botder to Canada and Mexico, where slaughter houses are more prevalent and, in many cases, undergo less inspection. According to the GAO, live horse exporting for slaughter increased by 148% to Canada and 660% to Mexico between the years of 2006 and 2010. In the same report, the GAO notes that roughly the same amount of American horses--138,00--were slaughtered abroad in 2010, as there were on American soil before the ban. In other words, the same number of horses were slaughtered; the only thing that changed was where. In her article Horse Slaughter in the U.S., published in The Chronicle, Leigh Ix puts into words the real effect of horse slaughter;
"Banning slaughter has not improved the quality of life for horses, nor has it helped deal with the thousands of un-cared for horses. Suffering was not decreased under the ban; it was simply moved to another country with less regulation."
In both Canada and Mexico, slaughter houses often are found to be using inhumane practices as well as failing to inspect the horse's meat for human consumption. Stockyards, feeding lotss, and assembly points also often fail to be inspected. Transport across the border--which can sometimes last the entire length of the country--is crowded and stressful. Often, horses must endure high temperatures and insufficient food and water. The fact is, if you want to talk about what is humane for the horse, domestic horse slaughter does more good than a ban ever will. No horses lived as a result of the ban. Often, they just went through more stress, and endured real inhumane practices, as there were slaughtered across the border.

Though the ban has been lifted since 2011, the actual practice of horse slaughter is still small in the U.S. In many places, individual states are still deciding where or not they want it practiced. Unfortunately, even in states where it is legal, animal rights activists are continuing to put up a fight. At the moment, New Mexico and Oklahoma are probably facing the most controversy. Rockville, a Missouri town of about 150 people, is hoping to open the first U.S. slaughter house since the ban. There is widespread support for the plant int he town, as it will create 50 new jobs. 

In the state of New Hampshire, horse slaughter is rather at a stand still. In 2011, bill H.B. 339 was introduced, which would provide a meat inspection program for all livestock species including equines. Many New Hampshire citizens worked against the bill, primarily as an effort to show that they did not support the federal government's lifting of the ban. As a result, a new bill, H.B. 1446, was introduced in 2012. This bill would provide an inspection program for all livestock, excluding equines. Currently, H.B. 1446 is under the status 'inexpedient to legislate', which means it may die in committee. 

Throughout history, Americans have valued and loved their horses. I firmly believe that horses are incredible creatures that have stood beside us during the building of our country. However, we must realize that a ban on horse slaughter does nothing to help the species. If we truly want what's best for our horses, we need to stop elevating them above other livestock. Domestic horse slaughter will give another option for elderly and un-cared for horses, will provide jobs for American people, and prove more humane than slaughter currently practiced across the border.

If you're interested in further reading on horse slaughter, take a look at these:

Your Thoughts?: What is your opinion on horse slaughter? Would you send your own horse to slaughter and/or eat horse meat? Do you believe equines to be 'above' other species of livestock, or should we simply view them as farm animals like beef cows or swine? If you're a 4-Her, what are you doing for CAD?

If you'd like to chat, please leave a comment or email me (regardless of your opinion!). Just please keep replies tasteful and polite. Thanks for reading! :)

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