On Nov. 18, Congress and President Obama quietly lifted a ban on equine slaughter when the president signed an appropriations bill without the annual riders that prevent the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from inspecting equine slaughter plants.
And, the story stayed quiet…for a while. But, since it hit the mainstream media earlier this week, there’s been quite a bit of talk about whether equine harvesting is a good or bad thing for the U.S.
Before I start a firestorm with my opinion on the topic, it’s important to provide some background on the issue — something that most folks who are only too happy to share their snap judgment opinions don’t care to look into.
Prior to 2006, there were three equine harvesting facilities operating in the U.S. — including one in northern Illinois — with most of the meat produced being shipped overseas to countries where people regularly consume horse meat.
But, in 2006, Congress effectively outlawed equine harvesting in the United States by making it illegal for USDA inspectors to be present in equine slaughter plants.
And they did it despite warnings from equine professionals, breed associations and veterinarians across the country. They did it based on misinformation, pushing and prodding from activist groups — and because when most congressmen and women think of horses, they think of Mr. Ed.
In fact, according to Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state lawmaker and vice president of United Horsemen, the federal ban devastated “an entire sector of animal agriculture for purely sentimental and romantic notions.”
As most horse owners and organizations predicted, the elimination of equine harvesting in the U.S. lead to serious unintended consequences for the industry.
Following the cessation of equine slaughter, the value of horses across the country plummeted. Before, buyers purchasing horses for slaughter plants helped to establish a base price for other horses. But with no base price, all horses were devalued almost immediately, making it extremely difficult for owners to sell their animals.
Add to that extra hay, feed, facilities and veterinary care (during a recession, no less) for horses that owners were unable to sell and it was a hard first year for most horse owners. When asked to choose between horse expenses and living expenses, many horse owners chose the latter, leaving many horses in the U.S. neglected and starved. Worse yet, an estimated 138,000 horses spent increased time on trucks bound for slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada — both countries that still harvest horses for meat. In fact, the number of horses sent to Mexico — a county that does not have as stringent inspection or humane standards as the United States — increased more than 600 percent.
Finally, after five years with rock-bottom sale prices, neglected and starving horses, equine sanctuaries filled to the brim and, in some cases, owners turning horses loose because they could no longer care for them or sell them, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on equine slaughter. Its report detailed many of these “unintended consequences” stemming from the cessation of equine slaughter.
Which brings us back to Nov. 18 when Congress and President Obama finally lifted the ban on equine slaughter — and gained a few surprising supporters.
Of course, most equine and farm organizations across the country are standing behind Congress and President Obama. Among many other organizations, the Illinois Farm Bureau supports the full funding of federal meat inspectors for equine harvesting facilities, allowing humane harvesting operations to reopen and provide an end-of-life alternative for horses and their owners.
As a horse owner, I find myself backing the president’s decision, as well (it was surprising to me, too). But, here’s the shocking one:
PETA has jumped on the equine-slaughter-in-the-U.S.-is-a-good-thing bandwagon, too.
Yes, I’m talking about People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. If you need proof (it’s okay, I didn’t believe it either) you can check out the article posted at the Christian Science Monitor.
I never thought I would say it. Shoot, I’m sure farm and food animal organizations like the Illinois Farm Bureau never thought they would say it, either, but we agree with PETA on this issue.
Allowing equine slaughter plants in the United States to reopen and process animals is a step in the correct direction to righting the wrong Congress instigated in 2006.