Seattle Stew? Thanks, But No Thanks
In a perfect world, every horse would live out his entire life with one loving owner who, when the time came, would hold his head and gently stroke his neck as the vet quietly put him to sleep.
Unless you’ve been stuck in the Traffic Circle for the past two weeks, you know that on Nov. 18 President Obama signed a spending bill known as H.R. 2112 — the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012.
This bill determines budgets for various federal departments and agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through Sept. 2012. It also includes a piece of legislation that lifts a five-year ban on the slaughter of horses for meat. The ban, passed by Congress in 2006, prohibited the use of federal funding to inspect horses destined for food, effectively prohibiting domestic slaughter.
But if you’re a horse owner, or a horse lover, you’ve already read about H.R. 2112. And you probably have an opinion about it, one that is unlikely to change no matter how strong or persuasive the opposing argument may be.
If you’re vehemently opposed to horse slaughter under any circumstances, and/or believe the 2006 ban was successful in ensuring that no American horse was slaughtered during the past five years, then maybe you’ve already signed one of the many petitions being circulated around the various social networking sites. I assume these petitions will eventually make their way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but then what? Will the president be so moved that he retroactively vetoes the bill, declares the release date of “War Horse” a one-time national holiday, and adopts two C.A.N.T.E.R. horses for Sasha and Malia?
If you’re vehemently opposed to horse slaughter, but more sickened that a horse might have to endure a 24-hour ride on a cattle truck, maybe with a broken leg and almost certainly with no room to even turn his head, to a place where he will be stabbed until he falls, and then hung upside down from a chained rear leg, still breathing, so his throat can be slit…do I have to go on?
The actual details of horse slaughter are too horrific to even contemplate. Yet, the idea of additional suffering on top of it is unimaginable. There will probably never be such a thing as truly “humane slaughter,” because to chemically euthanize thousands of horses is cost-prohibitive. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) endorses both gunshot and penetrating captive bolt as acceptable forms of euthanasia.
Furthermore, chemical euthanization can result in environmental contamination or poisoning to horse meat, 90 percent of which is exported to European and Asian countries for human consumption.
The 2006 ban did not result in fewer horses being slaughtered. In 1997, according to the American Horse Council, some 90,000-100,000 horses were slaughtered in U.S. plants. After the ban shut down the three foreign-owned U.S. slaughter plants in 2007, Canada and Mexico stepped in to fill the void.
During the first three weeks of 2008, Mexico alone slaughtered 1,961 horses imported from the U.S., compared with 706 during the same time period in 2007, an increase of 178 percent. Exports to Canada rose similarly, resulting in an estimated 134,000 horses being exported for slaughter in 2008, the highest number since 2005. That 2008 figure has declined slightly because of a reduction in demand worldwide, due to the worsening economic conditions that triggered the rise in U.S. exports in the first place
These facts are all readily available to anyone with a computer and Internet capability, as is the actual breakdown of voting by the House and Senate on H.R. 2112 (298-121 for House passage, 70-30 for Senate passage). You can also find articles about abandoned horses, starving horses, struggling and insolvent horse rescues, and any other unimaginable horror that might befall our trusted companions.
But here’s the thing about the Internet, bless its high-tech, easily corrupted little heart: What passes for information is often-misinformation.
Not coincidentally, much of the misinformation is coming from the ideologically resolute, anti-slaughter-at-all-costs crowd. They feel very strongly about the issue, and their passion is evident in the long, rambling, statistically bereft dissertations they put forward as fact. I’ve seen this passion before, from the same people who couldn’t understand why Dr. Dean Richardson didn’t just perform a leg transplant on Barbaro.
If you’ve made it this far down the page, I assume you have at least a passing interest in this issue. More than a few of you have probably adopted or rescued a horse. Or multiple horses, as have I.
Occasionally, a visitor to my farm will recognize one of my slothful retired thoroughbreds from their racing days. “What a lucky horse!” is the typical reaction. To the contrary: I am the lucky one, because I have the means to care for these horses. For the majority of horses being exported for slaughter, their owners were not so lucky.
For horse lovers, it’s virtually impossible to take emotion out of the horse slaughter argument. So why don’t we put that ardor to good use? If you’re able, why not make a donation to an equine charity such as C.A.N.T.E.R., Healing Hearts, or the United Pegasus Foundation (and by “donation” I don’t mean a sick or lame horse the charity will be forced to euthanize, or a “pasture sound” horse the charity will have to maintain for life).
Or, send a check to one of the equine groups that offer free or low-cost euthanization, and help make a not-so-lucky horse owner’s painful decision a little easier. To that end, start a fund to ensure that your own horse will meet a peaceful end when the time comes. Don’t think about it; just do it.
Horse slaughter here in the U.S., while unconscionable on so many levels, is preferable to sending horses across the border to meet the same fate. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) agree. Personally, I would like to see Temple Grandin, who deserves more credit than anyone for making slaughterhouses as efficient and humane as possible for cattle, get involved.
If we all did just a little, then maybe so few of us — like the sainted people who run horse rescues — wouldn’t have to do so much.
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