Has the EU Managed To Do For U.S. Horses What Congress Would Not?

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EXAMINER.COM — OCT. 14, 2012 — Since Friday afternoon, the horse slaughter industry in the United States has been in a state of confusion. That's because quite suddenly, the Canadian slaughter plants closed their doors to any U.S. horses.

The end of May, Canadian slaughter plants stopped taking U.S. Thoroughbreds after an incident involving two racehorses and the detection of Bute residue in several horses.

Social media, horse rescues, and horse-related web sites have been buzzing with the news.

It is speculated that this may also happen with the Mexican slaughter plants. Why? The European Union (EU) is stepping up testing for banned substances for human consumption in horses exported from the U.S. because our horses are not raised for food as they are in Europe and Russia.

More than a year ago, the EU began enforcing the Equine Information Document, a horse "passport," requirement for horses slaughtered with the meat intended for Europe in preparation of a July 2013 full implementation date for all U.S. horses slaughtered.

“According to the Daily Racing Form: "[T]he systems in place for identification, the food chain information and in particular the affidavits concerning the non-treatment for six months with certain medical substances, both for the horses imported from the U.S. as well as for the Mexican horses are insufficient to guarantee that standards equivalent to those provided for by EU legislation are applied,” the Oct. 11 European Commission report said."

Kill buyers have abandoned horses (about 5,500 known) at the U.S. and Mexico border this past year that were rejected at the slaughter plant. In another horrific case, a Texas slaughter buyers' holding pens were found with severely emaciated and dead horses that had not been cared for while waiting to go across the border. Locally, I've talked with a rescue who had observed first hand the poor conditions horses purchased by a Kansas kill buyer were kept in while waiting to be transported to Mexico.

With Canada now not taking any U.S. horses, that shuts down the pipeline for about 56,000 horses annually that had been transported to Canadian slaughter plants. If the same happens in Mexico, the approximately 130,000 horses that have been going to slaughter will have to be dealt with in the U.S.

This is about 1% of the total horse population in this country. For some years, larger rescues have offered assistance to those whose elder horse needed to be humanely euthanized, but did not have the funds. Others have frequented the kill auctions, saving Mustangs and domestic horses by the thousands.

Many questions arise from the prospect of no U.S. horses being taken to slaughter. First, while there is cautious celebration in the anti-slaughter community, will the major animal welfare organizations step up to help rescues absorb these horses, a significant number of which, may find themselves abandoned by the kill buyers?

Second, will the American Horse Council, breed associations and American Veterinary Medical Association finally step up to address assisting owners with re-purposing healthy young horses or retiring elder horses? These groups have been solidly behind slaughter, will they put as much effort and funds into helping these horses find homes, sanctuary, or if needed, a humane passing, as they have into lobbying Congress to prevent bills that would have ended slaughter and transport to slaughter in the U.S. the past several years?

Further, will those who have been waiting for this day be able to step up with enough funds to assist rescues in doing more? Will animal welfare organizations be brought in to assess condition of the horses and for those where humane euthanasia is the best option, assist in helping end these animals suffering? Will breed associations finally address the base problem, that of the production of too many horses for the reduced demand? These are not new questions, though. Organizations that can have an impact, have had several years to develop solutions, but sending horses off to slaughter was still an option.

Slaughter proponents say this will kill the U.S. horse market. Slaughter itself and a slow economy have had much greater effects driving down prices of ordinary horses sold at auction. While the GAO report last year speculated that horse abandonment and neglect increased without slaughter plants in the U.S., without taking the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression at the end of 2008 into account.

The one bright spot may be that the rescues will no longer be bid up by kill buyers at an auction, or held hostage to the kill buyers' price, so they can make a quick buck on a purchased horse before spending the money to transport it across the border. On the flip side, kill buyers won't be bidding at auction, so who will be on hand to help an owner needing to re-home a horse to prevent these horses from being abandoned at the auction yard?

Last, but not least, with nowhere for the resulting meat to go, will this ultimately end the prospect of horse slaughter plants being operated in the U.S.? While several proposals are still out there, most being fought by the citizenry of the communities where they are proposed, is it a moot point if there are many fewer horses that would meet EU standards to be slaughtered? There would be USDA oversight and regulation here that would need to at least equal to what the EU requires.

Despite 80% of Americans being against horse slaughter, there will be some community desperate enough to believe the rhetoric of slaughter proponents and agree to allow a plant to be built, even with evidence of a severely diminished market for the product. Horse slaughter is not humane. It is a cruel and predatory industry that is destructive for communities in which it operates.

The reality is that a live horse contributes many times more to the U.S. economy than a dead one. And 92% of horses sent to slaughter are reasonably healthy, many trained to ride, or young horses that could have a future before them. Most recently, an investigation of 1,700 "missing" wild horses sold by the BLM is leading to the distinct possibility they were sent to slaughter, which is against the BLM requirements for purchased wild horses.

When operating, the entire horse slaughter industry in the U.S. was a $2 billion a year proposition. In California alone, horses contribute an annual $4 billion to the economy of the state, directly and indirectly. Numbers could not be found for Kansas since 2003 (the last available Ag census), but using the drop in horse ownership of about 20% the past four years, that would put about 83,000 horses in Kansas at an average $2,600 a year cost to keep at contributing more than $216 million to our state's economy.

Horse slaughter is an emotional issue on both sides. No one likes the thought of more horses abandoned and left to die a slow death of starvation. However, there are cruelty laws that can and will address this behavior when it is reported. Wichita and South Central Kansas rescues have helped countless people feed their horses or find homes for them, even when they could not take any more horses in. There are options.

Not unlike Congress, the two sides will have to come together to find solutions should the Canadian ban on U.S. horses be made permanent and should Mexico follow. That no progress has been made in five years, whether this can happen in a matter of months is yet to be seen. If transport to slaughter is off the table, will that be the needed catalyst to find lasting, truly humane solutions?