TISINGER: Slaughter is more humane than ban

Sarah Tisinger

If you type the words H.R. 6598 into the online search archives of the New York Times or Washington Post, you’ll find a list of suggestions of other words to try. Not widely known outside of the equestrian world, The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503/ S. 311) is very controversial for those it concerns.

As a societal norm, Americans do not eat horsemeat. The government constitutes horses as recreational animals. Until fall of 2007, horses were bought, sold and slaughtered for the sole purpose of being shipped across seas for human consumption. There were many ethical qualms about this process before it was banned, such as horse safety during travel and the belief that horses should be treated on a higher level than cattle. However, it did serve as a necessary function in society and should be reinstated under revised conditions.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act was passed through the House on Sept. 7, 2006. The Act intended “to amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption.” Eventually, all horse slaughter plants in the United States were closed in March 2007.

It’s true that Americans don’t eat horses. However, horse slaughter was a necessary part of our society and we are now paying the price for our mistakes. Buying a horse might be cheap, but the upkeep is still expensive. Horses are being left to starve in fields due to the high costs of hay or are dropped off in pastures of equine rescue facilities, as slaughter is no longer an option. Humane euthanasia of sick horses could be an option but the price has risen to around $150 to $400, only to be buried in a pasture or go to no other use.

The rise of hay costs has put a strain on owners and adoption facilities that would readily take care of these unwanted horses. In an online article on the fight of horse slaughter, a rancher, Gary Grubb, claims it is better for horses to be killed humanely and go into the economy than to leave them in a pasture or pay large sums of money to have them taken away to be buried and forgotten. He argues, “These animals are going to have to go someplace. I understand people not wanting them to be slaughtered, but would you rather them starve to death?”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in order for horses to travel, owners must “certify that each horse is able to bear weight on all four limbs, is not blind in both eyes, is able to walk unassisted, is not a mare that is likely to foal during the trip, is older than 6 months, and has had access to food, water, and rest for 6 consecutive hours before being loaded into a vehicle.” However, it is extremely difficult to regulate and enforce.

These regulations also do not say what kind of trailer is to be used for transportation. A popular way for transporting multiple horses to slaughter uses double-decker cattle trailers. “The space available in these trailers is not sufficient for horses, which are taller and have longer necks,” wrote Toni McAllister in this month’s issue of Horse Illustrated. “Under current law, it is illegal to transport horses to slaughter in double-deck trailers, but horses bound for rodeos or other destinations can be transported in them under most state laws.”

It’s true that fewer horses are documented to being slaughtered altogether, only about 105,000 in 2007 compared to the previous 138,000, but those numbers are assuming the horses shipped to Mexico and Canada documented for recreation are used strictly for those legal purposes.

Every horse-crazy individual in the equine community remembers their first pony, the first blue ribbon from a show and the day they were forced to say good-bye. For every horse owner the thought of a favorite friend — the one who loved you no matter what kind of hair day you were having — standing in a cattle trailer for twenty-eight hours, being abused and led into a brutal slaughter is not only heart-wrenching but just plain wrong. If we lifted the ban on slaughter, the horses wouldn’t have to travel nearly as long or far, and travel can be regulated in the U.S.

Though horse slaughter is no longer allowed in the United States, unwanted horses are being sent to neighboring countries for slaughter. Unfortunately, neither the way other countries kill the animals, nor the way they ship horses are quite as humane as we would hope. The new Act of 2008 would “prohibit the sale and transport of horses to slaughter for human consumption, including horses exported to Mexico and Canada.”

The ban of horse slaughter is not the answer. The ban should be lifted, the slaughterhouses reopened and the option of humanely destroying terminal horses to be put back into the economy should be given back to the owners. Regulations on the slaughter processes and transportation methods must be strengthened. If the nation can find a way to regulate the transport and slaughter of horses that feed people and allow horses to die in dignity, then everyone in the horse industry can be happy and sleep at night knowing they’ve done the right thing.

— Sarah Tisinger is a sophomore in pre-journalism and mass communication from Bettendorf.