Chapter horse slaughter
This is a draft chapter of a proposed book: Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy
The following serves as an essay on horse slaughter. We deconstruct the horse slaughter issue in detail. We also have a strategy and resource document for horse slaughter. And we are sponsoring a $1,000 YouTube Horse Slaughter Contest.
And for those writing about the horse slaughter issue, please feel free to copy any of this content.
FOBs interest in Horse Slaughter
As the FOB community emerged and interest in all things Barbaro became far reaching Mrs. Jackson (Barbaro's co-owner) started speaking out against horse slaughter. The Jacksons became a signatory on a collective letter from the owners of the Kentucky Derby winners, which called for the end of horse slaughter. This initiative was organized by Staci and Arthur Hancock, breeders of three Kentucky Derby winners, Gato Del Sol, Sunday Silence and Fusaichi Pegasus. Part of the impetus for this letter stemmed from the sad fact that racing stars such as Kentucky Derby winner and subsequent horse of the year Ferdinand, and Exceller who defeated two Triple Crown winners, had been slaughtered.
Amid this atmosphere it is easy to understand how the Fans of Barbaro (FOBs) became vested in the horse slaughter issue. And ultimately FOBs have become a considerable force within the anti-slaughter community, bringing a larger grass roots effort to the anti-slaughter cause.
The following is a timeline and progress of Horse Slaughter legislation since 2006, which marks the beginning of FOB involvement. This is not to suggest that FOB involvement has exclusively enabled these developments, but certainly the FOB's support of the anti-slaughter movement has been helpful.
In September of 2006, The House of Representatives bill (HR 503) was passed by a vote of 263 to 146. The bill then went to the Senate but was initially delayed, as an incorrect version of the bill had been sent to the Senate. Since the bill was not voted on on the Senate side the bill died by the end of 2006, which was also the end of the two-year cycle of the 109th Congress.
There were three operational horse slaughter houses in the United States at the beginning of 2007. Two in Texas and one in Illinois.
In March 2007 the two slaughter plants in Texas were closed down. In September of 2007 the final slaughter house in Illinois was closed down. The three slaughter plants were closed down due to state legislation. This type of progress inspired the Fans of Barbaro to continue the fight to end horse slaughter at the Federal level, while acknowledging that there was a long road ahead.
The closing down of domestic slaughter plants derailed the major arguments put forth by the pro-slaughter lobbies of American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) (and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)). Their public rationale for supporting horse slaughter was that it was better to slaughter our own horses, where we have jurisdiction over the slaughter process, than to export the slaughter of our horses across borders where we have no oversight. (It is important to note that at that time horses were still also being exported for slaughter to Mexico and Canada). Sadly the AQHA and AAEP (and AVMA) remained steadfast in their support for horse slaughter once domestic slaughter was effectively ended, shifting their rationale to an "unwanted horses" argument and an "unintended consequence" argument of all the horses now shipping across the borders. The latter argument was understood by the anti-slaughter lobby when we were pressuring to close down domestic slaughter. The "unintended consequence" aspect however is simply that it was assumed the AQHA and AAEP (and AVMA) would now support a federal end to horse slaughter once the only option for slaughter was shipping slaughter-bound horses across our borders where we have no control. The persistant support for horse slaughter, despite the change in the conditions of horse slaughter (no domestic slaughter), is a clear signal that the real rationale for support for horse slaughter by the AQHA, AAEP (and AVMA) is other than stated.
The reality is that domestic slaughter is only over until another state, that does not have horse slaughter legislation in place, opens up a horse slaughter plant. South Dakota tried to do this in early 2008 (SOUTH DAKOTA HORSE SLAUGHTER BILL DEFEATED). North Dakota is looking into the issue: ND ARTICLE - STUDY RE: NEW SLAUGHTERHOUSE. This underscores the importance of passing legislation at the Federal level. Legislation at the Federal level also addresses the issue of transportation for slaughter. Thus horses would not be allowed to ship to Canada or Mexico for slaughter if federal legislation is passed.
The Senate Bill (S 311) was voted out of committee on November 14, 2007. While the intent at this stage is for a pending bill to go to the Senate floor for a vote, the reality is that a Senator can put a hold on the bill, effectively delaying its vote. Senator Larry Craig (ID) placed this hold. The Bill never reached the floor for a vote. The House Bill (HR 503) remained in committees (Agricultural Committee and Commerce and Science Committee).
While progress has been made over the short time Fans of Barbaro have been engaged in the fight to end horse slaughter, it was becoming evident that more effort was needed to really bring about change. As a result, in March of 2008 Fans of Barbaro participated in Americans Against Horse Slaughter, an event FOBs also helped organize. With about 100 people descending on Washington for the horse slaughter issue, this was the largest lobbying event in the short history of the anti-slaughter movement, which began in 2001. The goal was to help generate more co-sponsors both in the House and in the Senate.
Both Bills remained "status quo" through 2008, although additional co-sponsors came on board.
In July, a new House Bill (HR 6598) was introduced with language that addressed some of the concerns of those Congressmen who had not yet signed on as co-sponsors of HR 503. It was also introduced via the Judiciary Committee, a committee that was considered more friendly to the horse slaughter issue than either the Agricultural Committee, or the Commerce and Science Committee where HR 503 was languishing. Representative Goodlatte is the ranking Republican Member of the Agricultural Committee and a strong advocate for horse slaughter. HR 6598 was voted out of the Judiciary Committee but unfortunately the bill was referred to the Agricultural Committee, essentially ending the bill's progress for the 110th (2007-2008) Congress.
The 111th Congress and a new administration. HR 503 was introduced in January and is in the Judiciary Committee. This bill mimics the previous HR 6598 of the 110th Congress. Confusing for sure. The Senate introduced a similar bill in late March.
And several states are introducing horse slaughter legislation to either create a resolution in opposition of HR 503 or to change state laws to enable private investment in horse slaughter plants. A resolution gives federal legislators “cover” in their district if they decide to vote against the federal ban, because the legislators of their state have asked Congress to oppose the ban. There is no binding or truly meaningful impact. Arkansas adopted such a resolution April 2, 2009. Illinois has attempted to overturn the ban on Horse Slaughter in it's state. At the end of March this legislation was delayed. Montana passed a bill that creates incentives for private investment in Horse Slaughter.
Even as States look to promote Horse Slaughter, Horse Slaughter for human consumption is currently not an option in the US since funding of USDA horse meat inspections was withdrawn in 2006 and every year since. While slaughter houses paid for their own meat inspection in 2007 after the funding withdrawal, the implementation of that rule was struck down by a court as improper by the courts. Federal meat inspection is required for all meat for human consumption that travels over state or country borders.
A Civic Lesson
For many FOBs, this was their first involvement in governance and trying to create change. The euphoria that erupted in September 2006, when the House bill was voted for overwhelmingly (263 - 146) was soon tempered when it was realized that for horse slaughter to end at the federal level the bill needed to also be voted for in the Senate, and then signed off by the President of the United States. It was late in 2006 and thus close to the end of the two-year cycle of the 109th Congress. We simply ran out of time. We had to start again in 2007, although it was thought that with the recent progress and positive vote in the House, that ending horse slaughter in the 2007 - 2008 two-year cycle of the 110th Congress should be achievable.
Congress works in two-year cycles, and a bill needs to be voted for on the floor in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then signed by the President before it can be written into law. The end of 2006 was the end of the 109th Congress. 2007 - 2008 was the next opportunity for this to happen. Bills can be introduced both in the House (HR 503) and the Senate (S 311) simultaneously. These are referred to as "companion" bills, and once one bill is voted on positively in either the House or the Senate, then the bill is moved over to the other side for a vote. For example, if the House bill receives a positive vote, then the Senate bill moves out of committee to the Senate floor OR the House bill can move to the Senate floor directly. The latter is not as likely but is not impossible- it all depends on the level of support.
The bills start in committee(s) and remain in committee(s) until they are voted on positively by those in those committees. They can then be added to the calendar for a vote on the floor. During their times in committees, committee members discuss and amend the language of the bill, until the bill is ready to be voted out of the committee, or the bill dies in committee.
Bills are introduced by a sponsoring Congressman (Whitfield (KY) for HR 503 and Conyers (MI) and Burton (IN) for HR 6598) in the House, and by a sponsoring Senator (Senator Landrieu LA for S 311) in the Senate. Those pushing for the bills, and thus law changes, (HSUS and AWI) work with the sponsoring Congressman or Senator to introduce the bill.
To push a bill out of committee the "grass roots" strategy is to attempt to gain co-sponsors of the bills or to contact committee members directly to encourage the committee members to move the bill out of committee. Co-sponsors for a bill are other Congressmen or Senators, other than the original sponsors, who are showing their public support for the bill prior to it coming up for a vote on the floor. Co-sponsorship signals the popularity of the bill and the likelihood of the bill's success when brought to a vote. The rationale for the latter is that a co-sponsor also means a vote, although there are exceptions.
If the majority of Senators or Congressmen are co-sponsors of a bill, the sponsor(s) can request a discharge from the committee(s). All the co-sponsors must then sign a petition. However moving a bill out of committee(s) is also dependent on the "position" of the chairman and members of the particular committee(s). It is therefore important to have a chairman and ranking member who are supportive of your bill (Goodlatte has served both positions on the Agricultural Committee for instance). Similarly, if the chairman of the committee is in favor of a bill, and the majority of committee members are also in favor, then a majority of Congressmen or Senators as co-sponsors is not necessary. The committee can choose to vote the bill out of committee for a floor vote independent of the number of co-sponsors.
There are reasons why a Congressman or Senator will support a bill when it comes to a floor vote, yet will not publicly co-sponsor a bill. Why tip your hand when many bills never come up for a vote? Co-sponsorship activity also goes on the public record much like votes. And ultimately avoiding co-sponsorship enables a Congressman or Senator to not upset those with opposing views, before it is necessary to vote. The reality is there is a lot of gaming in Washington. Publicly supporting a bill of a colleague may be due to a variety of reasons, some of which may be due to the content of the bill, some of which may be due to favors owed from previous bills and other reasons outside the context of the specific bill.
If the number of co-sponsors of a bill is not a majority, and thus does not force a bill to a vote on the floor, and the committee(s) in which the bill is in does not vote favorably to move the bill out of committee, a final option is to ask the Speaker of the House (Reid) or Senate (Pelosi), who control their respective calenders, to put the bill on the calender for a vote.
The reality is that there is a finite allotment of time available for bills to be voted on, and thus it is important to realize that with horse slaughter legislation, we are not only in a fight with the pro-slaughter lobby to gain this legislation, but we are also competing with all other causes that are seeking to affect some change in the law. Currently we are in a war, a recession and 2008 was an election year. The potential for a horse welfare bill becomes more challenging in such conditions.
It is also important to note that the Speaker will not want to put the bill on the floor for a vote if the feeling is the bill won't be voted on positively. A bill that is voted on positively signals positive work of the Congress. A bill that does not get its votes stymies the work of Congress.
Losing the vote on a bill also sets the legislation back for future times that the bill, or a similar bill, comes up for a vote. Thus having the appropriate number of co-sponsors (a majority) is the best way to make the case that the bill will be voted for positively on the floor.
Even if a bill is voted out of committee for a subsequent vote on the floor, the bill can still be blocked prior to a vote. This was the case on the Senate side in 2008, as Senator Larry Craig (ID) placed a hold on S 311 in December of 2007 after it was voted out of committee. The Senate allows these types of holds, the House does not.
It is far easier to prevent change than to create change in Washington.
The media is an effective tool for both the anti-slaughter and pro-slaughter communities. The pro-slaughter side has used the media to great effect, seeding articles that have wrongly tied horse neglect and abandonment cases to an end of domestic slaughter. Jeffrey McMurray wrote such a story for the AP in March 2007. The story was published in more than 200 news outlets. Congressman Whitfield (KY) released a statement refuting the claims that were made in the story about loose horses running around Kentucky KENTUCKY: No abandoned horses found. Sadly these stories are easy for general audiences to believe and are a significant weapon in the fight to make the case for horse slaughter. Media stories also impact politicians as they are easily forwarded to their aides and so forth by "concerned" citizens. These stories serve to allow politicians to justify their position on a bill without researching the veracity of the claims made in the articles.
To counter these types of stories the anti-slaughter side works to have stories written about the atrocities of horse slaughter, just to make sure the general population is aware of the practice of horse slaughter and its inhumanity. Celebrities have also been involved in promoting these stories, including Bo Derek and Paul Sorvino. Celebrities are obviously absent on the pro-slaughter side.
More anti-slaughter stories have appeared in the media recently and parts of the horse racing industry have realized they can no longer ignore the fate of horses shuffled off their racetracks. Despite this the NTRA does not currently support horse slaughter legislation (H.R. 6598) and in fact has provided funding for Goodlatte who has made a career out of blocking horse slaughter legislation. The NTRA's decision to not support the current horse slaughter legislation was received by a swift reply from horsemen (ABERCROMBIE'S STRONG PITCH TO END SLAUGHTER).
The anti-slaughter side also has one or two "friendly" media outlets that will publish stories at our asking. Having media that is anti-slaughter is very important. And the reality is, regardless of the media source, Google and Google News assures that all media stories can get wide reach. And this reach can be driven by the pro- and anti-slaughter communities who take articles supporting their side and forward along.
It has become important, to increase the effectiveness of Fans of Barbaro as an anti-slaughter group, to work to get stories of Fans of Barbaro out into the media. Each of the stories may have somewhat of a different focus, but they all note the horse slaughter problem from an anti-slaughter perspective. More recently we have started writing our own press releases in order to accomplish this. In 2008 alone, we have received more than 25 media stories covering Fans of Barbaro's work, from the Toronto Star to the Houston Chronicle.
FOBs and the Wider Anti Slaughter Community
Washington Lobby Groups
The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are the two main Washington DC lobbying organizations for ending horse slaughter. AWI was first on this issue (2001) and helped write the first piece of legislation (HR 3781 during the 107th Congress, 2001 - 2002 cycle). HSUS came in later (2006) but has more resources.
AWI and HSUS network within Washington, help develop legislation, and determine strategy regarding passing anti-slaughter legislation with the sponsors of the anti-slaughter bills.
Doris Day Animal League was a main player in the movement but has been absorbed by HSUS.
Grass Roots Groups
Grass roots efforts support those in Washington DC. To enable these grass roots efforts there about six different Yahoo Groups and a number of Facebook Groups.
Humanity Against Horse Slaughter (email@example.com) is the larger of the Yahoo Groups and was started in 2003. BAN HORSE SLAUGHTER IN CANADA is the largest Facebook Group with more than 4,000 members.
A grass roots group engages citizens for the cause and works with leaders within government and lobby organizations to develop strategy. Some grass roots groups also do their own research and investigative work. Humanity Against Horse Slaughter takes it's legislative direction from AWI.
As the FOB community took shape over the horse slaughter issue there were more than one anti-slaughter leader (from other anti slaughter grass roots groups) vying for support to lead the anti-slaughter efforts of FOBs. It was, however, determined that for the FOB community to establish itself as an independent force within the anti-slaughter community, while working with other grass roots groups, it needed its own leaders. This would also insure we would not fracture the FOB community by choosing one of the aforementioned groups' leaders over another. Debra and Shelley took on this task and developed a daily strategy for call lists with their contacts in Washington DC.
Cooperation among anti-slaughter groups is stymied by the need for secrecy in terms of planning strategy. Secrecy is needed to avoid alerting the pro-slaughter side to our strategy. That secrecy can also be perceived as lack of trust between the different anti-slaughter groups. Secrecy also disrupts a free-flow of information throughout the anti-slaughter community which further disrupts its effectiveness. This also results in individual groups wanting to dominate the grass roots landscape, and being closed to the idea that there are multiple groups that need to work together.
Essentially, it is very difficult for the anti-slaughter community to effectively work together as one team given the current structure and relationships. (Goodbye 2 Anti-Slaughter "Movement")
Adding to these problems, ABR and FOBs not only support the fight to end horse slaughter, but also rescue horses within the slaughter pipeline. FOBs have come under pressure from other anti-slaughter groups and leaders who do not work with anyone involved in the slaughter process. Fundamentally there is significant tension between those who work within the horse slaughter system to save horses, and those who want to disrupt the horse slaughter system and alienate those within the system. Some horse rescue veterans even label anti-slaughter advocates as "anti-rescue". The anti-rescue sentiment is driven by three concerns of some of the anti-slaughter veterans:
b. Rescuing a horse from slaughter enables those who work in the slaughter pipeline (kill buyers), by paying a premium for the horse rescued. This makes the business of horse slaughter more attractive. This post aptly describes the dilemma: Joe at TB Friends needs HELP!!!
c. The money used to rescue horses (FOBs have raised more than $1m so far) could be better used to support lobbying efforts to end horse slaughter.
Other Animal Welfare Groups
It is also important to note that there are additional Animal Welfare groups that advocate ending horse slaughter, even if they are not working on the issue directly as AWI and HSUS is. A good example is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA's views are extreme as are their practices for gaining attention. PETA also advocates the banning of horse racing. As an example see: PETA continues attack on Larry Jones. PETA also advocates ending the slaughtering of all animals. This creates a couple of problems for ABR and FOBs. We are a horse racing web-site, and as such cannot align ourselves with organizations like PETA. We are also singularly focused on the horse slaughter issue, and not the slaughter of other livestock. Part of the "slippery slope" argument, the major concern of the Agricultural and Veterinary lobbies, is that if horse slaughter is banned then cows, pigs etc. cannot be far behind.
Thus while there are many groups supporting the end of horse slaughter, some of these groups differ on other animal welfare issues, and those differences create tension for positive working relationships and for developing consistent arguments and rationale for ending horse slaughter. The agendas of many animal welfare groups also disengage horsemen from the horse slaughter issue as they are intent on disrupting horsemens' sports.
There is also a criticism leveled at animal welfare groups, that their concern for the horse slaughter issue is also driven by fundraising goals.
Animals' Angels is an example of an investigative Animal Welfare group. FOBs support Animals' Angels. Animals' Angels' work highlights problems within the horse slaughter pipeline. Their reports are of conditions at feedlots and kill auctions, during transportation, and at slaughter plants. They help put pressure on the slaughter business to try to make it more humane while also attempting to disrupt the business of horse slaughter. Animals' Angels also documents infractions of the law.
Americans Against Horse Slaughter
The organization of the Washington Lobbying efforts of Americans Against Horse Slaughter was, in part, designed to show cooperation among all anti-slaughter groups. It was held in March 2008. Members from many of the groups did attend and from that perspective the lobby event was successful. Sadly follow up from the event has indicated that relationships that could have been developed from the event to create more cohesion among the groups have not really materialized.
It's an Animal Welfare Issue
The reality is that most of the groups that are fighting to end horse slaughter are animal welfare groups, not horsemen's groups (the AQHA and vet organizations are pro-slaughter and the racing industry is for the most part neutral INDUSTRY ORGANIZATION POSITIONS ON SLAUGHTER). Animal Welfare groups have other issues and goals on which to focus and to prioritize as they try to develop animal welfare legislation in Washington for all animals. Horse slaughter may or may not be their most important issue. There is a risk that the issue is "traded" for support on other animal welfare issues.
There are online groups that are specific to horses and horse slaughter, yet the membership of these groups are for a large part also focused on broader animal welfare issues.
Essentially to lend more weight to the horse slaughter issue we need to engage horsemen's groups that have a singular focus on the horse. Even then, these groups have other horse-related legislation to prioritize (for example the NTRA's priority for internet gambling which has necessitated a switch from an anti-slaughter position to a neutral stance on horse slaughter).
Horsemen's groups should work with the existing animal welfare groups to move horse slaughter legislation forward. Again this is easier said than done.
Some of the work of Animal Welfare groups is designed to either end, or radically change, the sports within which horsemen participate. Thus while many horsemen certainly love their horses and are not pro-slaughter, they are also not supportive of organizations that disrupt their sport, whether it be horse racing, rodeo, eventing or other horse-related sports. This leads horsemen to not only a dis-engage with the horse slaughter issue, but also a propensity to believe the key pro-slaughter arguments; that there are too many unwanted horses, and horse slaughter is humane.
There is no cogent strategy that the anti-slaughter community follows. Different factions develop their own tactics, some of which work in cooperation with other tactics, some of which do not. This is clearly illustrated by an initiative undertaken to gain the attention of the Obama administration in late 2008. A petition was established on the change.org site to garner support for the horse slaughter issue. Shortly thereafter another petition was launched on the same site, for the same purpose, by AWI. There are many problems that this issue illustrates and the outcome is that neither petition garnered enough votes to be considered as an important issue for animal welfare. Combine the lack of cogent strategy with the distrust between Animal Welfare groups, between Animal Welfare groups and horsemen, and it is easy to understand why this issue is so difficult to resolve effectively.
The Horse Slaughter Pipeline Explained
In North America horses are not simply dropped off at the slaughter house by their owners. Geography simply does not allow this for the majority of horses that are slaughtered. There are seven federally licensed slaughter houses in North America. All are based in Canada. There are also slaughter plants based in Mexico. Horses are scattered throughout North America. It is not cost effective to drop a horse off.
The majority of horses that are slaughtered arrive at the slaughter plants via kill buyers. Kill buyers receive contracts from the slaughter plants and need to deliver certain numbers of horses to satisfy those contracts.
Kill buyers attend major kill auctions throughout the United States. There are also many smaller auctions which serve as feeder auctions to either the larger auctions or directly to the kill buyers' feedlots. And horses may simply go directly to kill buyers' feedlots from their previous owners, avoiding auctions entirely.
Horse dealers attend the smaller horse auctions and have working relationships with the kill buyers. Some kill buyers are horse dealers. Some horse dealers are kill buyers. Horses that dealers purchase can be resold to private buyers or sold on through the slaughter pipeline to the kill buyers.
There are a number of "entry points" to the horse slaughter pipeline. Some of the entry points are obvious to the horse owner. Some less obvious. Placing an advertisement in a local magazine or on the internet (craigslist for example). Perhaps, perhaps not. Running a horse through a local auction. Maybe. It depends who the purchaser of the horse is. A horse dealer may pick up the horse with the intent to resell the horse to another owner. Intentions change. And the dealer may have a relationship with a kill buyer for horses he cannot resell. He may also simply collect horses as he goes from auction to auction. For those he cannot resell, he can ship those horses to a larger kill auction or directly to a kill buyer's feedlot. Thus even if the local auction is not considered a kill auction, it can certainly serve as a feeder auction for an auction that has kill buyers in attendance. And sadly some horses are simply misappropriated into the slaughter pipeline from unsuspecting sellers (Example: Looking For One Eyed Harry).
Abuse of the Laws
Horses cannot legally ship in Double Deckers trailers in the United States if they are heading to slaughter. They can in Canada. Horses cross the border in Double Decker trailers as non-slaughter, their destination is simply a feedlot, a step away from slaughter. The lack of enforcement of laws makes it easy for shippers to do this. Either the intent of the law is being circumvented, or enforcement of the law is haphazard. Double Deckers are the preferred means of transportation for the slaughter business as they are more cost effective.
The summer of 2008, 40 mares and 6 stallions were discovered in a feedlot in Arizona. They had shipped from California without a coggins. Fortunately they were saved. The horse slaughter business is illegal in California. A coggins is required for horses shipping across state lines for horses that are not destined for slaughter.
Not only is the practice of horse slaughter inhumane, and the "system" to get horses to slaughter inhumane, but the entire practice promotes additional inhumane and illegal behavior (Leroy Baker fined $162,800. YEA BABY!!!). And encourages the misappropriation of horses, for slaughter (PA-Stolen Horses).
What's Wrong With Horse Slaughter
Horse Slaughter is Inhumane
The horse is a flight animal, and moreso than cows which have been bred for docility. Horses are only a few generations (a couple or so) from the wild type and so are programmed to behave largely as they did in nature. I.e. to run away from things that spook them. The process of slaughter is not designed specifically for horses, which have longer necks and typically balk away from something they fear. And horses sense fear. This makes the actual slaughter process less precise and there are many examples cited of horses not being rendered senseless by the first hit by a captive bolt gun which is the most common method used in North America during the slaughter process (see the report from the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition for examples: Black Beauty Betrayed: The Slaughter of US and Canadian Horses). Unfortunately, the captive bolt gun requires accuracy for effectiveness. While the veterinarian groups of AAEP and AVMA advocate that horse slaughter is humane, many veterinarians disagree. Dr. Nick Dodman has been outspoken on the inhumanity of horse slaughter. Dr. Hogan has provided testimony in Congress in 2006 in support of HR 503.
The process of collecting and shipping horses to slaughter is also inhumane. Horses in the US go to slaughter via kill buyers, due to the large geographic area of North America. Individual horse owners would find it very costly and time consuming to bring horses themselves to slaughter and some slaughter houses do not accept "owner drop-offs". Slaughter-bound horses are put through auction after auction, into kill pens grouped with many other horses and then shipped to slaughter over long distances in crammed conditions. The entire experience is alien to most horses which have been well looked after their entire lives. While this experience is exacerbated by the ban on domestic slaughter, even with domestic slaughter, the US is so large that unless slaughter can be localized the collecting and shipping process will always be inhumane. It also is important to note that when the horse slaughter plant in Illinois was open, horses were being shipped to Canada for slaughter from the New Holland kill auction. Thus, we have always shipped horses to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. Exporting horses for slaughter is simply happening more so now with the elimination of domestic slaughter.
Horses are not bred for the foodchain
With few exceptions (in Alberta Canada and possibly in some parts of the States) horses are bred for sports, work and leisure and not for the foodchain. Horses are humanized and are taught to trust as they serve our needs. Disposing of horses in this fashion after they have served us simply is not the right thing to do.
Most slaughter-bound horses have also been administered a variety of drugs through their lifetime. Even a common worming drug is labeled as not fit for animals for human consumption. Thus there really is no assurance that even if you can justify horse slaughter, a horse that is slaughtered may actually not be fit to eat. It is also important to note that in the European Union beginning July 2009, where the majority of US horse meat is being exported, horses that are slaughtered for human consumption must include documentation that they are free of drugs that would not be fit for human consumption. No such assurance can come from horse meat imported from North America and Mexico at this time, although similar rules are being considered (New EU rules for slaughter). There is also no means in place to track horses, in North America, that are slaughtered in order to determine their source of origin in case of a tainted food scare. This is not the same for cattle that are slaughtered (Origin of horses slaughtered?). The following essay from a food critic highlights the concerns of horsemeat from a food safety standpoint: Behind the barn door.
The irony is that horse meat is marketed as a healthy alternative to other meats in parts of Europe and Asia.
Horses and Human Civilization
Horses have had more impact on the development of human civilization than any other animal or technology. Empires were built on the back of the horse. Wars were won by the side with the most horses. Up through the middle of the 1800s, people relied on horses for war, agriculture, transport and leisure. We are who we are today thanks to the horse (Equine Alternative and Our Debt to the Horse).
Sadly for the horse, its importance for human progress has been undermined by the industrial revolution and subsequent technologies. Sadly for humans, as it is a clear illustration of our nature, horses are now surplus to our fundamental needs and thus expendable in the most inhumane way.
The threat of slaughter is exacerbated for wild horses. They no longer serve a purpose and they compete for land with ranchers: Mustang Meat Patties.
Arguments Presented to Justify Horse Slaughter
There are a few arguments that are put forth by the pro-slaughter lobbies in order to justify horse slaughter. Some of the arguments are important, some are valid.
Unwanted Horses and What to Do?
There is a perception that there are too many unwanted horses and if we stop horse slaughter this number will only rise. This concern is exacerbated by the pro-slaughter lobby which plants stories in the media to attempt to tie abuse and abandonment cases with the lack of domestic horse slaughter. It is their 'sky is falling/raining horses' strategy.
The reality is we will always have unwanted horses, with or without horse slaughter. And sometimes horses will be abandoned and neglected. And moreso in a tough economy. The number of horses that are abandoned and neglected is far, far smaller than the number of horses that are slaughtered and to justify slaughter as a means to eliminate horse abandonment and neglect is a false argument. It would also be foolish to argue that if we did eliminate horse slaughter entirely, we would not see additional abuse and neglect cases. We will. However to justify slaughtering about 120,000 horses per year to avoid a few cases of abuse and abandonment is self serving.
We have also seen large fluctuations in the numbers of horses slaughtered from year-to-year (300,000 to less than 70,000). To argue that the number of unwanted horses fluctuates similarly is hard to explain. We also do not see a negative correlation with neglect and abandonment cases with fluctuations in slaughter numbers.
This is simply not a valid argument.
Livestock versus Companion Animal
The horse is classified as livestock from a tax standpoint. It enables tax breaks for horsemen that are available to other farmers. This is very important for those whose business is the horse and certainly for states like Kentucky where the horse is a significant part of their economy (agribusiness). Thus if the horse is classified as livestock it should be treated as livestock.
The alternative argument is the horse is not bred for slaughter and is bred for other purposes, such as sports, leisure and work. The horse is trained to trust humans and that trust should not be betrayed. The horse is more akin to a companion animal such as a dog or a cat.
The classification argument is a valid argument, especially for those in the horse business.
Ending horse slaughter would limit what the owner of a horse can do with his horse. The issue thus becomes a property rights argument. You own the horse, you should be able to do what you want with the horse. This is a weak argument. We do not slaughter cats and dogs, yet nobody considers that a property rights issue. In fact there are many limits placed on property we own. Consider the limits placed on house ownership by various neighborhood associations, historical designations, and zoning codes.
This is not a valid argument.
Without horse slaughter we will see a collapse in the bottom of the market for the horse. In fact we have already seen this in states that are at the end of the slaughter supply chain, where horses are shipped to other states and other auctions before ending up at a major kill auction or in a kill buyer's feedlot.
Horse slaughter does set a base price for the equine market. Essentially it reduces the number of horses that are truly unwanted (have zero value) as they are demanded by kill buyers for slaughter. Of course there are horses that kill buyers do not want so it does not eliminate the number of horses that have no value.
The market collapse is exacerbated by current economic conditions.
Certainly this argument is valid, however this argument is not so important. And a necessary market correction will create a disincentive to reckless breeding habits that horse slaughter enables.
Without horse slaughter we will need to dispose of 120,000 horses per year, which will cause environmental contamination. The reality is that the number of horses that would need to be otherwise disposed of will be far less than the number of horses slaughtered (the number of unwanted horses is less than the number of horses slaughtered) and that number is also significantly less, by a factor of at least 5, than those we already dispose of on a yearly basis. On the otherhand, horse slaughter plants have been cited for their own environmental contaminations. For example: Ooze at Cavel not a worry, says manager
This too is not a valid argument.
There is one valid argument that justifies horse slaughter as it currently stands. That is the tax classification argument. However the "unwanted horse" argument is the major argument of the pro-slaughter community. It is more compelling. One that on the surface seems straightforward and logical. The reality is, however, that under close scrutiny the unwanted horse argument is false.
The Reality: Why We Slaughter Horses
Who are funding the Pro Slaughter Lobbies
Before we note the real reasons that horse slaughter is a thriving business practice, it is important to highlight the groups who are fighting to sustain the practice. They present their arguments under the pretense that they are acting in the interests of the welfare of the horse. That slaughter is more humane than abuse and neglect. The groups are:
b. AQHA The AQHA spent $ 100,000 last year to lobby against our horses, which sees slaughter as a means to dispose of horses as it encourages excessive breeding habits, which in turn broadens the domain of AQHA. Conrad Burns is their lobbyist (Lobbying Reports). And the following is from the Montana Quarter Horse Association rallying support for HB418: Horse slaughter option important for livestock industry. This highlights the "importance" of Horse Slaughter to the livestock industry and positions proponents of anti-slaughter as simply PETA and HSUS.
c. AAEP and AVMA (AVMA Lobbying Numbers for 2008). The slippery slope argument is also valid for veterinarians, whose organizations cover all animals. By supporting the end of horse slaughter, they would come under pressure to support the end of all animal slaughter, or at least determine how to distinguish between horse slaughter and the slaughter of other animals. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is also the largest employer of veterinarians in the United States and thus has influence over the veterinarian organizations. Their dual argument in favor of horse slaughter is that it is humane (not so) and that slaughter is better than abuse and neglect (perhaps so for the small number of horses that are neglected, but not so for the large number of horses that are slaughtered). The AAEP has even gone to far as to relabel "horse slaughter" as "horse processing" in order to disassociate the act with something inhumane.
This is a tough issue for veterinarians. Dr. XXX writes in The Horse (January 2009, titled: ) regarding the moral issues a veterinarians face regarding euthanizing healthy animals. She dances around the topic of horse slaughter by simply stating that "special interest groups" have ended the practice in many states and are pushing for a federal ban. The reality is, many healthy horses are currently being slaughtered.
To contrast the viewpoint of AAEP and AVMA, Veterinarians for Equine Welfare (VEW) has been established to speak out against the inhumanity of horse slaughter. And vets like Dr. Hogan, who is a member of the AAEP, also speak out: Putting the Horse First? - by Dr. Patricia M. Hogan
d. NTRA (INDUSTRY ORGANIZATION POSITIONS ON SLAUGHTER). While the NTRA has taken a neutral stance on recent pieces of legislation for horse slaughter, they did support anti-slaughter legislation in prior years. It is apparent that they cannot openly support the current legislation while they are working with Goodlatte. Goodlatte made an exemption for horse racing in his Internet Gambling Bill which is very important from a business standpoint for the sport of horse racing which relies on gambling for its funding.
To contrast the NTRA's lack of position, prominent horsemen led by Josephine Abercrombie have openly lobbied to support anti-slaughter legislation ABERCROMBIE’S STRONG PITCH TO END SLAUGHTER.
And several racetracks have adopted a zero tolerance for horse slaughter for its horses: These tracks are, Arlington Park**, Beulah Park, Calder**, Churchill Downs**, Fair Grounds**, Fairmount Park, Golden Gate Fields*, Gulfstream Park*, Hoosier Park, Laurel Park*, Lone Star Park*, Mountaineer Park, Penn National, Philadelphia Park, Pimlico*, Remington Park*, Santa Anita*, Suffolk Downs, and Thistledowns*. Tracks with a * are owned by Magna Entertainment and Magna has a universal policy for all its racetracks. Tracks with a ** are owned by Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) and CDI has a universal policy for all its racetracks.
e. The Slaughter Business Cavel International and Beltex Corp, there is some value in this business, approximately $40 million per year, although the lobbying efforts have been somewhat curtailed since the domestic slaughter plants were closed. Interestingly the owner of the "Common Horse Sense" web site was a lobbyist in Texas. The site operates under the guise of being good for the horse, yet is pro-slaughter.
The Unwanted Horse Coalition is widely considered by horse slaughter opponents to be one of many pro-slaughter organizations mascarading as horsewelfare organizations. It grew out of the Unwanted Horse Summit, sponsored by the AAEP. Current member organizations include the AAEP, AQHA, AVMA, and NTRA, all noted above. Although it claims to have been established to try to deal with the population of unwanted horses, slaughter opponents believe their efforts also help establish that there is an overabundance of unwanted horses and thus there is a need for horse slaughter. Sadly their remarks on the unwanted horse issue have a significant influence over horsemen and their perceptions of the issue.
So what are the real reasons for horse slaughter ?
Business: It's Demand-Driven
The majority of horses slaughtered come via kill buyers, and the contracts they satisfy with the slaughter houses. Thus kill buyers don't simply arrive at slaughter houses with horses that need to be disposed. Kill Buyers deliver the number of horses that they are asked to deliver. This is illustrated by the following:
Kill Buyers Outbidding Rescues
There are many examples of kill buyers that have not resold horses at the request of private buyers and horse rescues. Horses are needed by the kill buyers to fill loads to satisfy their contracts with their customer, the slaughter house (illustration). If kill buyers have excess horses some will resell into the rescue and private markets, but a kill buyer's principle customer is the slaughter house. The kill buyer and slaughter house behavior is not that of a service that simply disposes of excess horses. They exhibit the behavior of a demand-driven business.
Kill Buyers don't bid on all Horses
Often times a horse receives bids below the going rate for horse meat at a kill auction. The reality is kill buyers prefer certain types of horses to send to slaughter and will not simply buy up the cheapest horses. Ironically, the same horses the market does not want. A visit to OLEX auction on Tuesday, March 31, 2009 supports this assertion, excerpt:
I studied the “buying behavior” of one of those buyers. He probably bought about 25 horses, with prices ranging from as low as 19 cents / pound to as high as 41 cents per pound. He dropped out of bidding on horses whose price went above what he was willing to pay but not close to the maximum he paid, and he did not bid on some of the cheaper horses at the sale. He also helped others (non-kill buyers) bidding on horses that he was bidding on. Pointing them out to the auctioneer.
This notion is also highlighted in the following New York Times article: The Path to Slaughter at a Horse Auction.
The number of horses slaughtered each year has fluctuated significantly. Between 1993 and 1994 slaughter decreased by 92,000 horses, more than the total number slaughtered in 2002. Fluctuating numbers of slaughtered horses does not support the notion that these horses are simply unwanted horses. The fluctuations have also not yielded a corresponding fluctuation in the number of abuse and abandonment cases. The reality is, the only explanation for the significant changes in numbers is that the numbers are driven by the demand for horse meat. Horse meat demand has been impacted by the outbreaks of disease that has effected the supply of other meat products. Outbreaks of Mad Cow disease spiked the demand for horse meat for example.
Unfettered Breeding Practices
Horse Slaughter does enable unlimited breeding. Breeders are not incentivized to want to end horse slaughter as horse slaughter does provide a solution for horses bred that do not fit their needs (poor conformation for example). Horse slaughter also enables the breeding of abundant horses, knowing that there is an easy outlet for horses that are no longer demanded. Those whose business is horse breeding also benefit from the tax classication of the horse as livestock.
The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) recently celebrated the registration of their 5 millionth horse.
Slippery Slope Argument
This is a tougher argument for anti-slaughter advocates. The worry for farmers and veterinarians is that if we are able to end horse slaughter, we will then target other livestock Burns Says No Compromise Possible With HSUS and PETA. Thus ending horse slaughter sets a precedent and enables a slippery slope. While FOBs are singularly focused on the ending of horse slaughter and are not working on other animal welfare legislation, other groups that are anti-horse slaughter are clearly interested in broader animal welfare issues. HSUS states that it is not intent on ending other livestock slaughter, but PETA is another matter.
The agriculture industry has decided that horse slaughter is a slippery slope issue and rightly or wrongly they have thrown their weight behind this issue.
The key driver behind those that support horse slaughter (Agriculture and Veterinary organizations) is the slippery slope argument. The fear is that if horse slaughter is ended then the slaughter of other animals will be targeted Horse slaughter opponents 'not tree-hugging vegans'. Fortunately for those lobbies the actual business of horse slaughter has proven profitable for those who participate in the business, and thus they are incentivized to protect their business interests. The breeding organizations also support slaughter simply because it provides an additional outlet for their product for their breeders. And breeders do benefit from the tax classification of the horse as livestock.
Are Horsemen Pro-Slaughter?
Aside from the organizations who are pro-slaughter (AVMA, AAEP and AQHA) it is important to understand which horsemen, as individuals, are pro-slaughter and why. I will categorize pro-slaughter horsemen as follows:
Pro-horse but actively seeking domestic slaughter
There are pro-horse horsemen who consider the property rights of horse owners as important and do not believe that it will be possible to effectively police legislation that ends horse slaughter at the federal level. They believe that horses will still cross borders for slaughter regardless of legislation. They prefer horse slaughter at a local level reducing the travel of horses to slaughter. They also focus on effectively policing laws to make slaughter less inhumane. This is not to suggest they would themselves send their own horses to slaughter and in fact work hard at trying to reduce the number of horses that are sent to slaughter.
Essentially this group dislikes the idea of horse slaughter, yet believes it will always be inevitable despite federal legislation.
Pro-horse but have witnessed horse abuse and neglect
This group of horsemen considers horse slaughter as a more humane alternative than having horses abused and neglected. They have witnessed neglect cases firsthand. They are concerned with what we would do with all the unwanted horses if we did not have horse slaughter.
There is no doubt that neglect for a horse has terrible consequences over a long period of time, and slaughter is a shorter timeframe alternative even though it is no more humane. The reality is that humane euthanasia is the better "choice" in cases like this and making horse slaughter available universally to try to avoid additional neglect cases clearly puts many more horses at risk of slaughter than are at risk of neglect.
This group of horsemen may also not be aware of the inhumanity of horse slaughter as it is often portrayed as humane euthanasia. They are also swayed by pro-slaughter media stories that emphasize the unwanted horse issue and are, for the most part, against animal welfare groups that make efforts to disrupt their sports.
Pro-horse but have read about abuse and neglect
This group of horsemen have not witnessed abuse cases firsthand, yet assume horse slaughter is a better alternative than abuse and neglect that they read about in the media. They are also concerned with what we will do with all the unwanted horses if we did not have horse slaughter. They are swayed by pro-slaughter media stories that emphasize the unwanted horse issue and are, for the most part, also against animal welfare groups that make efforts to disrupt their sports.
Those who consider the horse as another livestock animal
For many, horses have a purpose, and their purpose is to serve their owner in whatever capacity that might be. At the end of its life, that purpose is to provide an additional source of income and it becomes a food source for others. The ultimate form of recycling. Some horsemen even consider this another noble purpose for their horses. It is also a property rights issue for this group of horsemen.
Those who benefit from the tax classification of the horse
Classifying the horse as livestock, as it is currently classified, provides a significant tax advantage. Removing that classification would be very costly for many whose horse farms rely on that classification for their operations. Since all livestock is slaughtered, there should be no ban on horse slaughter in case a ban would jeopardize the classification of the horse as livestock.
And Horse Rescues: Are they all anti-slaughter ?
The short answer is no. The majority of horse rescues are anti horse slaughter, but there are some that are not.
Horse rescues generally perform two broad tasks. They rescue horses that were heading to slaughter, and for the most part those rescues would all be anti horse slaughter. And they rescue horses from abuse and neglect cases. This latter group often work with their state's Animal Control units and so forth.
This latter group, those that focus on abuse and neglect cases, fall into three categories with regard to their views on horse slaughter and their views on those who work with horses heading to slaughter.
The majority are anti-slaughter, and pro the rescues who are working at rescuing slaughter-bound horses.
Some are anti-slaughter but also anti-rescue regarding horses heading to slaughter. The rationale is that slaughter is demand-driven and horses heading for slaughter will simply be replaced by other horses, and the transactions simply increase the profitability of the slaughter business (see Grass Roots section).
The final group is pro slaughter. Since they only work with abuse and neglect cases, they see the ending of horse slaughter only having a negative impact on the number of horses they may see in their area that need their services. Their belief, driven by the pro-slaughter lobbies and groups like the Unwanted Horse Coalition, is that slaughter is humane and there is already an abundance of unwanted horses.
Many horsemen who are pro-slaughter are not actually pro-slaughter for their own horses and are pro-horse. Some of their views on slaughter stem from either a misunderstanding of the conditions of slaughter and the need for slaughter, or from a business perspective. Many would not send their own horse to slaughter despite supporting the practice. And some would prefer local slaughter as they believe it will not be possible to effectively police federal legislation.
Many horsemen also do not support animal welfare groups that persistantly disrupt their sports. They are more apt to believe pro-slaughter arguments, however false, than believe the arguments to end horse slaughter.
There is also obviously a large population of horsemen who are not pro-slaughter at all.
Alternatives to Slaughter
Certainly there needs to be provisions in place for those horses who are truly unwanted. The reality is, of course, that many horses that are slaughter-bound are not unwanted. They are simply unlucky. It is also important to note that the majority of horses that die each year are humanely euthanized.
There is a cost associated with humane euthanasia and disposal. This cost does vary depending on geography. Typically that cost is the equivalent of a couple of months of keep for a horse. Certainly a fair trade for the horse.
That being said, there will be additional funding necessary to support a humane euthanasia and disposal program. That funding can be developed from a tax on breeders, which would help serve as a disincentive to excessive breeding practices. A tax can also be applied each time a horse is registered with a new owner.
In practice we probably need to maintain similar systems we have in place now so owners can seek out opportunities and alternatives for the horses they no longer want. Horses that receive zero bids at auction, can then be euthanized and disposed of or returned to the seller. The auction would get a subsidy per horse and the seller would also receive a small fee for compensation for bringing the horse to auction.
Funding also needs to be directed to develop a more structured rescue and rehabilitation infrastructure so many of the horses that are going to low-end auctions can find alternatives other than euthanasia.
So, Strategies and Tactics Going Forward?
The strategies and tactics employed in Washington, with the anti-slaughter lobby groups (AWI and HSUS) supported by the grass roots efforts, should obviously be continued. And here is the current strategy. We need to gain co sponsors for the bill, HR 503. It is important that your member of Congress is a co sponsor of HR 503. Members of Congress and Senators are most persuaded by their own constituents. When they come home, meet with them locally on the issue. When in Washington call them, daily. Ask to speak with your congressman's appropriate aide. Being well versed on the horse slaughter issue is very important. Given the breadth of issues each congressman's aide needs to deal with you have the opportunity to be the teacher. And remember, these same aides may well have heard from the pro-slaughter side. Read pro-slaughter media and heard directly from the Unwanted Horse Coalition.
Growing the size of the grass roots efforts and creating more public awareness of the horse slaughter issue is also important. We simply need to get more people involved. And with additional media coverage, this can be accomplished, but each of us can help further this by reaching out to our colleagues and friends. Education. Alex Brown Racing ran a YouTube marketing campaign that was designed to help accomplish this.
It obviously makes more sense if we could determine how to better work together as an anti-slaughter community such that all the grass roots efforts worked well together.
Getting more horsemen and horsemen's groups involved in the horse slaughter issue would be a move forward. As an animal welfare issue, it is easier to dismiss the notion of ending horse slaughter as a result of "mis-guided do-gooders". With the direct support of horsemen and of horsemen's groups it is harder to make that case. Sadly many horsemen do believe horse slaughter is a "necessary evil". They have been convinced by media exposure of abuse cases and horse abandonment. They have seen horse abuse. Getting horsemen's groups involved is made harder as they are also wary of working with animal welfare groups which are also engaged in disrupting their own sports.
Critical to the above challenge would be to gain the support of the NTRA. Many racetracks have signaled support for the issue with their recent announcements of no slaughter policies. Sadly horse racing leadership, via the NTRA, has not been so bold. Calling the NTRA on this issue, and expressing your concern at their lack of leadership, in a climate where horse welfare should be tantamount, should be helpful. And call everyday.
There are also challenges to engage horsemen's groups on this issue since ending horse slaughter is not business friendly. Horsemen do get tax breaks as a result of the livestock classification of the horse. And if a horse is classified as livestock, then it essentially should be treated as livestock as far as slaughter is concerned.
That being said, media pressure within the horse communities can help shift the needle here. It can ensure all horsemen are aware of the horse slaughter issue and can distinguish clearly between horse slaughter and humane euthanasia. This can then put pressure on two of the significant pro-slaughter lobbies, the AQHA and the vets (AVMA and AAEP), as well as shift the NTRA from its neutral position (H.R. 6598).
It will be important to develop a marketing program targeted at EU decision makers and consumers of horse meat. This program should be aimed at making it clear that while the EU is developing a process to guarantee that horses slaughtered within the EU are free of drugs, the same assurance cannot be made for the horse meat that is imported from North America and Mexico. Cite examples of horses purchased directly from kill auctions and shipped directly to slaughter houses.
We can take this one step further. If we accept that a horse is classified as a livestock animal, we should insist that the same regulations are in place as are for other livestock animals that are slaughtered. This includes a medical history of the horse that is slaughtered so it can be traced if there is a problem with the meat. Currently there are no means available to track a horse's medical history and to be assured it is "clean". A beef farmer has to keep two years of records for cattle it sends to slaughter. Thus while not directly pushing for an end of horse slaughter, this strategy will essentially end the practice for all animals that are not directly bred for slaughter. The farm lobbies should not be concerned with a "slippery slope" argument if all we are doing is bringing horse slaughter in line with other livestock slaughter. Horse breeders and others who benefit from the tax classification of the horse as a livestock animal will also not be concerned with this measure as we are not challenging that status.
As we continue to work to end horse slaughter, we can also work on programs to end horse slaughter in Canada and Mexico. Currently all US horses are shipped to either one of these countries for slaughter. By eliminating this option, or at least making it more difficult, we can effectively end the slaughter of US horses.
We can attempt to remove Goodlatte, and others who are unfriendly to horse slaughter legislation, from office.
The anti-slaughter lobbies can also look closely at issues that are important to the farm and veterinary lobbies. Since these lobbies have determined that the horse slaughter issue is important due to the "slippery slope" argument. We should challenge some of their legislative issues to show we can play their game.