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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Horse Slaughter - Now What?

As you may be aware, thanks to congressional action, the slaughter of horses for human consumption has once again become legal in the United States.  Perhaps of no coincidence, Forbes has published the first of a multi-part story on how the thoroughbred industry is silent about their horses which are sent to slaughter.  One of the points being made is slaughter of horses is being done in slaughterhouses not designed for horses.  The article does have links to disturbing pictures and video and I will leave it to you to decide whether or not to look at it.

There was also a CBC series on the mistreatment of horses being slaughtered, very similar to the problems which previously occurred in the United States and realistically, these problems are likely to re-appear in the United States.  Once again, the video available may be disturbing to some, but listening to the reports may be informative.

I would like to address one fallacy of supporters of humane slaughter keep bringing up.  By being slaughtered in the United States, horses will not have to travel as far to be slaughtered.  Most likely, any equine slaughterhouse will be out West.  Currently a horse destined for slaughter from New York will go to Quebec.  Let's say the slaughterhouse is in Wyoming.  Shipping a horse to Wyoming is shorter the horse than being sent to Quebec?  I think not.

I have been encouraged by the response of racing horsemen who are quite upset about the change in the law legalizing horse slaughter and they want to know what the standardbred world can do about it with many wanting the USTA to take steps.  Now make no mistake about it, the people at the USTA don't like the slaughter of standardbreds, however the attitude is the horse is the private property of the owner and while they can offer alternatives, they can't do anything to force owners to do things with their horses.  Hence, there is little which can be done by the USTA to prevent horse slaughter, short of reducing breeding books.  Perhaps the only thing the USTA could do is require horses to be microchipped in an effort to keep track of horses.  However, in the past, members have expressed their objection to it unless the government requires it.

It is also important to realize while those who oppose slaughter are vocal, those who are quiet on the issue are either ambivalent about the subject or support directly or indirectly horse slaughter; often in the format of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Unfortunately, it is important to acknowledge there is not going to be a home for every retired standardbred even if the industry attempted a 100% save rate.  Horses are not like maintaining dogs.  The fact is some horses will have to die.  Rescues are full, having trouble getting horses adopted and there are simply too many horses coming of the track to find homes for them all.  That doesn't mean horses need to be sent to slaughterhouses; but the fact is some horses are going to have to die and for them, humane euthanasia should be the only option available.

So what can be done?  Unfortunately, some steps will need to be taken on the state (racing commission) level; some steps necessary on the federal level.  Here is a list of some of the steps which can be taken.

State (Racing Commission) Level 
  • Have racing commissions license bloodstock agents and require them to prove they are not dealing with horses that end up at grade auctions or representing slaughterhouses.
  • Have racing commissions ban kill buyers and non-approved horse buyers from the backstretch of the racetrack or other facilities under the control of the racing commission.  This won't stop selling horses to these people, but it will make it more inconvenient. 
  • Provided an approved rescue(s) is willing, mandate racetracks to provide surrender stalls where horsemen can drop off horses they no long want with no questions asked so horse rescues can pick up surrendered horses.  Ownership of the horse shall pass with the horse being designated as a pleasure horse only.
  • Have a small percentage of the handle be dedicated to a fund to support approved horse rescues and to pay for humane euthanasia (based on the evaluation of the state vet and/or approved rescues).
  • Define what constitutes an approved rescues; not rescues connected with horse buyers.  Rescues must have some type of accreditation and are subject to inspection by the racing commission.
  • Require the owner or trainer to report to the racing commission whenever ownership of a horse has changed and report the price paid and have the racing commission report the transfer of the horse to the USTA.
  • Provide for discounted euthanasia and disposal days for all breed of horses owned by citizens of the state provided they can prove ownership of the horse.

Federal Level
Like it or not, the United States Government has decided horses are food animals.  Being the European Commission has instituted a rule where a horse which has been treated with certain medications may not be slaughtered for 180 days since their last use of certain medications on the horse, the federal government has a responsibiliy to ensure horses meet these requirements.  Hence:

  • Yearlings and pregnant horses are ineligible for slaughter.
  • Require all horses to be microchiped to ensure the tracking of the animal and ownership.
  • Require the ownership of the equine to be recorded and a photo of the horse.
  • Establish a database of horses being microchipped and the use of medicines on them.
  • Require all veternarians to record what medications have been given to equines and when they were administrated.
  • Require a USDA inspector to be present at all grade horse sales to scan the microchip and produce a passport with a picture of the horse and a list of medications administered during the last 180 days and designate if horse may be sold as a food animal or not which must be announced at the auction.  No horse without a passport may be sold.
  • At border crossings, vehicles heading to processing plants must be inspected to make sure all horses on the truck have passports indicating the horse may be slaughtered.  No horse with a passport indicating the horse is ineligible for slaughter may be on said vehicle.  The vehicles must be designed to allow a border inspector to scan each horse to match to the passports.
  • At slaughterhouses in the United States, a USDA inspector must scan the horse and if no passport is included, the inspector must confirm the horse is eligible for slaughter.  Any horse sent to a slaughterhhouse and not eligible to be slaughtered for food must be euthanized and disposed of at the cost of the slaughterhouse.
  • At all slaughterhouses, there must be video cameras installed throughout the plant to allow for third party inspection to ensure all established procedures are followed.  Third parties may bring formal complaints against slaughterhouses.
  • Existing rules regarding 'downers', etc. must be followed.
Make no mistake, whether at the racing commission or federal level, it will require a lot of work to be done to get even some of these protections implemented.  However, the rules at the racing commission will be used to reduce the number of horses heading into the slaughter pipeline and the federal proposals will ensure those unfortunate horses are treated humanely.  It is the least we can do for these animals being thrown into the food chain.

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