Slaughtering a Good Horse Bill

It has worked this way in Congress for as long as there has been a Congress. If you oppose a reasonable piece of legislation, and you aren't sure you have the votes to sink it, you instead "poison" it with amendments that you know will detract from the very gist of the bill. That way, its initial supporters cannot support it either and it dies, twisting in the wind. That's what is happening to a noble piece of legislation that would outlaw the slaughter of horses in America.

The House Agriculture Committee Thursday wedged into the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act a series of amendments that gut the purpose of the act. The three existing domestic horse slaughterhouses, for example, are allowed to continue to sell horse meat for human consumption overseas. Another amendment makes the federal government financiall responsible for the un-slaughtered horses (just what the government needs, more expenses). And yet another amendment requires horse owners to be compensated for not being able to have their horses slaughtered (usually, the slaughterhouses pay a few hundreds dollars per horse). All of these changes, of course, render the Act either pointless or politically unattractive and that is the purpose.

Earlier this week, when I first wrote about this issue, I created the distinct impression that I do not even comprehend "the other side" of the horse slaughter debate-- that there is no legitimate justification to continue to do this in America. As T. Boone Pickens (no lilly-livered liberal he) said earlier this week: Horse slaughter is un-American. I still don't. The arguments raised on behalf of keeping things the way they are-- allowing horses to be slaughtered here-- all focus upon the practical problems involved in ending the practice. Either that, or silly slippery slope arguments that suggest that if the government can ban the slaughter of horses, it can ban the slaughter of other animals that we might like to eat. These objections are valid but not insurmountable; they go to the mechanics of the problem but not to its core.

90,000 horses were slaughtered in America in 2005. Surely it does not have to be so.

By Andrew Cohen |  July 28, 2006; 12:30 PM ET
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The proposed law intends to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. What about slaughter for animal consumption (e.g., as part of dog food or cat food)? I don't know if there is a market for that, but if there is why should it be permitted? The horse is just as dead either way.

Posted by: wally | July 31, 2006 12:26 PM

The crux is that if we slaughter animals for human consumption that Americans do not eat and thus the USDA has no guidelines for, it is 1) hard to guarantee the meat is fit for human consumption (trade backlash) and 2) hard to guarantee the meat will in fact be 100% sent overseas.
India bans the slaughter of cattle for oversea leather and meat, and that makes sense, not just because the cows are holy but precisely because there is very little domestic market (water buffalo are exempt from the ban, I believe) and therefore little impetus for regulating trade.

In a way, India and America both share the same sentiment-- nationalism.

It has been 230 years since America was last a colony. We shouldn't be exploiting one of our most significant symbols (the wild mustang) for others' benefit.

And this logic--not exporting meat that we do not consider fit for human consumption to other countries would also apply say, to exporting dog meat.

That's right, that would solve the shelter problem if every dog wound up as chow chow, right, never mind that you can't track what those dogs have eaten or been exposed to in their lives, including possibly being exposed to mad cow disease and/or other toxic, carcinogenic material due to being fed food that are disallowed for human consumption.

That kind of thing can accumulate in bodily tissues-- that's called bioaccumulation.

But go ahead, sell every dog that has to be euthansized. After all it's not Americans eating the meat, and you just don't let the people see their beloved pets butchered instead of given the needle.

And let's not even mention cats. They used to frequently be substituted for rabbit in low-grade restaurants in France once upon a time. I'm sure there's still a kitty market somewhere if we only looked for one.

All right, so we're cheerfully shipping out tons of meat that do not fit our production standards for domestic animals, all for profit, and lots of them probably riddled with carcinogens, viruses, parasites, and so on.

Don't you think that would come back to bite us on the rear, allowing the potential for viruses normally transmitted only by blood or consumption to mutate into something far more virulent?

That... to me... is the best argument why we should only export according to our standards of food quality.

... And exactly why we should not rope mustangs off the plains to slaughter for food. If a mysterious outbreak occurs in France, how easy is it going to be to trace it back to "le cheval d'American" here?



Posted by: Down with Dobbin Slaughter | July 31, 2006 09:00 PM

Andrew, I hope this gives you an little idea of why it might not be such a smart idea to slaughter animals that are not considered to be food to export overseas.

If there is an market in America for animals we like to eat, it will eventually gain impetus to be farmed, etc. and come under the auspices of the USDA. Right now, for wildlife meat, it is hunt and eat at your risk, with licenses and caveats about eating too much fish due to mercury, etc.

The Food and Drug Administration was created for good reason. You may want to re-read Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle", written in 1906.

Of course, they're not Americans, they're only furriners, and of course they won't go to war with us if they think we're trying to poison their citzenry with lethal diseases, introduced by say, some bioterrorists into the process?

Posted by: Down with Dobbin Slaughter | July 31, 2006 09:07 PM

Please read carefully the following letter to the editor from the Chicago Tribune.

Unwanted horses

Bonnie Beaver, DVM
Published July 30, 2006
College Station, Texas -- As past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, I was recently asked to appear before Congress to explain why the AVMA does not support the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Horses have been my passion since childhood, and had much to do with why I became a veterinarian. I strongly support the AVMA's opposition to this bill because it does not adequately address certain issues that are critically important to ensuring the welfare of horses that would be affected by it.

Currently horse rescue and retirement facilities in the United States have a maximum capacity of about 6,000 horses. It would be a daunting, and probably impossible, task to create facilities that could house an additional 10 to 15 times that number of horses every year.

Creating these facilities and properly caring for each horse in them costs money. The bill does not provide the financial support required to ensure that horses given up by their owners will be adequately cared for, and inadequate funding has a huge potential to create opportunities for inadequate care. Watching a horse slowly die from starvation or disease is not only distressing, it's cruel. Furthermore horse retirement facilities and sanctuaries are not regulated, so there is no way to ensure the horses living there will receive adequate care.

The transportation of horses to slaughter plants is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These regulations were developed and implemented with significant input from several animal-welfare groups.

Once at the plants, the care of the horses continues to be regulated by the USDA and includes quiet and appropriate handling by experienced individuals. The method of euthanasia is a penetrating captive bolt (not a "stun gun"), which causes instantaneous death and is one of two types of euthanasia for horses (the other being an overdose of barbiturate anesthetic) that the AVMA recommends for a humane death. The people supporting this bill are making this into an emotionally charged issue instead of offering solutions to the problem of unwanted horses.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Posted by: Phil Reid | August 20, 2006 08:51 AM

I have been talking to a lot of people about this issue and except for a few articles scattered about,like yours, the media is NOT talking about this issue. Many horse owners are horrified - but really have not been aware. One part of the equation is that wild horses continue to be taken off public lands, such as national parks, to make way for more cattle leases with the BLM. These animals are really "owned" by the American people, the majority do not want them slaughtered.

Horses are different-they are the only animal that participates in the Olympic Games- and they are not bred/raised for their meat. Also, unlike sheep, cattle, etc, they do not go "gently into that goodnight".

Posted by: Va Breeze | August 24, 2006 09:26 PM

Save the horses.

I remember as a child being told that canned pet food was "horsemeat". There was something that didn't seem right about it then, I wasn't sure why ...it just kind of made me sick.

Let Japan and other countries eat their own horses , we'll find homes for ours or humanely put them down.

Save the horses.

Posted by: Stephen Stanbrook | September 11, 2006 10:05 PM

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