I can think of two issues about which Americans are completely polarized--abortion and horse slaughter. People on both sides of both issues have genuine, heartfelt feelings that prevent factual analysis of these very complex issues, which have numerous far-reaching ramifications.
Nevertheless, we thought we'd try to introduce a bit of rationality into the debate of the bill that's now before Congress, which would make it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption (see "Horse Slaughter: Is It An Issue Worth Fighting About?" on p. 18).
Before you fire off a vitriolic letter to your Congressman (for or against), please read that article and consider these points too.
First, the 50,000 to 70,000 horses slaughtered for food at the three U.S. plants represent less than 1 percent of the U.S. population of 6.9 million horses. We're not talking about an epidemic of horses heading off for dinner in France and Japan, an epidemic that has to be cured before we run out of horses. But, if those horses had to be cared for, we'd be talking about nearly twice the number of Thoroughbreds that The Jockey Club registers each year or one-third of the Quarter Horses the American Quarter Horse Association registers.
Second, some have suggested that this country's approximately 200 equine rescue organizations could care for those horses. That number translates to more than 300 horses per year per organization, or six new horses per week. The bill suggests that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would make grants to these organizations to aid their care, but it has no funds appropriated for that--and the federal budget is already drowning in a terrorism-induced deficit we may never get out of.
Third, if the federal government were somehow to give the USDA funding for this, would it be the best, most humane use of well more than $100 million per year? Would it be truly humane when millions more children aren't getting a decent education or proper nutrition or housing and poor senior citizens are dying painfully and slowly from illnesses because they can't afford prescriptions?
Fourth, is this bill just the next step on the animal-rights agenda to permanently alter the legal status of our relationship to our horses?
Fifth, and most important, will the majority of horses really be better off if there are no slaughter plants in the United States? If slaughter plants become illegal businesses, what will happen to those horses that people can't or don't want to keep any more? They'll probably slowly starve. Is that better?
The behind-the-scenes issue that's not getting addressed here is that the options we, as caring, humane horse owners and trainers, have for horses who are genuinely sick, lame or old are becoming more and more limited. Fewer and fewer people have a lush field to put retirees in, and the cost and difficulty of humanely destroying a horse vary from state to state and county to county. Will rendering plants and burying be outlawed next? In a few years will the expense of cremation be our only option?
The problems with this well-intentioned bill are that it doesn't deal with these issues and that it is likely to become unnecessary in a few years because of simple economics and health concerns. Selling a horse for slaughter is an option few who read this magazine would choose, but it is the only option thousands of inexperienced or financially strapped owners each year can see for horses they just can't keep anymore. And this bill, unfortunately, won't help them or their horses.