By Dr. Tom R. Lenz
-- Federal legislation to ban the slaughter of horses in the United States for human consumption has become an emotional issue on which some groups within the equine industry can't see eye to eye. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but that opinion must be based on fact, not emotion or supposition. Here are the facts regarding the American Association of Equine Practitioners' position on H.R. 857, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.
The AAEP is not pro-slaughter. We believe that slaughter is not the best option for solving the problem of unwanted horses, which is truly the heart of this issue. However, the reality is that because of owner neglect or failed expectations, approximately 50,000 horses are euthanized annually at U.S. facilities. Based on figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an additional 30,000 are transported to Canada for processing with an unknown number of horses going to Mexico.
The bill pays little attention to equine welfare and does not provide the infrastructure or funding provisions to care for these 80,000 unwanted horses. And this is 80,000 in one year alone. The fact is these horses are at increased risk for neglect and abandonment by owners who no longer care about their fate or cannot afford to give them adequate care.
The AAEP's primary mission is protecting the health and welfare of the horse. Many of our members donate their professional services in support of rescue and retirement facilities and dedicate their careers to ensuring humane treatment of the horse. We know that simply passing a law to prevent a horse's euthanasia at a federally inspected processing plant will not make the problem go away.
Regarding the assertion by supporters of the bill that euthanasia by captive bolt is inhumane, AAEP members visited a processing facility in Texas to witness first-hand the treatment of the horses. Federal veterinarians were overseeing the process and each of us in attendance unanimously agreed the horses were treated with dignity and euthanized humanely. The horses were not "stunned" or "bludgeoned" as some ill-informed commentaries have stated, but were rendered instantly brain dead by a penetrating captive bolt. Independent inspections of slaughter plants by a number of experts, including Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, have verified that the animals are handled and euthanized humanely.
Besides H.R. 857's failure to provide the infrastructure and funding for the care of unwanted horses, the AAEP is concerned the bill does not provide an enforcement plan to ensure horses are not shipped to foreign processing plants. Longer hauls to plants that are not regulated by the USDA are not in the best interest of the horse. California's ban on the shipment and sale of horses to slaughter is often cited as the model for this type of legislation. Because there were no funds allocated for enforcement or rescue, no arrests have been made since the law took effect and many involved in the California horse industry state that horses continue to be shipped out of California to processing plants.
The AAEP does not stand alone on H.R. 857. The American Quarter Horse Association, which is the largest breed registry in the world, does not support the bill. The American Veterinary Medical Association shares our same concerns. Other groups that have formally opposed H.R. 857 are the Utah Department of Agriculture, the New York State Horse Council, and the Horsemen's Council of Illinois, just to name a few.
Because less than 10% of the horses going to slaughter are Thoroughbreds, this is not solely a Thoroughbred issue. It is a horse industry issue affecting all breeds and disciplines. Unsuccessful racehorses can be absorbed into the hunter-jumper or pleasure horse markets, but what about the geriatric ranch horse or permanently unsound packhorse? Just as the AAEP has worked in concert with Thoroughbred organizations on the issues of medication and the integrity of the sport, we must put emotion aside and work together to solve this problem. However, regarding H.R. 857, we simply do not believe the legislation, as currently written, is in the best interest of the horse. Until an infrastructure to provide adequate federal funding for retirement/adoption facilities as well as enforcement provisions are included in the legislation, we cannot support it. b Dr. Tom R. Lenz is a private practitioner and immediate past president of the AAEP. E-mail Editorial Department