Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is horse neglect due to the economy, or a ban on horse slaughter?

A local paper in my area, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, recently ran a story entitled Slaughter ban leads to more abandoned horses. The article cites the following statistic:

In the four years since Congress enacted a ban on the slaughter of horses in the United States, cases of horse abandonment, neglect and abuse have increased markedly, according to a report issued by the federal Government Accountability Office.

At the same time, the report found that the ban has not stopped people from transporting horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter....

The unintended consequences of a law meant to protect animals are evident across Riverside County. The number of stray horses picked up by the county's Animal Services Department has risen steadily, from 20 in 2006 -- the last year before horse slaughters were banned -- to 74 last year.

At the same time, the Press Enterprise notes that there are other potential causes:

The problem is compounded locally by the economic downturn. While the value of most horses has fallen, the cost of disposing of them legally is often prohibitively expensive.

Drusys said it costs several hundred dollars to have a horse euthanized and taken away.

Not surprisingly, change.org (in a January 2010 post) isn't quite convinced of the implied cause-and-effect above:

Horse rescuers don't think the slaughterhouse ban is the cause for the recent increase in neglect. The average number of horses being slaughtered has held steady since 2007, it's just not happening in the U.S. More likely, the rise in neglect and abandonment of horses is related to the same problems dogs and cats are facing. People are hit hard by the economy and can no longer afford their homes or animals. Horses are being sold for very little money when people can no longer afford them, but for the buyers, caring for the animals doesn't come cheap.

So what is the debate about? According to a February 2009 CBS article, Federal actions applied to the slaughtering of horses for meat. (Previous efforts in 2008 removed Federal funding for inspectors; the Bush administration simply charged the slaughterhouses for it instead.) And this wasn't necessarily a case of the crazy liberals imposing their wills on the true Americans. This was a bipartisan effort.

"It is one of the most inhumane, brutal, shady practices going on in the U.S. today," said Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., a sponsor of the ban.

Sweeney argued that the slaughter of horses is different from the slaughter of cattle and chickens because horses are American icons.

"They're as close to human as any animal you can get," said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C.

Added Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.: "The way a society treats its animals, particularly horses, speaks to the core values and morals of its citizens."

Note how Sweeney and Spratt state that horses are different than, say, cattle. Sound familiar?

The Obama Administration opposed the measure.

"We have serious concerns that the welfare of these horses would be negatively impacted by a ban on slaughter," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a letter released Thursday.

This is the spirit in which the GAO report was prepared. The recommendations were primarily designed to ensure that Federal oversight was extended to horses destined to other nations for slaughter.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star is looking at what is happening in Canada
After the U.S. banned horse slaughter for human consumption in 2007 under mounting pressure from animal welfare groups, Canada and Mexico picked up the reins.

Since then, Canada has quietly become a major international horse meat supplier, exporting close to 20,000 tonnes each year to Europe and Asia. Canadians consume another 300 tonnes of horse each year, mostly in Quebec.

A year before the last U.S. horse plant shut down in 2007, Canada slaughtered about 50,000 horses. Since then, the number of horses killed annually has nearly doubled to between 90,000 and 113,000 over the past three years.

Along with that economic windfall have come concerns about the lengthy transportation of horses across the U.S. to Canada and insufficient monitoring of drug residues in meat that could threaten public health.

And now the Europeans are leaning on Canada:

European Union officials have told Canada to tighten its drug residue surveillance on export meat — including horse — by 2013. And it’s sending inspectors here on an audit mission to examine the issue in September.

“We are confident that we will be able to meet the European Union’s requirements within the identified timelines,” said Alice d'Anjou, a spokesperson for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in a written response to the Star.

“While Canada acknowledges these legislative and systemic differences, we maintain that the Canadian system is safe. The EU demonstrates its confidence in the Canadian system by continuing to import Canadian meat products.”

The situation in Mexico is
slightly different:

Unlike Canada, where horse meat is only consumed in few places and is considered a healthy alternative to other meats, horse meat in Mexico is consumed as a poorer substitute for other meats. Some slaughter plants are licensed by the EU to ship horse meat to Europe. More provincial slaughter houses have no such licensing and need for licensing as their market is local.
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