Day At The Track

We can't slaughter our way to horse welfare

05:57 PM 26 May 2009 NZST
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By now everyone is familiar with the subject of horses being neglected or starved, along with the claims from those in agricultural circles that slaughter is "necessary" to prevent horse neglect and that it is a way to dispose of unwanted horses.

I've been hearing that litany from all of the agricultural publications and blogs, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), various state Farm Bureaus and from a group of clueless politicians including Illinois' Rep. Jim Sacia, Sue Wallis of Wyoming and former Texas congressman and paid slaughter lobbyist, Charles Stenholm.

I find it odd that they see slaughter as being the solution for horse neglect, but when it comes to neglected or starving cattle, they are stumped. In this USA Today article Starving cattle amid high prices for feed in Neb, Steven Stanec, executive director of the Nebraska Brand Committee, a state agency that helps police the cattle industry stated that "Neglect cases are on the rise, and what's causing it, I'm not sure. We're having whole herds of hundreds of cattle being neglected."

In doing a simple Google search I found other related headlines which show that cattle starving to death is a fairly widespread problem - Officials raid farm with 30 dead, 100 plus starving cows, Starving cows rescued near Paisley on road to recovery and Starving cattle seized in Lake County.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 34.4 million cattle were slaughtered in 2008, that's an average of 94,247 cows slaughtered per day. According to Cattle Network, beef production is up over last year.

Now with all of those cattle going to slaughter, one would wonder why cattle neglect is happening. Using the logic that the AQHA, AVMA, NCBA, Farm Bureaus and the other proponents of the horse slaughter industry apply to starving or neglected horses that "slaughtering prevents neglect", one would think that we wouldn't have problems with starving or neglected cattle. Yet guys like Steven Stanec aren't sure why cattle neglect cases are on the rise.

What further weakens the argument that "slaughter is needed to prevent horse neglect" is that while all of these articles have been written about neglected and starving horses, the option of horse slaughter has been available in the United States. Horse owners can take the horses they no longer want to keep to the local livestock auction and the neighborhood friendly kill buyers will happily take the horse off their hands. According to statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 134,059 American horses have been slaughtered at the European owned plants in Canada and Mexico in 2008. American horses still continue to go to slaughter as you read this, so the slaughter pipeline continues to function despite the claims to the contrary.

The reality is that slaughter has nothing to do with animal welfare. Since slaughter apparently doesn't magically solve the problem of starving and neglected cattle, it is fallacy to think that slaughter will solve the problem of starving and neglected horses. The problem of cattle being neglected is due to the current economic crisis, that same economic crisis is making it difficult for horse owners.

In fact, a study released in June of 2008 showed there was no correlation between horse slaughter and neglect, but a clear linkage between unemployment and neglect. Prophetically, the study warned in its conclusions that if economic conditions continued to deteriorate an upward trend in neglect could be expected.

The AQHA, AVMA, NCBA, Farm Bureaus and all of their political allies put a lot of time, energy and money into supporting horse slaughter. If these special interest groups were to focus all of those resources on solving the nation's economic problems rather than supporting a foreign owned industry that doesn't even pay their taxes, we might be able to get something done.

It is a pity they are so narrow minded.

Duane Burright is a software engineer by trade, aside from horses and their welfare he's also interested in American musclecars, vintage electric fans, computers and software design. He has been involved in the campaign to make the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA) law since 2003 and is a supporter of a nearby wild horse sanctuary.


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