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Why does the American Horse Council think equines belong in the slaughterhouse?

By Colleen Murphy

To most Americans, it's a simple question with a clear answer. Should a horse that has spent her life running the track or working the farm end up as a lump of flesh on a dinner plate in Belgium?

I think the answer is no. But I've lived and worked with horses most of my life, and I'll frankly confess that I love and respect them, so my answer is no big surprise. I'm not alone in that feeling, which is why horse meat isn't on the menu here in America.

But one group thinks I'm out of line. Am I referring to some shadowy cabal of exporters desperate to trade horse meat to Europe?

Nope. I'm talking about the American Horse Council. In fact, the council feels so strongly on this issue that it's opposing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (HR 3781). This bill, which is sponsored by Congresswoman Connie Morella, R-Md., and enjoys bipartisan support, would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

Why does an organization claiming to represent horse owners oppose a bill that would put a stop to this shameful industry, which slaughters some 50,000 horses a year, including wild horses and an increasing number of stolen animals?

I don't know. Perhaps it's because some in the horse industry view slaughterhouses as a convenient dumping ground for unwanted animals, including the thousands who come from racetracks because they're no longer competitive.

What I do know is that the arguments against the slaughter ban are, to put it politely, full of horse manure.

For instance, some opponents of the bill say it will cause more inhumane treatment. If people can't easily get rid of their unwanted horses, the thinking goes, they'll stop feeding them or abuse them in some other way.

There are two major flaws in this argument.

First, the slaughter process itself is not a humane method of disposal. Most horses arrive at slaughterhouses via livestock auctions where, often unknown to the seller, they are bought by middlemen working for the slaughter mills. These so-called killer buyers travel from one auction to the next collecting young, healthy, sick, and old animals until their trucks are full. Some are shipped for more than 24 hours at a time without food, water, or rest.

Indeed, the actual transport of the horses is just as cruel as their slaughter, if not more so. Horse protection groups have observed injured horses being beaten onto double deck trailers only to again be beaten upon arrival at the slaughterhouse.

Second, and more important, we already have a pretty good idea that the law will work well because we've tried it here. In California, we don't slaughter horses, and we haven't seen an increase in abuse.

There's another common argument against HR 3781 that has less to do with horses than with political correctness. I call it the "Live and Let Die" argument. Who are we, say some folks, to stop the Europeans from eating horses? Why should equines be any different from cows or chickens?

In a way, I agree with these folks. That's why I'm a vegetarian. But I don't think you have to swear off meat to be against slaughtering horses. All it takes is a quick bit of simple analysis.

Sure, some Europeans (along with some Japanese and others) have values and attitudes that makes them feel comfortable eating horses, just as some countries are comfortable with bullfighting or cockfighting.

But in America, where horses remain a vital symbol of the untamed West, we have our own values. The thought of slaughtering a healthy horse (and make no mistake--most horses that end up in slaughterhouses are perfectly healthy) makes most of us shudder. Do we have to put aside our feelings and values and let our country serve as an abattoir for European diners?

I don't think so.

The horse slaughter industry is already on its last legs in America. We used to kill more than 300,000 of these animals a year for human consumption. Now, only three facilities still do this dirty work: two in Texas and one in Illinois.

Can we get by without those three killing grounds? Yes. Will I sleep better knowing my two horses will never end up in them, no matter what happens? Better believe it.


Horse owner and equine advocate Colleen Murphy lives in Windsor.

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From the March 7-13, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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