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Monday, December 12, 2011
Horse slaughter makes quiet return

By Paul Moran
Special to ESPN.com

The silence is eerie. Where is the outrage?

Most animal-rights activists decried the little-noticed provision attached to a spending bill that effectively removed a ban on the slaughter of horses for food, which sailed through the otherwise gridlocked Congress last month and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. But the various segments of the racing industry were strangely silent, a posture that flaunts the sometimes heroic efforts of countless individuals who have labored tirelessly and without meaningful recognition to save horses from the horrific fate that is part and parcel of slaughter.

Those who were moved to rage by this latest legislative abomination, an abdication of decency, vowed to keep the issue alive and press for an outright prohibition of horse slaughter to replace what was a de facto ban imposed by a law enacted in 2006 that prevented the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using federal funds to inspect meat processing plants that slaughter horses. Plants that are not inspected by the USDA cannot ship meat across state lines, thus lacking an outright prohibition, the provision effectively ended domestic horse slaughter.

Of course, left to its own resources, the Congress inevitably chose the wrong course of action.

Supporters of slaughter and the lawmakers who do their bidding say the ban resulted in old horses being abandoned and neglected. Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, successfully pushed for a provision requiring the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (perhaps a contradiction in terms) to study the impact of the ban. The GAO study, released in June, concluded that the slaughter of horses did not stop, but simply shifted to Mexico and Canada. From 2006 through 2010, U.S. horse exports for slaughter increased by 148 percent to Canada and 660 percent to Mexico, the GAO report states. "As a result," according to the report, "nearly the same number of U.S. horses was transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010 -- nearly 138,000."

The GAO suggested that Congress should either reconsider restrictions on the use of federal funds to inspect horse slaughtering facilities or consider a permanent ban of horse slaughtering. Of course, left to its own resources, the Congress inevitably chose the wrong course of action.

While there is a case to be made for euthanizing old, ill and infirm horses, which along with a ban on the export of horses for slaughter would essentially solve the problems of neglect and abandonment, inhumanity is not an acceptable alternative. Lethal injection renders the corpse of a horse unusable for food and the horrors of the conventional slaughterhouse are well documented but are obviously lost on those who lead the nation. There is no such thing as humane slaughter, particularly when another government study casts doubt on the notion that only old, ill and infirm horses are slaughtered.

According to another study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, when horses were being slaughtered in the U.S., 92 percent, at the facilities studied, were in good health. Rarely are these horses ill or injured. Ill and injured horses or not sought for slaughter since they have difficulty withstanding the long, crowded transportation conditions to slaughter plants. Most horses bound for slaughter are transported by contract buyers, also known as kill buyers, who drive around the country purchasing horses at auction often for just a few dollars.

By the government's unintentional accounting, 92 percent of the 138,000 horses exported to slaughter in 2010 were in good health.

The legalization of domestic slaughter is certainly not an acceptable alternative to reform. There is no American market for the human consumption of horse meat, which is considered a delicacy in some European and Asian countries and has been used in the U.S. to feed zoo animals. None of this provides compelling reason to subject horses, which unlike cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry are not raised for food but are in fact companion animals for humans who have since the deepest reaches of history partnered with the equine specie in work, war and sport, to an unspeakable fate. The Congress and the president have put every horse in the nation at risk.

Recent history has seen the slaughter of thoroughbred champions Exceller and Ferdinand, both exported for breeding, at the end of their useful careers. If horses of this stature can meet such cruel ends to their storied lives, no horse is entirely safe unless a total prohibition of slaughter for food is imposed. To its credit, the New York Racing Association denies stalls at its facilities to any trainer or owner who knowingly sells a horse to slaughter. It would take little effort from other racetrack operators to follow suit and this policy should be universal in American racing. That would make a statement. People, often overwhelmed but dedicated to the rescue of horses bound for slaughter, will continue their good work. But leaders of the racing industry, people who claim at every opportunity to put the welfare of horses at the forefront of concern and spend much time beating their breasts over issues like medication reform, have been silent. There is much stated rage and disappointment in a generally disappointing federal government, but not from those in racing who could provide voice and a platform.

On this supremely important issue, the institutional silence is deafening.

Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at pmoran1686@aol.com.