The Racing Journal Logo

The truth about Horse Slaughter

June 22, 2005     E-mail this page to a friend!

Guest Editorial by Bill Heller

(Bill Heller, winner of the 1997 Eclipse Award, is a regular writer for Thoroughbred Times, and the author of 18 books, including “After the Finish Line - The Race to End Horse Slaughter in America.”)

The issue of horse slaughter in the United States can be summarized in four words: No need; just greed.

There is no need for tens of thousands of horses to be brutally slaughtered in the United States for human consumption overseas. The meat doesn’t feed starving people, rather diners in Europe and Asia who have developed a taste for equine flesh. The only reason 65,976 horses were brutally slaughtered in the United States in 2004 was to produce a profit for the three foreign-owned horse slaughterhouses and the killer-buyers who supply them with horses.

Two of the three slaughterhouses remain in operation in Texas despite a 1949 Texas state law prohibiting horse slaughter. By suing the government and getting an injunction, they continue to do their grisly business until their suit is adjudicated in federal court in Texas.

But they may not be operating for long.

National momentum continues to build to end the needless slaughter of horses in the U.S. On June 8, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 269-158 to pass an amendment to an appropriations bill by John Sweeney (R-NY) to remove federal funding for inspectors at the three horse slaughterhouses in America. If a companion bill is passed by the Senate, the Sweeney amendment will trigger the shutdown of those slaughterhouses when a new fiscal year begins October 1 for a period of 12 months.

This year, more horses were at risk of being slaughtered after an amendment to the appropriations bill signed by President Bush last December removed protection from slaughter for the country’s estimated 32,000 wild horses. They had been protected by federal law since 1971. However, a bill sponsored by Ed Whitfield (R-Ky) to return that protection passed the House on May 19 by a vote of 249-159, and that may have provided momentum for the vote on Sweeney’s amendment.

Now anti-slaughter leaders will work for the passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503) presently before the House, which would end horse slaughter in the U.S. for human consumption overseas permanently. Their 2003 American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act remained bottled up in the House Agriculture Committee by its chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) for two years despite the fact that the act had 225 co-sponsors, more than the 218 majority needed to pass the 435-member House.

Sweeney amended the act and reintroduced it last February 1, and it was sent to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where it presently sits as co-sponsors sign on. There are 102 already, and that was before the overwhelming vote on June 8 to stop slaughter.

The only other time the American public was allowed to weigh in on the issue was in November 1997, when a referendum to end horse slaughter in California passed by a huge margin. Since slaughter was eliminated there in 1998, the number of cases of abuse and neglect have declined.

Yet the two principal veterinary associations in the country, the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association, lobbied against the Sweeney amendment and continue to actively lobby against the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503).

How do the veterinarians who make policy in the AAEP and AVMA wake up in the morning and look in the mirror every day? They justify their position against H.R. 503 on the grounds that horse slaughter is “euthanasia,” but horses are killed in slaughterhouses by a captive bolt gun originally designed for cattle, which have a different skull shape and neck length than horses and lack the horses’ flight instinct. The truth - available on video at many Internet websites - shows that frequently one shot does not kill the horse. Sometimes, two or even three shots are needed.

Euthanasia is defined in the dictionary as an easy, painless death. That is done with horses by lethal injection, which does allow the horse to die painlessly. When a veterinarian in his private practice has to put down a horse, he uses a lethal injection, not a captive bolt gun.

The AAEP and AVMA also claim that eliminating slaughter as an option will lead to gross neglect and abuse, a “fate worse than death.” But the facts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are that last year’s 65,976 slaughtered horses were some 280,000 less than the number of horses slaughtered than in 1989. In that time, the number of horses exported to Mexico and Canada, ostensibly for slaughter, did not increase significantly.

When a single Thoroughbred was found abandoned in rural Washington in 2003, the story was picked up by the Associated Press and ran across the country. That was a single horse. Where are the 280,000 less slaughtered horses hiding?

The AAEP and AVMA argue that there aren’t enough rescue operations to handle the 65,000 horses slaughtered last year.

But, as documented in the recently published book, “After the Finish Line - The Race to End Horse Slaughter in America,” there are more than 240 rescue groups in the U.S. with websites or e-mail addresses.

Thoroughbred industry leaders in New York, specifically the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the New York Racing Association, took a major step to address the issue of funding for all rescue operations on June 3 by creating the Ferdinand Fee, a voluntary $2 starting fee for each horse entered in a race. It is named for the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 Horse of the Year Ferdinand, who wound up slaughtered for meat in Japan. On June 11, the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, Inc. voted unanimously to augment the Ferdinand Fee with a voluntary $10 annual membership fee.

Why can’t other tracks and horsemen’s associations around the country follow? It’s 100 percent voluntary.

Why can’t the AAEP and AVMA provide a voluntary fee in any manner they choose? It would be 100 percent voluntary.

All the money from the Ferdinand Fee will be divided by Thoroughbred Charities of America and Blue Horse Charities, which annually distribute funds to horse rescues throughout the country.

And even if the AAEP and AVMA are right about rescue operations not being able to handle an overflow of horses, that does not mean they should be brutally slaughtered for meat. If they have to die, they should be killed humanely by lethal injection. If people can’t afford to pay for the euthanasia, are we to believe that there are no veterinarians in the U.S. who would donate that service to prevent their slaughter?

This American disgrace is about to end. The only questions are when, and who is going to help.