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Karen Borstad, Published February 08 2009

Horse bill a recipe for meat

House Bill 1496 proposes a $100,000 study to determine the feasibility of a horse slaughterhouse and rendering facility. Slaughterhouses kill horses, while rendering plants boil down and make feed meal and other products out of slaughterhouse and restaurant scraps, dead farm animals, road kill and euthanized animals.

Bill proponents argue that slaughter is needed to control abuse and neglect of aging horses and to stem the tide of “hundreds” of unwanted horses into the wild. If hundreds of horses were being released in North Dakota or abandoned at sale barns, the media would be all over the story.

Witness the recent story about the herd of bison that broke out of their pasture. In most cases, research has found that reports of abandoned horses around the country are simply untrue. When the last slaughterhouse in the United States closed, there was no rise in abuse or neglect of horses.

Slaughter will never solve those problems. Saying slaughter is better than abuse and neglect – that may be so for the small number of horses that are neglected, but not so for the large number of American horses that are slaughtered, roughly 120,000 per year.

Proponents also argue that the horse market has collapsed due to the end of slaughter in America. The end of slaughter may have affected the market somewhat, but the current recession in America directly affected the horse market far more. The market will necessarily correct itself and will create a disincentive to the overbreeding habits enabled by horse slaughter.

Horse slaughter is a business driven by the foreign demand for horse meat for human consumption. Kill buyers don’t simply arrive at the slaughterhouse with horses that “needed to be disposed.” They deliver the contracted number of horses they are asked to deliver. Kill buyers may outbid private buyers and horse rescues at auction in order to obtain the type of horses they want to send to slaughter – young, healthy, in good flesh. They will not simply buy up the cheapest, oldest, sickest horses as proponents would have you believe.

Horse slaughter enables unlimited and irresponsible breeding. If a horse has imperfect conformation, is the wrong color, or has rank behavior due to no handling or training – then proponents can slaughter the animal and try again.

The solution for old or sick horses is no different than the solution for an aging or sick pet – humane euthanization by a veterinarian. Typically the cost to euthanize is no more than the equivalent of a couple of months of keep for a horse. As much as proponents would like to paint it as such, horse slaughter is not a humane end.

Even when slaughter existed in America, horses were routinely trucked long distances without food or water, packed in trailers. Horses arrived at the slaughterhouses injured from fighting or already dead. The captive bolt used to stun the horse was developed for use in cattle and is not as effective on the skull of the horse, causing some horses to be strung up to be bled out and carved up while still conscious.

If you keep a horse, you are responsible for its humane care. It is also part of responsible horse ownership to plan financially for a horse’s final care. To do less, and further, to profit from the horse’s inhumane demise, is unacceptable.

I would suggest the following uses for the $100,000: For those concerned about aging horses and the poor economy, fund euthanasia assistance programs. That could be done without the state’s help, too – by taxing breeders to discourage overbreeding or by taxing horse registrations. The state could also subsidize auctions to dispose of horses receiving zero bids by using humane euthanasia, or the state could promote horse rescue facilities.

It is time for the people to say no to horse slaughter – not in North Dakota, not ever.