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Wendy Reuer, Published June 06 2011

Critics say slaughter ban hurting horses, not helping them

FARGO – Although a ban to prevent horse slaughter in the U.S. was meant to protect horses, many say it is only hurting them.

“It’s a simple fact that more horses are suffering today than before because horse processing plants are closed,” said Doug Tescher, a rancher in Medora.

There is no outright federal ban on horse slaughter. Instead, a 2007 federal appropriations bill blocks funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect equine meat. In order to transport or sell any type of animal meat, it must be inspected and approved by the USDA.

The 2011 Agriculture Budget Bill omitted the ban. That is until Tuesday, when the Moran Amendment passed in the House Appropriations subcommittee with a tight vote of 24-21. The amendment continues the denial of funding for the USDA inspections of horse meat.

The measure will go to the full House of Representatives for a vote this month.

Current law still allows horses to be “sold for kill,” and then transported to Mexico or Canada where slaughter is legal, although often lightly regulated.

More than 100,000 horses a year are now shipped for slaughter, figures from the Animal Welfare Council show.

“I think they would be much better off as far as the horses are concerned to have horse slaughter in the U.S. because we can govern it,” said Charlotte Tuhy, owner of Hightail Ranch and Rescue.

Tuhy said her Hawley, Minn. rescue operation has seen an increase in calls from owners financially strapped and looking to surrender their horses. She attributes the rise in calls to a number of things, but said the slaughter ban is one of them.

“I think we’ve put a huge cart before the horse. We did a huge disservice to the horses with that,” Tuhy said. “I’m not an advocate of slaughtering horses, in fact, I’m a vegetarian, but I realize there are horses that are not healthy or are dangerous. You have to have a solution for that.”

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is against horse slaughter and the transport for slaughter. Jacque Schultz, senior director of community outreach for the group, said it’s difficult to say if the numbers of neglected or mistreated horses has increased.

“Anecdotally, I can tell you that equine rescue groups have been reporting more calls for help. Some groups have been reporting slower adoptions and that they’re getting more returns,” Schultz said.

Tescher said the ban on horse slaughter hurts horse owners and breeders by making their animals worthless at auction. At the same time, upkeep costs continue to rise. Tescher said owners can’t afford the $450 a year in feed for horses if they cannot make anything in return.

“Horses that could bring $300 to $400 (for kill) just a few years ago, now barely make $25 to $50 at auction,” he said. On average, it costs about $30 per horse to sell at auction.

Another issue for horse owners facing a zero-dollar market is disposing of aging horses. Horses can lose their teeth as they age, eventually causing death by starvation without proper care. The cost of a veterinarian euthanasia and disposal of a horse can cost up to $3,000.

Alison Smith, owner of the Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue near Mandan said the argument that a ban on slaughter has caused an uptick in neglect or abuse is “hooey.”

“People think this is a huge problem that just came about now. But it has always existed,” Smith said. “The value of the horse may be down, but so is the value of the house and everything else.”

Smith said perhaps with the help of veterinarians, a plan for these horses can be found. She suggested a day when volunteer veterinarians could offer to euthanize horses for a discount or for free.

North Dakota legislators dealt with the issue during the 2009 session by unanimously approving a bill offered by by Rep. Rod Froehlich, D-Selfridge and Sen. Joe Miller R-Park River. The bill authorized a $100,000 study by the North Dakota Department of Commerce to determine the feasibility of establishing a privately owned slaughter house in the state.

The study was divided into two phases, first examining the legality of such a plant, and then studying the economic feasibility.

John Mittleider of the Department of Commerce said the study didn’t move past the first stage.

“We could have an equine processing plant in the state of North Dakota that only harvested horses born and raised in the state and then the meat could only be utilized in the state as well,” Mittleider said.

He said unless there is a change in federal regulations, North Dakota will not move forward with allowing a horse slaughter plant.

The federal Government Accountability Office is now studying if there is a correlation between neglect and the slaughter ban, but results have not yet been released.

Tescher said he is still hoping for change. He said he understands most people who support the ban, do so because they believe they are helping horses.

“But they’re not. They’re making it worse,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530