I love my horse more than I’ve loved anything/anyone else in my life. I think the horse-human bond is one of those powerful, magical things that even science can’t really explain, and I can definitely credit the impact of various horses that have passed through my life for many of my personal and academic successes. All that being said, I am still in support of horse slaughter.
In 2006, Congress withdrew funding for inspection of horse slaughter plants, which resulted in the closure of the three plants in the United States. Last week, Congress approved and president Obama signed into law a bill that would restore this funding.
The first time I heard of the concept of horse slaughter was when I was in high school, and I was appalled at the idea. Generally, owners (or people who have stolen the horses) sell their horses to middlemen at horse auctions who in turn sell the horses to slaughterhouses, which then send the meat overseas for human consumption and to zoos within the United States. This sounds like a gruesome process — these horses have been bred to be our companions, and we just truck them off to be killed in a place where their last memories must be full of terror? So I cheered when the last of the slaughter plants closed in 2007.
However, the problem with closing the plants was that we ended up with a surplus of horses in this country. Euthanizing a horse and disposing of its body is expensive (usually upwards of $400), and people who could no longer afford to keep their horses started to let them waste away in a field or drove them to a remote part of the countryside and abandoned them. Rescue operations and shelters, which already didn’t have room to spare, became filled to overcapacity and had to turn away new horses. Even worse (arguably) is that there are still slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico, and horses often had to suffer through brutal journeys to get to these plants, which the United States has no ability to inspect or regulate.
In addition, while I’m only dealing with slaughter as it relates to the treatment of the horses, it is worth thinking about the hundreds of jobs that the slaughter plants supply.
The main benefit to reopening the plants in the United States is that we will now be able to regulate horse slaughter and make sure the animals are treated humanely (both in transit and at the plants), as we do for other food animals. Standards for food animal slaughter have been put into place in a large part due to the efforts of Dr. Temple Grandin, and it should not be difficult to apply these concepts to humane horse slaughter. At the very least, the horses won’t have to suffer through needlessly painful deaths.
In my ideal world, horse slaughter would not be necessary because there wouldn’t be a horse overpopulation problem. However, shutting down slaughter plants should be the last step in addressing this problem. First, we need to start with taking a closer look at the industry. Professionals breed hundreds of horses looking for the perfect champion, backyard horse owners breed their crippled mares looking for a surrogate to their beloved animals — these are the problems we have to address. If we could find a way to regulate breeding (or maybe require breeders to legally assume lifetime responsibility for any foal that they produce), then maybe we wouldn’t have an overpopulation problem and wouldn’t have any animals to send to the slaughterhouses. After all, it is a little disconcerting that other countries will accept our horse meat — horses are notoriously accident prone, there are very few of them that go through their lives without any drugs in their system, so I think the quality of the meat is highly suspect. But the fact of the matter is that we do have an overpopulation problem and horse slaughter plants are the best way we currently have to deal with it.
Personally, I would never even consider sending my horse to a slaughter plant. We’ve been through so much together, I know that when the time comes (hopefully a long time away from now) I’ll want to be with him to provide as much comfort to him as I can. I also recognize that for many people, the funds for euthanasia are simply not available (although I do think that responsible horse owners should have financial cushions for catastrophes), and for other people horses are simply business acquisitions with no emotional value. For these horses, the slaughter plants provide the most painless outcome possible.
Nikhita Parandekar ’11 is a first-year veterinary student in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. She may be reached at email@example.com. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.