Congress must act to prevent horse slaugther

by: Archive photo A horse at the 2011 Columbia County Fair.

American horses are revered as companions, cultural icons, and partners in recreation and sport. Nowhere in our country's narrative are horses ever considered dinner. Our pervasive love of horses is the primary reason why the idea of slaughtering horses for human consumption is so abhorrent to the vast majority of Americans, and will never gain traction.

Programs like the Oregon Hay Bank, which has been emulated in several other states, exist to provide struggling horse owners with direct assistance in keeping and caring for their animals, including free hay and assistance with vet bills, farrier care, euthanasia and other essential services.

Those who still can't maintain their horse still have the legal options of selling or leasing their animal, donating them to therapeutic riding or mounted police programs or relinquishing them to a rescue or sanctuary.

As a last resort, humane euthanasia is an acceptable and affordable component of responsible ownership, which most American horse owners practice when their equine companion reaches the end of his healthy life. An animal that has given the better part of his life in service to people should never be subjected to the blood and horror of the slaughter process.

Irresponsible breeding practices are at the root of the horse-slaughter issue. By treating our equine companions as a throw-away commodity, some breeders and breed groups-including some of the loudest voices calling for the killing and butchering of American horses-have come to rely on cruel and predatory killer buyers to snatch up their castoffs. Instead of using taxpayer dollars to pay for inspections to subsidize foreign-owned businesses that prey on our nation's horses, it's high time we hold the horse industry accountable for taking realistic and sustainable steps to improve its market by reducing supply to meet current demand.

As a business proposition, horse slaughter in the United States is a nonstarter. Slaughter plants would face massive protests; litigation; close scrutiny by local, state, federal and foreign regulatory authorities; and the prospect of a permanent federal ban on slaughtering horses for human consumption.

When the last three horse slaughter plants operated in the U.S., they employed a total of 178 people in low-paying, dangerous, high-stress jobs. The companies that owned them were all foreign-owned, so their profits went overseas. Neighboring communities were beset by pollution and the unending stench of rotten blood and offal. In their quest for higher profits, the companies did their best to avoid paying property taxes and the fines levied against them for their environmental violations.

Horse slaughter is bad for horses and runs counter to American values.

To protect our horses, Congress should take swift action to finally ban the slaughter of American horses by passing the American Horse Slaughter Prevent Act of 2011 (S.B. 1176/H.R. 2966).

Scott Beckstead is the Senior Oregon Director for the Humane Society of the United States. For more information, visit