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December 06, 2011 8:57 am

EDITORIAL: Allowing U.S. horse slaughterhouses is the right decision

Written by Tessa Schweigert

After a five-year federal ban, aging or unwanted horses could soon be slaughtered again in America. Congress and President Barack Obama lifted the federal ban quietly in a spending bill last month.

This is a controversial step, especially in the West.

After all, the horse is perhaps our most beloved animal. They assist in many Wyoming residents’ livelihood in ranching and farming. They provide a range of recreational opportunities, from the thrills of rodeo to simply horseback riding on a sunny day. They serve as faithful and trusted companions, both in steep mountains and flat pastures.

And they helped develop the Powell Valley we know today. The current “Horse Power!” exhibit at Homesteader Museum features photos of horses at work — digging the canal, grading roads, cultivating land and plowing.

Just look to Wyoming’s bucking bronco symbol to see the horse’s significance to the Cowboy State.

The West thrives on the horse, both for sentimental and utilitarian reasons.

So what, then, happens with horses that are too old, unfit or unwanted?

Other agricultural animals are taken to the butcher. But not so with horses.

In 2006, a federal ban on funding horse meat inspections effectively closed all equine slaughterhouses in the United States. The last one closed in 2007.

While many horse advocates applauded the move, it was hardly a victory.

The ban didn’t prevent U.S. horses from being slaughtered — it just sent them across the border. U.S. horses were still slaughtered, almost at the same levels. Horses were transported many miles away, often in cramped or unfavorable conditions, to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.

According to a federal report, about 138,000 horses were transported to slaughterhouses in Mexico or Canada in 2010 — nearly the same number that were killed in the United States before 2007, when the ban took effect.

From 2006 through 2010, U.S. horses exported for slaughter to Mexico increased 660 percent, according to the report the U.S. Government Accountability Office released in June. Horse exports to Canadian slaughterhouses increased by 148 percent.

Combined with a struggling economy, the ban also meant significantly lower prices for horses.

Many horses up for sale are thinner because owners don’t want to spend additional money on feed if sale prices remain low, said Bill Parker, who manages horse sales at Billings Livestock Commission, in a Billings Gazette article. An estimated 40 percent or so of the horses sold will be slaughtered, Parker told the Gazette last week.

Investigations for horse neglect and abandonment increased since the ban took effect, and the economy spiraled downward. For example, in Colorado, investigations for horse abuse and neglect spiked more than 60 percent from 2005 to 2009, according to the federal report.

The ban was intended to reduce harm, but in many ways, it increased horses’ suffering. We hope its lifting will improve the ways the animals are treated and handled.

2 comments

  • Comment Link November 08, 2012 9:11 am posted by Elizabeth

    I honestly do not think America's beloved horse should be transported in harsh conditions to die a horrible death in slaughterhouses.

  • Comment Link April 19, 2013 6:56 pm posted by Hannah

    This is why I hate Obama, he made horse sluaghter legal! It makes me cry everytime I read something. Horses are meant to be best friends, not food.

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