On Nov. 18, President Obama signed the fiscal year 2012 agriculture appropriations bill into law. Absent was a rider that previously had prohibited U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection of horsemeat for human consumption.
That backdoor rider was placed in previous versions of the ag bill and ended domestic horse slaughter.
Since the issue of horse slaughter first arose in the United States, the American Quarter Horse Association has publicly fought to keep horse slaughter as an end-of-life option for owners who need it. To some, this position seems puzzling. After all, isn’t AQHA about protecting horses?
Every horse owner dreads the day when he faces the difficult end-of-life decision that is inevitable when it comes to owning an animal. Sometimes horses become dangerous, or their owners become unable or unwilling to care for them. Horses become unwanted or un-needed. Sending a horse to a processing facility is unthinkable to many, and AQHA respects that position. For others, it is the best option.
"AQHA recognizes that the processing of unwanted horses is currently a necessary aspect of the equine industry, because it provides a humane euthanasia alternative for horses that might otherwise continue a life of discomfort and pain, inadequate care or abandonment."
- Tom Persechino
AQHA does not favor processing as a way of dealing with unwanted horses, and strongly supports euthanasia by injection, equine retirement facilities, donation to a university or simply being turned out to pasture. AQHA encourages responsible ownership practices to reduce the number of unwanted horses.
AQHA also has supported legislation to ensure the safe and humane transportation of horses that are bound for slaughter and backed guidelines for how horses must be treated at the facilities. While that might appear to be pro-slaughter, it’s not that simple.
One of the major issues in the slaughter debate centers on personal property rights. AQHA believes that allowing animal-rights advocates to determine how we manage our horses opens the door to letting them put other limits on what we can or cannot do with our horses (i.e. transportation, trail riding, racing, showing and overall care). AQHA respects the right of horse owners to manage their personal property as they choose, so long as the welfare of the horse is paramount.
These issues were underscored in a report released by the Government Accountability Office last June. The GAO found that the unintended consequences included a sizeable negative economic impact on the horse industry and incidents of inhumane treatment of horses as a result of the cessation of domestic horse slaughter.
These arguments are not considered by animal rights groups, which continue to lobby Congress to pass legislation that would eliminate domestic horse processing or transportation to Canada or Mexico for horse processing.
It has always been AQHA’s fear that by ending U.S. horse processing, bottom-end, unemployable and unwanted animals would become neglected and place an undue burden on state and local governments. That is what the GAO report revealed - and what is unacceptable to AQHA.
"Nobody yet knows if a processing facility will open in the United States. The three horse processing plants that existed are now closed and state laws prohibit them from re-opening. However, unless and until a domestic horse processing facility opens, the welfare of the horse will be in jeopardy."
- Tom Persechino
Horses will travel longer distances to facilities outside the U.S., and once there, their care and handling is subject to some other country’s laws ... or lack thereof.
AQHA is about the horse and about educating owners on options they have. It is not about sensationalizing a very emotional issue.
Tom Persechino is the American Quarter Horse Association’s executive director of competition and breed integrity and oversees AQHA’s public policy efforts. He lives in Amarillo.