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.
Tom Persechino Advocates for Horse Slaughter and Tax-Supported Equine Euthanasia Facilities Across the Country
Source: KFDA, News Channel 10
"Unwanted horses" are being left on roadsides across the country to fend for themselves.
Tom Persechino, marketing director for the American Quarter Horse Association says this is an issue we have been facing for two or three years as the rising price of fuel and corn has increased the cost of caring for a horse. But he says there is another, even bigger reason, the number of unwanted horses has increased.
Congress banned horse slaughter in 2006. Persechino says slaughter provided an economical and humane way to take care of horses that became unwanted. He also says the ban shut down an outlet for people who needed it.
People like Virginia Rogers, who two years ago, had to send her 25 year old mare to slaughter because the alternatives were too expensive. She says, "they are God's creatures but they need a humane way to be put down other than being thrown out like garbage."
But now, things have changed. Persechino says the horse market is tough, but usable horses have options. One option: friends with land. Friends of the owner who could provide land for a horse to be turned out to pasture. Another, second careers. Some racing horses could go on to compete as jumping horses or speed horses. Lastly, donating a gentle horse to riding programs for the mentally and physically handicapped.
Congress banned horse slaughter in 2006. Tom Persechino says slaughter provided an economical and humane way to take care of horses that became unwanted. He also says the ban shut down an outlet for people who needed it.
But these are realistic options only for a small number of horses. Dr. Don Topliff of WTAMU says, "there are options for some horses, but for the vast majority, there are no end of life options palatable for most people." For those unusable horses, the seemingly only option available is euthanasia.
Since euthanasia can cost several hundred dollars, Persechino recently went to Washington, D.C. to talk with Department of Agriculture officials about creating tax-supported euthanasia facilities across the country, much like those that euthanize smaller animals like dogs and cats.
Source: Beef Daily
Horses are free for the asking. Sometimes they're even free without asking as unwanted horses turn up in sale barn pens, tied to someone's corral or are simply turned loose in the dead of night. Prices for horses that are trading have dropped across the spectrum because there's no longer a price floor. There's still a killer market, close to the borders. But shipping puts more miles on the horses.
Sometimes they're even free without asking as unwanted horses turn up in sale barn pens, tied to someone's corral or are simply turned loose in the dead of night. Prices for horses that are trading have dropped across the spectrum because there's no longer a price floor.
There's still a killer market, close to the borders. But shipping puts more miles on the horses and they end up at facilities in Canada and Mexico where the U.S. has no animal welfare jurisdiction.
That's what animal rights activists and others presumably concerned about the welfare of unwanted horses effectively accomplished by banning horse slaughter in this country.
“This is emotion vs. logic, and we never win those kinds of arguments,” laments Lance Baker, West Texas A&M University associate professor of animal science in the Equine Industry Program. “Most people who own horses don't treat them like livestock; they treat them more like a cross between livestock and a pet… They simply believe horsemeat should never be eaten.”
Keep in mind, this ban was accomplished through the use of state laws. In Texas, where two of the remaining three horse-slaughter plants operated until May, it was a 1949 state law originally placed on the books to prevent packers from mixing horsemeat with beef. In Illinois, it was a new state law banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption. As of Oct. 1, the courts there apparently drove the final nail into that facility's hopes by refusing its appeal.
Pending bills in Congress could prove more worrisome to other livestock producers, though.
“We're concerned this could set a precedent that would prohibit processing of other livestock species, since the decision is based on emotion rather than on science, animal welfare and animal health,” says Josh Winegarner, Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) director of government relations.
TCFA and other state associations were heavily involved in the debate over the horse-slaughter facilities in Texas. Because the 1949 law mentioned earlier was already on the books, Winegarner explains there was little opportunity to convince slaughter-ban supporters of the unintended consequences.
In basic terms, a pending bill in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 503) seeks to amend the Horse Protection Act to “…prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, and for other purposes.” A sister bill (S. 311) is pending in the Senate.
According to Brent Gattis, senior policy advisor for Olsson, Frank and Weeda, P.C. in Washington, D.C., the language in these bills is mild compared to what supporters of the slaughter ban have tried to attach via appropriations language. One version would have prohibited federal veterinary inspection of horses for all purposes. No more international trading of race horses, no more competing at international equestrian events. No more circuses with horses.
“It was unclear whether you'd even be able to move horses across state lines,” says Gattis, whose firm has been representing the processing facilities.
A letter to the chairman of the Agricultural Appropriations Committee, from 18 livestock organizations — including the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and Professional Cowboys Rodeo Association — explained the language would also prohibit inspection of live horses for disease, as well as inspections at quarantine facilities. The General Counsel for USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service also weighed in against the language.
Without the federal bills, life is already tougher for horses. According to a report issued by the Animal Welfare Council (AWC) last year, there are about 9.2 million horses in the U.S. (2005). Of those — previous to the ban on horse slaughter — AWC estimated about 1% (90,000 head) were marketed annually to processing for human consumption.Looking through a different glass, the total cost of caring for unwanted horses, based upon 2005 statistics, is $220 million/year, according to AWC. Persechino also shares AAEP statistics that estimate basic sustenance horse care at $1,900/horse/year — feed, water and shelter but no veterinary or farrier expense.
None of the expenses account for the lost processing revenue, either.
“Those in favor of banning horse slaughter say those 90,000 head can be absorbed into current horse-rescue facilities,” Baker says. “First, no federal regulations exist to govern the care of horses in those facilities. Second, there aren't enough rescue facilities to take care of 90,000 unwanted horses this year, let alone another 80,000-90,000 the year after that, and so on.”
“There are very few, and by that I mean less than a handful of, publicly funded, equine facilities/shelters like those in every city for dogs and cats,” Persechino explains. “If the government is going to limit processing as an option, they should first provide economic alternatives for owners. Dog and cat shelters enjoy widespread public support and funding. Shouldn't horses have the same option?”
In a paper entitled “The Unintended Consequences of a Ban on the Humane Slaughter of Horses in the U.S.,” AWC explains, “For all disposal methods, except for onsite burial, transportation of the horse carcass to the disposal site creates issues pertaining to cost, disease transmission and potential exposure to the public of deceased animals. The increasing cost and difficulty of carcass disposal is emerging as a significant issue for horse owners with limited financial capacity to care for an unwanted horse.”
When renderers are available, they charge $75-$250. There's incineration, but it's not necessarily readily available, and it costs $600-$2,000, AWC says. Newer technologies like composting and bio-degradation also come at a cost and have unique environmental or access challenges. Even burial — euthanization by a veterinarian and disposal at a certified landfill still willing to accept horse carcasses — will cost $300-$500.
What's more, Baker points to the sad but well-known cases of dogs and cats abandoned by their owners out in the country, rather than taken to the local animal shelter, many of which charge nothing. He wonders what would possess such people to pay for humane euthanasia and disposal of an unwanted horse. “Without the option and economic incentive to process horses, the number of animal-neglect cases may double or triple in local communities,” AWC concludes.
That was the basis of a joint response from NCBA and 190 other organizations to the pending federal bills: “…As many as 90,000 horses annually will need care, food and shelter. S. 311, and legislation in the House, H.R. 503, both fail to address the problems of costs for care and the unintended mistreatment of these animals in non-regulated rescue facilities.”
Persechino says, “I think you also can expect taxpayers to foot the bill for horses that become part of the ‘equine welfare’ system, just as we are currently subsidizing wild mustangs and burros.”
Still time to fight
Ironically, Winegarner points out it may become easier to get the public and their elected officials to recognize the problem with unwanted horses in light of the ban on horse slaughter as more horses are abandoned and neglected.
“Continue to educate your representatives in Congress about any impacts you see from the ban on horse slaughter, and about the unintended consequences it could have on other livestock species,” advises Winegarner.
“This is a good example of what animal-rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States are willing to do in their effort to prohibit anyone from owning livestock for any reason,” Gattis says. “It's also a good example of what can happen unless the agricultural industry bands together.”