As Americans we love our dogs, we pamper our cats, but we honor and revere our horses. More than any other animal, horses were indispensable in settling the American frontier. They’ve also carried us into battle, starred in our movies and awed us with their wild spirit. We look to them as cultural and historical icons, as partners in work and sport, and as beloved companions.
We do not look at them as dinner. Not now, not ever. Yet, the blood of slaughtered American horses could soon be spilled on American soil for the first time in years — and it would happen right here in Missouri.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture made the troubling announcement that it expects to soon approve an application from a Gallatin, Mo., horse slaughter facility to begin butchering horses for their meat. This is despite a 2012 nationwide poll showing that 80 percent of Americans oppose the practice.
Americans also don’t want millions in tax dollars wasted in support of an industry with a history of traumatizing horses, polluting communities with blood and foul stenches, and destroying local economies with a ruinous stigma.
Horses are killed in slaughter plants mainly because their owners fail to keep up their end of the bargain to provide lifetime care or find a good home for animals that have come under their stewardship. Rather, they make a few bucks by selling the animals to “kill buyers” who then ship them off on a grueling trip to slaughter plants. It is not humane euthanasia but far from it — a death fraught with fear and pain for the animals.
Horses will travel to Missouri from all around the country, likely crammed in trailers for days without food, water or escape from extreme temperatures. For all the misguided arguments that try to justify slaughter on grounds beyond profit, the truth is simple: Horse slaughter is not, and never has been, the answer to neglect, abandonment, starvation and suffering. We have found over and over that so-called “unwanted horses,” if rescued from the slaughter pipeline and given a second chance, go on to win shows, ride trails and simply provide joy to people.
The USDA itself reports that more than 92 percent of horses sent to slaughter are in good condition. Instead of taking advantage of the many suitable re-homing alternatives available for horses, some owners are stuck on the wrongheaded idea that slaughter is their only remedy.
The continued availability of slaughter has led to a prevailing attitude within some segments of the horse industry that horses are a disposable commodity. Slaughter perpetuates the breeding of more and more horses, while more than 100,000 others are sentenced to die every year by owners and breeders who unload them by the pound at horse auctions.
Now, more than ever, is the time to tell our legislators that we value and respect horses — and that Missouri shouldn’t be the place where they come to die. Horse welfare and our state’s reputation are at stake.
Urge Congress to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, S. 541/H.R. 1094, which outlaws the slaughter of American horses on U.S. soil and the export of live horses across the borders for slaughter.
Amanda Good of Kansas City is the Missouri director for the Humane Society of the United States.