Growing concern over the number of horses dying on race tracks – an average of 10 a week – is forcing the racing industry to reassess how it conducts its business. Some are calling for more regulation, while others want an outright ban, CBS News correspondent Don Dahler reports.
No one knows the thrill, and the risks, of the sport more than Hall Of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. He won 5,000 races, including the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes three times each. He even had a role in the movie "Seabiscuit."
But Stevens is now worried the sport he loves is in existential danger.
After the most recent death of a horse at Santa Anita during the Breeders' Cup Classic despite an unprecedented number of reforms implemented at that track the past few months, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued an ominous warning: "If the horse racing industry is unwilling to treat these magnificent creatures humanely, it has no business operating in the United States."
Stevens said: "I'm scared for racing here in California. I really am." "The misconception is that we're not caring for these horses, and that we as a group don't care. We care," he said.
There have always been fatalities in horse racing. When the half-ton athletes are racing at full speed — about 40 miles an hour — only one foot at a time hits the ground, which is an enormous amount of violent pressure on relatively narrow leg bones. When a broken bone occurs, thoroughbreds are simply physiologically incapable of staying alive while the bone heals.
But horse race deaths in the United States are two to three times higher than in Europe, where there are tighter controls on race-day medications and where training and the tracks themselves are different.
Hancock also believes American horses are entirely over-medicated, and many drugs mask underlying issues, putting perhaps slightly injured horses on the path to a fatal injury.
In most states, both Lasix, an anti-bleeding drug, and the anti-inflammatory Phenylbutazone, known as bute, are allowed on race day. A European study released this month statistically connected bute to on-track breakdowns.
"I contend that if a horse needs drugs to run he doesn't need to be running. He needs to run on his natural ability, not some chemically induced ability," Hancock said.
A bill now before Congress would eliminate all race-day medications and give enforcement authority to the doping agency that oversees the Olympics. It would also establish an independent central authority charged with improving horse and rider safety.
Stevens said he would "absolutely" support that type of authority. "Are you optimistic now that change will happen?" Dahler asked. "It's gotta happen, or they're done here. Period. And if they're done here, it's going to be a tidal wave across the United States," Stevens said.
Just this month, a group of owners, tracks and organizations that represent 85% of American horse racing announced their own initiative to establish a thoroughbred safety coalition. But Hancock is skeptical that the industry is capable of policing itself.
Source: CBS News
With wins in this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, American Pharoah has one more race to win to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. Fans will pay close attention to Saturday's Belmont Stakes because they love a winner, but also because they love horses -- their beauty, athleticism and storied place in American culture.
But of the 25,000 thoroughbreds bred each year, very few will compete in the Triple Crown races so familiar to us. And tens of thousands of other horses of other breeds will never gain a spot in the limelight, and certainly not in the winner's circle of a major race.
Too often, these horses do not make the cut with their owners, or they are redirected from a legitimate enterprise -- racing, work or pleasure riding -- and sent into the horse slaughter trade.
Data from the U.S. and Canadian governments indicate that more than 100,000 American horses a year are exported and slaughtered in Canada or Mexico for human consumption, often after a long, typically harrowing journey that starts in an auction barn in a rural part of the United States.
It's an inhumane process from start to finish, and far from a dignified or appropriate end for a creature that did nothing wrong and which deserved much better than to be turned into a slab of meat for a foreign consumer.
The predatory horse slaughter industry doesn't euthanize old, sick horses. Precisely the opposite: Kill buyers, typically misrepresenting their intentions, purchase young and healthy horses and haul them away. At auctions, kill buyers often bid against legitimate horse owners and horse rescuers. Based on observations by our organization, most horses going to slaughter are in good condition and able to live healthy and productive lives.
Horses are transported long distances in overcrowded trailers and are badly injured or even killed during transit, according to documents obtained from the Department of Agriculture. Inside the bloody, panic-stricken environment of a slaughterhouse, their suffering only intensifies as horses endure repeated attempts to render them unconscious. When horse slaughter plants operated on U.S. soil before being rightfully shut down in 2007, it proved to be no better: The USDA documented horrific cruelty, including broken bones and eyeballs hanging from eye sockets by a thread of skin.
Although horse slaughter is so ruthless and inhumane, proponents of this grisly practice try to convince the public that slaughter is somehow "good" for horses that otherwise would be neglected. But it's actually the kill buyers who routinely abandon horses, especially at the border when they are rejected for slaughter. They are also responsible for a laundry list of cases of severe neglect.
Beyond being a predatory enterprise, the horse slaughter industry also endangers human health by peddling tainted meat. Horses in the United States are not raised with the intention of turning them into food, so they therefore may be treated with any of hundreds of drugs over the course of their lives, both illegal and legal, that may be toxic to humans if ingested. One example is phenylbutazone, or "bute." It is as common to horses as aspirin is to humans, and is banned by the FDA for use in any animal intended for human consumption.
Then consider the makeshift pharmacy of drugs used in race horses -- from cobra venom to cocaine, according to a 2012 New York Times investigation. Because of these serious food safety concerns, the European Union, among the largest consumer of the meat of American horses, recently suspended horse meat imports from Mexico, where 87 percent of horses slaughtered for export to the EU were of U.S. origin. EU authorities made the decision after a series of scathing audits that exposed a cluster of problems, including a lack of traceability of American horses and horrific suffering on U.S. soil and in Mexico.
Most Americans disapprove of slaughtering horses for food. A national survey of 1,008 people in 2012 found that 80 percent opposed slaughtering of horses for human consumption.
To end the slaughter of American horses and protect the food supply, legislators in Congress introduced the Safeguard American Food Exports Act. It not only would prevent this clandestine, greed-driven industry from operating in America, but would outlaw the export of horses across our borders for slaughter.
So while we turn our attention to the next race, let us remember that every horse, whether a Kentucky Derby winner or a pleasure horse, deserves our protection and lifetime care.
Federal lawmakers today introduced legislation to prevent the establishment of horse slaughter operations within the U.S., end the current export of American horses for slaughter abroad, and protect the public from consuming toxic horse meat. The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 1942, was introduced by Reps. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.).
Last year, more than 140,000 American horses were slaughtered for human consumption in foreign countries. The animals often suffer long journeys to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico without adequate food, water or rest. At the slaughterhouse, horses are brutally forced into a "kill box" and shot in the head with a captive bolt gun in an attempt to stun them before slaughter—a process that can be inaccurate due to the biology and nature of equines and result in animals sustaining repeated blows or remaining conscious during the kill process.
"For centuries, horses have embodied the spirit of American freedom and pride," said Rep. Guinta. "To that end, horses are not raised for food – permitting their transportation for the purposes of being slaughtered for human consumption is not consistent with our values and results in a dangerously toxic product. This bipartisan bill seeks to prevent and end the inhumane and dangerous process of transporting thousands of horses a year for food."
"Horses sent to slaughter are often subject to appalling, brutal treatment," said Rep. Schakowsky. "We must fight those practices. The SAFE Act of 2015 will ensure that these majestic animals are treated with the respect they deserve."
"The slaughter of horses for human consumption is an absolute travesty that must be stopped," said Rep. Buchanan. "This bipartisan measure will finally put an end to this barbaric practice."
"Horse slaughter is an inhumane practice that causes great pain and distress to the animals, and poses numerous environmental and food safety concerns," said Rep. Lujan Grisham.
"The vast majority of my constituents oppose horse slaughter. I'm proud to support the SAFE Act to ban this cruelty once and for all."
The SAFE Act would also protect consumers from dangerous American horse meat, which can be toxic to humans due to the unregulated administration of drugs to horses. Because horses are not raised for food, they are routinely given hundreds of toxic drugs and chemical treatments over their lifetimes that are prohibited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in animals intended for human consumption. Those drugs, although safe for horses, are potentially toxic to humans if consumed. In December 2014, the European Union (EU) announced its suspension of imports of horse meat from Mexico after a scathing audit of EU-certified Mexican horse slaughter plants, which kill tens of thousands of American horses each year. Additionally, the discovery of horse meat in beef products in Europe shocked consumers and raised concerns about the potential impact on American food industries.
Help Ban Horse Slaughter Nationwide! Contact Congress in support of the SAFE Act. Passage of the SAFE Act will not only ensure that predatory horse slaughterers can't reopen their doors here in the USA—it will also stop the trafficking of horses to slaughterhouses over American borders. Click Here to Take Action!