The theme of World Horse Welfare's conference this year was: What is the Value of Horses? A spirited debate took place on whether welfare would improve if horse slaughter were banned and what is essential for good horsemanship.
At last year's conference, Princess Anne* asked if horsemeat was a welfare solution, with her comments being widely discussed in the media afterwards.
In a new format for 2014, four equine enthusiasts were asked to argue for or against the statement:
‘Horse welfare would be improved if horse slaughter were banned’
Taking to the stage to air their opinions were international dressage rider Richard Davison, Professor Natalie Waren from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones and Peter Webbon, former chief executive of the Animal Health Trust.
The key message from those who agreed with ending the slaughter of horses for meat was an emotional one – claiming we owe our equines a “debt of gratitude”.
Immoral and abhorrent
“Euthanasia is very different to slaughtering horses in an abattoir,” said Liz Jones. “It isn’t doing horses justice – we owe them a great deal of gratitude and that isn’t about getting them into the food chain. It’s a moral question – and to me it’s completely immoral and abhorrent.”
However, Peter Webbon stated the fate of the carcass – whether it was cremated, rendered or entered the food chain – is “totally irrelevant to animal welfare”.
“But anything that encourages people to have horses slaughtered without undue delay or long journeys to the slaughter house would improve welfare,” he said.
Professor Natalie Waren agreed once the animal is dead there is “neutral welfare”, but said there is no evidence that industrial slaughter is good for animal welfare.
“It’s about the quality of the animal’s last few moments,” she argued. “We do not want to objectify the horses we enjoy and that have a place in our hearts, which gives them special value.”
Richard questioned the wording of the statement, declaring the debate should be about how slaughter or euthanasia can be conducted in a more humane way.
“If you remain, like me, open minded about this you can not support this motion, as it is worded,” he said. “Abandoning slaughter won’t improve horses’ welfare. Before we consider a ban we need to look at improving methods and the conditions they are subjected to during slaughter.”
It was also argued those horses currently neglected and abandoned, would have a market value.
“Owners of these horses would be prepared to take them for slaughter, so they are no longer suffering,” said Peter. “But we need to change conditions of slaughter.”
However, Natalie raised concerns that slaughtering horses for meat would encourage the breeding of low-value horses.
“Indiscriminate breeding of poor value horses leads to neglect and abandoning, we don’t want to end up encouraging that and rewarding it by allowing slaughter as an easy option,” she said.
"If we open doors to say slaughter is the answer we are doing a disservice to a wonderful animal. In my eyes they have more value than commercially produced pig. Horses are special to us, let's keep it that way.”
Source: Horse and Country
*Princess Anne is the current president of World Horse Welfare, which was founded in 1927 as a campaigning organization to prevent the export of live British horses for slaughter. Despite all their welfare advocacy, the organization does not campaign against horse slaughter and the eating of horsemeat.