Source: Forbes, by Vickery Eckhoff
Whether or not to slaughter horses for human consumption has been a frequent topic of debate ever since Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri and two colleagues with close ties to the beef industry surreptitiously altered a 2012 omnibus spending bill banning the practice.
That maneuver, which Senator Blunt also employed to add the “Monsanto Protection Act” language to a more recent spending bill, opened the door for horse slaughter inspections to resume in the U.S. after a long absence. Without federal funding for inspectors, slaughter houses cannot operate. With the end of New York’s legislative session in sight, lawmakers from across New York are working to ban horses from being slaughtered for human consumption, calling the practice exceptionally cruel and a threat to human health.
On June 4, they came together with hundreds of supporters for the third annual NY State Animal Advocacy Day at the legislative office building in Albany, NY. It was the second rally in support of the ban on slaughter—called “Safe Horse New York”—in two weeks. That legislation would not only ban slaughtering horses, but transporting them to slaughter according to its sponsors, Democratic Assemblymember Deborah Glick (New York City) and Republican Senator Kathy Marchione (Saratoga County). The sale or purchase of horse meat would also be prohibited.
California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas ban horse slaughter while Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Oregon have all recently acted to open up slaughter facilities. Other states, besides New York, are also considering bans and a federal ban—Safeguard American Food Exports (or SAFE)—is gaining sponsors on Capitol Hill.
Eighty percent of Americans overwhelmingly oppose slaughtering horses according to polls conducted by Lake Research Partners for the ASPCA. A majority of horse owners are opposed, including many in the racing industry, as well as people polled in states seeking to open slaughter houses for horses. Public and Congressional opposition to horse slaughter cuts across party and gender lines.
“People understand the significance of horses, the service they provide,” stated Assemblymember Jim Tedisco, a co-sponsor of Glick’s bill who discussed horses’ contributions, not just to racing and building the U.S., including the Erie Canal, but as therapy animals for disabled children and adults as well as U.S. veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “People don’t realize the drugs the horses are taking are also getting into the food chain,” Tedisco noted.
Both the USDA and the Obama administration support defunding inspections of horse slaughter plants in future spending bills, citing food safety concerns magnified this year by an international scandal in which beef was substituted with cheaper horse meat, a fraudulent scheme that apparently had been going on for several years, ensnaring major brands including Nestle, Burger King, Tesco and IKEA meatballs.
1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand and Exceller, a horse of the year, are among the tens of thousands of racehorses slaughtered each year after enriching their owners. Between 16-19% of U.S. horses slaughtered for their meat are former racehorses according to government figures, many of them within weeks and even days of losing their last race.
Broodmares in foal or with foals at their sides have been packed on to livestock trucks like the one that caught fire just outside of Binghamton, New York, on May 6 on its way to a Canadian slaughterhouse, burning alive 30 horses from the New Holland horse auction in Pennsylvania. The New York State Farm Bureau has urged opposition to the Safe Horse New York legislation, citing concerns over personal property rights and the cost to euthanize and dispose of horses, which Senator Marchione says may be addressedthrough a check-off on New York state tax returns or possible tax credit.
The Farm Bureau—whose Deputy Director, Jeff Williams, did not return phone calls requesting an interview—also objects to to the classification of horses as “companion animals” instead of “livestock” in the proposed New York slaughter ban.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies horses as “companion animals,” a designation that is critical to ensuring food safety. According to its web site, the agency “regulates drugs, devices, and food additives for over 100 million companion animals, plus millions of poultry, cattle, swine, and minor animal species” through its Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). The CVM does this to protect both animal health and the public, “by ensuring that animal drugs and medicated feeds are safe and effective and that food from treated animals is safe to eat. This has a direct effect on the safety of the human food supply and on the safety to animals that are treated with veterinary products.”
FDA rules governing livestock are extremely restrictive to protect both animal and human health, not only from dangerous drugs but illnesses that can be transmitted by eating affected meat. The protocol governing companion animals—like horses—is not, since they are raised as sporting, competition and working animals and not for food.
Drugs prohibited in food animals end up in the food chain as a result of loopholes by which kill buyers can purchase truckloads of ex-race horses, carriage horses, rodeo stock and even children’s camp horses for very little at horse auctions all over the U.S. and simply declare them to be drug-free in order to sell them for meat. Fewer than 1% of the U.S. horse population ends up bought by slaughter houses at some point in their lives, usually between the ages of three and ten years old.
Phenylbutazone (or “bute”) is taken by 95-100% of U.S. horses for pain and inflammation, and is one of as many as 121 drugs allowable in horses as companion animals, but banned for use in livestock. One of several horse drugs classified as a human carcinogen, “bute” in minute amounts can cause fatal conditions in people, including bone marrow suppression and hypersensitivity disorders, along with a serum-like sickness that can require lifelong dialysis. Other commonly used horse drugs can cause miscarriages, among other serious health risks. It is because there are no known withdrawal periods or known safe dosage levels set by the FDA that these drugs are banned.
Assemblymember Glick called horse meat a public health and safety issue, stating “Horses are treated with pharmaceuticals that are not allowable in livestock, like cattle and other animals raised for food. There has been a focus all along on the regrettably inhumane treatment of horses going to slaughter, but the more immediate and compelling crisis is the drug issue.”
It’s a problem that the Safe Horse New York bills—along with the Safeguard America’s Food Exports (SAFE) legislation now gaining sponsors on Capitol Hill—can help address, and public support can make all the difference according to both Glick and Marchione. If this weekend’s Belmont fans can shift some of their support from the horses that run on Saturday to those facing slaughter, then perhaps the SAFE Act and Safe Horse New York legislation—and horses themselves—will have a chance.