Horse Slaughter Approved in U.S.: 5 Reasons Not to Eat Horse Meat

Opinion/Analysis

   on December 02 2011 5:05 PM

The U.S. Congress has lifted a five-year-old ban on horse slaughter in America, and many believe it's likely that horse meat for human consumption may be available within the month.

That doesn't mean, however, that many Americans will be taking Congress up on the offer.

There are legitimate arguments for the consumption of horse meat, which countries like France, Italy and Japan do on a regular basis, and there are some good reasons for arguing that legal, regulated slaughterhouses would be better than the illegal horse slaughtering and barely-legal exporting tht goes on today.

For those who wonder why horse slaughter was ever even challenged, however, and who view horse meat as simply another form of animal protein like beef pork, here are five reasons many give to support bringing back the ban on horse slaughter plants.

In response to 5 Reasons to Eat Horse Meat, here are my 5 Reasons to Keep Horse Meat Banned.

1. Horse slaughter is unethical, cruel and inhumane.

Over 300 animal welfare organizations, horse trade groups, prominent horse owners and corporate buyers oppose horse slaughter and the consumption of horse meat, and for good reason, too.

Horses suffer abuse in the slaughterhouse system from the feedlot to the transport to the execution itself, and there is no reason to believe limited government regulation will change that.

A graphic 30-page report by Animals Angels laid out the process: after being held in dangerously cramped and overcrowded pens, horses are subjected to brutal treatment by handlers to shove them into transport trucks. They then spend hours or even day trapped in double-decked trailers with no rest, no water and no food (for 28 hours by law).

Then comes the slaughter itself. In most countries horses are stunned by a captive bolt gun, similar to the process used on cattle, before being exsanguinated (bled out). Though most slaughter houses follow this rule and use trained slaughter technicians, others have been known to place the captive bolt incorrectly, operating under the assumption that a horse's brain is no different than a cow's brain.

Despite the simple training needed to correctly knock the horse unconscious and achieve brain destruction before exsanguination, slaughterhouse have been known to simply stun the animal before bleeding them out.

Slaughterhouses are often horrific across the country, and certainly beyond the U.S. But arguing that cows, pigs and chickens are slaughtered just as inhumanely as horses would be doesn't add much to an argument in favor of eating horse meat.

2. Any horse can be slaughtered... or stolen.

Horse meat can legally come from any type of equine. Children's ponies, retired show or carriage horses, or simply an animal that the family can no longer afford are all used in horse meat. And although some argue horse slaughter is an efficient and ultimately more humane way to kill animals that are slowly dying, anti-slaughter advocates report that up to 90 percent of horses killed for meat are young and healthy.

Nor do the horses even have to be legally bought and owned to find themselves up for slaughter. Stolen horses ending up in slaughter houses have been a reoccurring news story since the early 1970s. Thieves can make up $1,000 per horse depending on the plant that buys it. Nor do they have to operate through a black market to do so: many more horses are illegally sold at auctions, where original ownership is hard to trace. All evidence of the crime is soon destroyed, leaving little way for the government to prosecute the thieves.

3. Horses are intelligent social creatures

Many Americans consider horses to be companion animals like their pet cats or dogs, and even those who don't still feel indebted to them as work animals and for their role in various sports. Beyond their usefulness on a farm or their companionship as pets, however, horses are prized by so many people because they can seem so incredibly human.

Though horses don't have the conceptual intelligence humans possess, they do have incredible memories and mental skills, especially when it comes to tricks like unlocking their pens, getting out of ropes and navigating difficult terrain. Some horses even qualify to be Guide Horses, much like service dogs, with ponies and miniature horses especially are singled out to help the blind.

Beyond their respective intelligences, however, horses are also known to be incredibly social animals, and often include the humans who raise them in their own inter-species herd. Those who've bred, owned or trained horses are quick to give examples of the ways in which they feel a horse is part of their family even more than a cat or dog, being both strong enough to take care of themselves and social enough to connect with others.

These arguments could be used to oppose the slaughter of many animals used for meat, especially pigs (who, despite popular belief, are very intelligent and affectionate animals). For the purposes of this ban, however, many in the U.S. will find it very difficult to reconcile what they know of horse behavior and capabilities with the idea that they should be eaten.

Which brings us to...

4. Most Americans oppose horse slaughter.

To date, 70 percent of Americans oppose slaughtering horses, and roughly the same amount or more were in favor of the de facto ban on horse meat production by the U.S. Congress five years ago. In a recent CNN poll, 45 percent of those surveyed said they would never eat horse meat, no matter what the provocation, and another 18 percent said they would only eat it under dire circumstances.

In fact, one of President Obama's lesser-known campaign promises were to those who supported an all-inclusive ban on horse slaughter and horse meat consumption in the U.S., including the exporting of horses into Mexico and Canada for slaughter.

Finally, by signing this bill, President Obama will not only be going against those who are opposed to animal cruelty but also possibly hurting the economy. Federal regulation and tacit approval of re-opened slaughterhouses would cost Americans roughly $50 million, and all for horse meat that few in the U.S. will eat, instead shipped overseas to the dozens of other countries who view horse meat as a delicacy.

5. Chemicals like bute could kill you.

According to recent studies, people who consume horse meat are often at risk for being poisoned by phenulbutazone, also known as bute. The non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug was supposed to be used for severe cases of arthritis, but have been found to cause serious and sometimes lethal side-effects in humans.

Because horses are not as effected by bute as people are, however, the drug is frequently utilized at thoroughbred racetracks. It is also, however, used nationwide by many horse owners to mitigate pain from injuries the animal have sustained. Some of those horses will end up becoming horse meat, and that means some humans will likely end up with seizures, ulcers, aplastic anemia and severe organ damage.

And that's just the most well-known poison. Many American horses, almost none of which are of the breed to feed variety, are pumped full of chemicals and toxins to keep them on their feet for carriage rides or to improve their speed during races. Everyday products like equine de-wormer or fly spray can also find their way into horse meat.

Even if the U.S. government clamps down on regulating bute and other chemicals in horses, the current restrictions again only apply to those animal bred specifically tor slaughter. Show horses, riding horses, race horses and barrel horses are just a few animals who could potentially end up on someone's dinner table, drugs included.

In the end, Americans will have a say in whether or not they will ever accept horse meat as food. But if the U.S. Congress holds up this new move towards legalizing horse slaughter, lifting the de facto ban on mass production, thousands if not millions of horses will still be exported out of the U.S., with no guarantee for their humane treatment or consumers' safety.

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