Most of us are acutely aware that millions of unwanted dogs and cats face euthanasia each year in the United States. I was surprised, however, to find out that unwanted horses are alarmingly common as well.
I first became aware of the problem in 2006 when a representative from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) sent me a preposterous e-mail. The message urged me to oppose legislation that would close horse slaughterhouses in the United States. The quote below is from the e-mail.
Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) today will offer an amendment . . . that will drastically harm the welfare of horses . . . [t]hese changes will affectively [sic] shutdown [sic] the horse slaughter plants and will force the estimated 70,000 unwanted horses to find a new home.
I had to read that e-mail four or five times before I could believe it. The AVMA was claiming that, if you are a horse, it is better to be slaughtered than to find a new home. I was furious. To me it looked like a leading organization, with a mission to protect the interests of veterinarians and animals in the USA, was shilling to industry.
I still believe that the AVMA was pandering to the horse slaughter industry when its representative sent that e-mail. Despite the AVMA’s opposition, a ban on horse slaughter in the USA was enacted.
And, alarmingly, it turns out that horse welfare may have been adversely affected by the ban.
The AVMA reported on January 15, 2008, that horse slaughter is now being outsourced to Mexico. The number of horses sent to Mexico for slaughter each year has increased from approximately 11,000 before the US slaughterhouses were closed to approximately 44,500 after. And, it is suspected that many horses that are sent to Mexico for “breeding” or “recreation” are also ending up in slaughterhouses. The conditions inside the slaughterhouses are not known. Most of the meat is exported to Europe.
I suspect that the problem of unwanted horses will be as intractable as that of unwanted dogs and cats. But I am not convinced that re-opening the American slaughterhouses is the solution.