March 18, 2007

The Humane Society of the United States says that recent claims that thousands of horses have been abandoned in Kentucky are unfounded.

The society is calling it "a campaign of fear mongering by a foreign-owned horse slaughter industry which is on its last legs in the United States".

"Proponents of slaughtering American horses so the French and Belgians can eat horse meat frequently alarm the public about wanton abandonment to raise false and baseless concerns about a proposed ban on horse slaughter for human consumption."

At the annual meeting of the Kentucky Animal Care and Control Association last week, the organization's president, Dan Evans, surveyed the membership about the situation. None reported an increase in abandoned horse reports or sightings.

"The notion that Kentucky is overrun with unwanted horses is absurd," said Pam Rogers, Kentucky State Program Coordinator for The Humane Society of the United States, who was at the meeting.

"We are a state of horse lovers, and we want to protect our horses from being butchered and exported to foreign countries where horse meat is considered a delicacy. These claims made by the horse slaughter industry's lobbyists have no basis. This is just plain rumor mongering."

The reports surfaced after a federal appeals court decision closed down two horse slaughter plants in Texas. Equine welfare experts report that the horses bound for the Texas slaughter plants are now being shipped to a plant in Mexico to be killed. The only horse slaughter plant still operating in the United States - in DeKalb, Illinois - is importing horses from Canada for slaughter, underscoring the point that there is no surplus of horses available in the United States. The US Department of Agriculture reports that 92.3 percent of American horses going to slaughter are healthy and in good shape - not starving or neglected animals.

An overwhelming majority of Americans and members of Congress oppose slaughtering horses for human consumption. A bill in Congress - led by Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Rep. John Spratt (D- S.C.), and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.V.) in the House, and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D- La.) and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) in the Senate - would protect American horses from the industry. The House voted five times in favour of stopping horse slaughter in the last Congress, and the Senate voted to do the same by a two-thirds majority, but time ran out before the final authorizing bill could be enacted.

Claims that a ban will lead to the starvation and abandonment of thousands, however, are inaccurate. Horse slaughter was banned in California in 1998, and no corresponding rise in starvation and abandonment cases has been seen. Starving or abandoning horses is animal cruelty and subject to criminal prosecution under state cruelty laws. After California banned horse slaughter, cases of horse theft in the state dropped by 34 percent because there was no longer an incentive to steal horses for the foreign meat trade.

Many horse owners facing difficult times reject selling their animals to slaughter. Instead, they may sell or adopt them, donate them to a rescue group, or have them humanely euthanized by a licensed veterinaian. These are viable options currently available.

A recent trade article quotes a livestock auction operator: "I thought we'd see [horse] prices so bad that people would just turn their horses out on the highway because they couldn't feed or sell them, but it looks like that may not happen."