April 3, 2008

by Julie Caramante

Blame for current horse welfare problems in the United Stated is placed squarely on the closure of US horse slaughterhouses in a March 23 article appearing in USA Today.

Presented as a news article, the story is based on unsubstantiated statements disseminated by organizations that profit from irresponsible breeding and overbreeding practices. Included among the organizations is the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) whose stated goal is to substantially increase its already large 150,000 annual registrations. Revenues of the AQHA are based on registration fees.

The article opens with the assertion that the "forced closure of the last horse-killing facilities in the USA, done at the urging of animal rights activists, has caused a herd of unwanted horses in animal shelters nationwide, according to breeders, ranchers and horse rescuers."

In point of fact, the plants were closed by upholding already existing state law in Texas and by legislative enactment of state law in Illinois, not by "animal rights activists."

The reporter further claims that "herds of unwanted horses" have resulted despite the fact that Jerry Finch, founder of the largest equine protection organization in the US Habitat for Horses, and Deputy Director Chris Heyde of the Animal Welfare Institute, each spoke with the reporter and provided factual information to the contrary. Mr. Finch fully explained and documented that there has in fact been no increase in neglect since the closure of the US slaughter plants

Perhaps the best illustration of the USA Today article's rampant inaccuracy and sloppy reporting is that I am quoted twice and at length, but never once spoke to the reporter or anyone at USA Today. While I agree that, "Horses are pets, not an entrée" and "There is a global market for dog meat, (but) we wouldn't even dream of selling our pets for that," I did not say it, someone else did.

What I did do was send USA Today a report via email on abandoned horses called "Deleting the Fiction, Part 2", documenting the lack of truth in claims of increased cases of neglect. Yet the reporter chose not to use factual information, opting instead to peddle the sensational and alarmist views of pro-slaughter advocates.

Despite sloppy journalism and obvious bias, the article was received by a national audience that assumes USA Today is a credible news outlet.

Fortunately, during the same week CBS Evening News with Katie Couric presented a factual, well balanced story on recent horse welfare issues called "Heartbreak in Horse Country," showing that skyrocketing hay prices have created difficulties for many horse owners.

Not once was a need for slaughter mentioned, much less promoted in the CBS News story!

It is frustrating and frankly unforgivable to hear pro-slaughter groups like the AQHA complain and viciously oppose the closure of the horse slaughterhouses while doing absolutely nothing for the welfare of horses. Not once does the AQHA mention hay hotlines or offer assistance to horse owners affected by foreclosures and related issues stemming from the faltering US economy. The mistake many of us made up until recent years was believing that the AQHA is or ever was concerned about equine welfare. Their own figures show they have spent less than an annual average of $130,000 since the early 1960s on horse welfare. Such a feeble gesture does not deserve to be called an effort.

One final note: In Canada, where several horse killing plants operate, problems with horse neglect are equal to if not more pronounced than those in the US. A recent press release from the Canadian Arabian Horse Registry reports the issue. Obviously, the concept that horse slaughter is 'good' for horses and provides the 'answer' to promoting horse welfare is not actually the case.