There is a difference between being sentimental and being serious about animal welfare, between feeling good and doing good for animals in our care. Colorado Senate Bill 38 is an example of the former, a feel-good bill that will immiserate countless animals.
SB23-038 would criminalize the sale, purchase, import, or export of horses to be processed for human consumption. The two largest veterinary organizations in the U.S., the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Quarter Horse Association, opposed a similar effort by a few members of the last Congress because the “processing of unwanted horses is currently a necessary aspect of the equine industry, and provides a humane alternative to allowing the horse to continue a life of discomfort and pain, and possibly inadequate care or abandonment.”
Horses become unwanted when owners are no longer able to afford their upkeep or the horse has become old, infirm, or unsafe. The number of unwanted horses exceeds the ability of rescue organizations to rehome them. Without the option to sell for processing, these horses are at risk of abandonment, starvation, neglect, and abuse. Other unwanted horses come from feral herds in Western Colorado where horse overpopulation is negatively impacting native plants and animals.
Only a fraction of these horses are adopted with the remainder doomed to spend a life in a corral. In the past, unwanted unadoptable horses were euthanized and slaughtered in the United States. The last processing facilities closed in 2007 due to ill-conceived government actions and horses have since been transported to Canada and Mexico. As expected, the closure of U.S. horse processing facilities resulted in a measurable decline in horse welfare and an increase in incidents of abuse, neglect, and abandonment according to a 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study.
Since humans domesticated horses 6,000 years ago, these animals have provided transport, companionship, and yes, meat. Horse meat is eaten in Canada, Mexico and throughout Europe and Asia. The Icelandic horse is a symbol of pride for Icelanders and it’s also on restaurant menus. When anti-slaughter advocates condemn the eating of horse meat as immoral, they are making an arbitrary distinction between horses and other hooved livestock while accusing other cultures of committing culinary sin.
In the United States, euthanized horses are sometimes sent to render which isn’t that different from slaughter. Rendering plants process euthanized animals, restaurant grease, spoiled meat, and the offal, bones, hides, and feathers from slaughterhouses that would otherwise end up in a landfill. The process produces animal feed, cosmetics, tallow and lard, and gelatin. If you’ve eaten Jell-O, chances are you’ve had horse.
Critics say that some Mexican horse processing facilities do not have adequate standards for humane treatment. The solution to this problem is to reopen American facilities — not to consign unwanted horses to an equally worse fate of neglect or abandonment here. According to renowned Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University Temple Grandin, PhD. “Horse slaughter can be done humanely in a well-designed facility that has good management.”
Processing is also more environmentally sound than cremation of a 1,000-1,200 pound animal. Burial is likewise not only expensive, it poses a risk of groundwater contamination and is thus regulated by law. Rendering is the better option; however, plants do not have the capacity to process all unwanted horses.
Processing horse meat in neighboring countries or, ideally, here in the U.S. is the most humane and environmentally sound choice by far. SB 38 would take that option away and consign countless unwanted horses to a wretched existence of neglect or abandonment. As an avid rider and lover of horses I cannot bear the thought.
Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer
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