The first Summit of the Horse conference was held last week in Las Vegas. The meeting, organized by United Horsemen, was meant as a rallying cry in favor of legalizing horse slaughter.
Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state lawmaker who organized the event, said they “believe that human processing is absolutely a moral and an ethical choice.” Wallis hopes to bring a horse slaughterhouse to her state.
History of the Practice
The last three existing horse slaughterhouses were shut down in 2007, when Congress canceled funding for inspecting them. At the time, horse meat was mostly sold as an export to France, Japan, and other countries. It was also sold to zoos to feed lions and other large carnivores.
Before the ban, roughly 100,000 horses were sent to slaughter each year—less than 1% of the total found in the United States. At the time, horses could be traded for around 40 cents a pound.
Now, after the ban, legal disposal of a dead horse can cost $2,500.
An Exception to the Rule?
But the financial arguments aren’t what sway me to favor legalization of slaughter. Those same arguments have been used to advocate the continuation of inhumane practices in how cows and other legal sources of meat are slaughtered—and they don’t hold any water. Humane treatment of animals should never be trumped by the promise of financial gain.
The fact is, unless we’re going to make the slaughter of all animals illegal, an exception for horses doesn’t make sense. There’s no evidence that horses are more intelligent, emotive, or human-like than other commonly eaten animals in America like pigs and cows.
It is considered inhumane to slaughter horses because we treat them as pets in this country, like dogs or cats. TV shows like Mr. Ed encourage us to personify the animals. In countries like France and Japan the taboo doesn’t exist, and people there think of horses like other livestock—as a source of food.
I must admit, the current status of the meat industry gives me pause in making this argument—if horse slaughterhouses are to be “regulated” in the way most factory farms are today, I couldn’t support the practice.
Our Sacred “Cow”
However, if Americans’ sacred cow attitude toward horses leads to stricter regulations, this could serve as a model for improved treatment of other animals. If we must eat meat, we should do it right—and treat animals with respect in how we raise and kill them. If horse slaughter is legalized, it must come alongside stricter regulation of the processing of these animals.
Invading the Wild West
Another more complex argument for slaughter involves the overpopulation of wild horses in western states. Though horses are commonly used as an idyllic symbol of the wild west, they are not native to the US, and with virtually no natural predators must be rounded up each year by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to control population. From a statement by the BLM director Bob Abbey:
Currently, the Western rangeland free-roaming population of 38,400 horses and burros exceeds by nearly 12,000 the number that the BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses.
The BLM has stated that they will not support wild horse slaughter. Recognizing the problem of overpopulation, they advocate birth control and the establishment of horse preserves to keep the population at a healthy level for both the animals and the land.
The BLM’s plan may, in fact, be a viable option—but it’s incongruent to accept the slaughter of cows while criminalizing the slaughter of horses.