I updated this blog October 2016 because
- “It’s discouraging to think
- how many people are shocked by honesty
- and how few by deceit.”
- – Noël Coward
I have gotten engaged in talking about horse slaughter because while anti-slaughter activists are portrayed as ignorant, irrational, sentimentalists that refuse to face facts, it turns out that it is actually the pro-slaughter advocates who have felt quite free to twist the facts to suit their purposes. Read the following link to find out how the AP responded when a reporter that has been published in Forbes Magazine, Newsweek, and the Huffington Post asked them to correct the misinformation they are spreading:
So here are a few facts relevant to horse slaughter, and while you read them keep in mind that the accounting firm that the Government Accounting Office (GAO) hired to do its study also works for the pro-slaughter American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). That is a clear conflict of interest.
The study covered five years of horse related records and the stated intent is to see how banning horse slaughter affected horse welfare.
- The study runs from 2005-2009
- Horse slaughter was banned in 2007
- A 5 year study on the effects of banning horse slaughter would actually run between 2007 and 2012.
To start with GAO included 2 years of records from when horses were actively being slaughtered in the USA. Why?
- in 2005/6 there were high numbers of neglect/abuse cases reported, enough to skew the study.
- 2010 was significantly lower in numbers of horse neglect/abuse cases reported, enough to change the conclusion of the study
AND the GAO conveniently ignored all information regarding criminal activity and slaughter houses (click here) when:
- Incidents of horse theft dropped precipitously as soon as the slaughter houses closed
What the numbers actually show is that horses fare better when slaughter is banned and that the driving force behind neglected horses is the price of hay:
- “Our EWA (Equine Welfare Alliance) research looked state by state at trends in abuse and neglect and at the factors that might have been responsible for the trends, such as unemployment, the rate of slaughter, the price of hay, etc.,” stated Holland in an email. “What we found was that the rate of equine neglect was largely determined by the price of hay and that the price of hay is largely determined long-term by land use policies and short-term by weather.” (click here)
Since the GAO is being taken to task for fraud over this (click here), I’ll go on to the next big lies.
Pro-slaughter advocates claim that slaughter offers a humane end to old, sick, injured, and neglected horse’s lives. Mysteriously, the number of abandoned horses along the USA/Mexico border since the USA slaughter houses closed coincides with the number of horses that the Mexican slaughter houses rejected because they were too thin, sick, injured, old, or pregnant. Click here for more details on how horses rejected for slaughter are abandoned and left to die.
- There are strict rules about animals that can be slaughtered for food, and they must to be healthy and in good condition.
- It is a confirmed fact that most horses sent to slaughter are young healthy animals between 3 and 10 years old.
Pro-slaughter advocates continue to claim that slaughter houses mainly kill feral and unwanted horses that have no other options when records clearly show that:
- 70% of slaughter horses are Quarter Horses
- 16-19% are race horses (Thoroughbreds for sure, I don’t know if this includes Standardbred Harness racers.)
- I don’t have the percentage for foals sent to slaughter out of nurse and PMU mares commercially used to produce milk and hormones (click here)
Roughly 90% of the horses sent to slaughter are commercially and purposefully bred young healthy ‘sport horses’ produced by a business model that considers horses disposable products that should be replaced when they are three years old. In this model, money is made from stud fees, mare and foal care, and prepping young horses. Purses and prices peak at three-year old futurities. When there is no significant money to be made competing and drugs can no longer disguise their physical and mental injuries, these horses and any ‘excess’ stock are ‘discarded’, meaning sent to slaughter, and the cycle starts over.
This is bad news, not just for horses but for all reputable trainers, owners, and breeders whose efforts are marginalized. Why spend time and money training a horse properly or buying a well-trained one when you are going to kill it in a few months any way? The disposable horse paradigm is bad for the horse business. It fuels ignorance and abuse by driving down the value of mature trained horses, putting good horse people out of work, and encouraging consumers in the horse world to demand results that harm the horse. Larger purses for older horses, lesser purses for younger ones, and banning breeders, owners, and trainers that send their animals to slaughter from both competing and registering horses would be a start towards shifting this and would discourage laundering dirty money through the horse industry.
Inflated prices for and the ruthless ‘discarding’ of young stock also opens the door to criminal activity:
- In June of 2012, an elaborate scheme that blatantly (registered names included ‘Number One Cartel’) laundered millions of dollars of drug money through the AQHA racing industry was busted by the DEA. (click here)
In horse racing, a business where a successful breeding operation can expect a grand total of 5-10% of each year’s foal crop to excel on the track, a reliable secondary market is essential, and the symbiotic relationship between hunter/jumper and eventing stables and Thoroughbred breeders is as old as the breed itself. The Thoroughbred’s abrupt fall from favor in Hunter/Jumper and Eventing stables coincides with the spectacular upswing in the popularity of horse breeding and racing as a tax refuge in the 1980’s and more recently as a venue to launder dirty money.
New school Thoroughbred breeders in the USA not only alienated their traditional market for OTTB’s , but also created their own 38 year drought in Triple Crown Winners when they took a page from the aggressively pro-slaughter AQHA and began sending their ‘discards’ to slaughter despite the clear evidence that this practice is detrimental to any performance breed. It only takes a handful of unscrupulous breeders to flood the gene pool with problem animals, as undesirable genetic traits that show up in a breed are usually recessive. In a simple recessive genetic diagram,
• Breeding homozygous horses that display the undesirable trait to homozygous horses that do not carry the gene results in 100% of the offspring being carriers
• Breeding homozygous horses that display the undesirable trait to heterozygous horses that carry the gene results in 100% of the offspring being carriers, and 75% displaying the undesirable trait
• Breeding heterozygous parents that carry the trait but don’t show it has a 25 % chance of a producing either a normal individual or an undesirable trait, but 50% chance of producing a carrier
• ‘Discarding’ animals in subsequent generations that show the undesirable qualities without culling the carriers rapidly devolves into a breeding population where 67% – 100% of the animals are carriers of the undesirable trait.
In its short existence the AQHA has repeatedly flooded its breeding population with a variety of devastatingly undesirable genetic traits ranging from navicular shortly after its establishment to the more recent inheritable muscle disorders. That the AQHA has been able to maintain its existence despite its poor breeding practices is partly due to its open studbook, bringing in new stock to correct their genetic problems by allowing Thoroughbreds to be registered as ‘appendix’ Quarter Horses. However many AQHA breeders function as the equine equivalent of puppy mills, where soundness and longevity are irrelevant as their stock is intended for slaughter not performance from the start.Way back in the seventies the renowned veterinary pathologist James Rooney DVM wrote that Quarter Horse breeders were going to have to decide if they were going to eat their horses or ride them, so this has been an established practice for some time.
Information on the number of foals registered each year by the AQHA is no longer readily available on their website, however their figures averaged 85,000 foals each year when I checked the site in August 2013. In 2005, the most recent year I could find on the equine demographics report, the number of new AQHA registrations reported was nearly double that number at 165,000. If I try to see the rancher’s point of view, I have to ask why run tens or hundreds of horses on range land and then take them to slaughter instead of cattle and why continue to do so for decades? Well, because:
- 1200lb Quarter Horses can bring as much as $2,000 each when sold for $1.65 a pound at the slaughter-house auctions
- Horses do not directly compete with cattle for grazing, they complement them
- So running both horses and cattle for slaughter increases ranch income
While I understand and identify myself with those who do not eat horses (click here), I do eat meat. I have slaughtered my own. As a multi-generational green environmentalist, I have also seen that grazing animals on range land is often the soundest ecological use of our resources, especially in the high desert. And where it has all taken me is to a profound understanding and appreciation of the generosity and grace of these animals,plants, and lands that offer up their own lives so that we may live ours.
What I don’t like is lies.
The truth is that if ranchers acknowledge that they can increase the carrying capacity and profitability of their ranch by species diversity , by running both cattle and horses, their argument for rounding up wild horses because of the damage they do to the range flies out the window (click here) . Not to mention how honestly admitting they are raising horses in order to kill them would incite the animal rights crowd into a frenzy. Rather than stepping up and admitting what is going on, there is not just misdirection, but flat-out deception by the pro-slaughter advocates and speaking out carries risks. Here is Vickery Eckhoff once again:
The claim that there is a booming export market for horse meat is made in the face of the fact that slaughter horse and horse meat sales in the EU have dropped by at least half since consumers have discovered that (click here):
- approximately half of all horse meat sold in the European Union is fraudulently labeled as beef
- horse meat is not labeled as to origin
- horse meat may be tainted by the many drugs used on horses and does not meet EU food safety standards
Very little organized information is available on the economic and social consequences of a horse slaughter plant on the surrounding community. However I did find an article (click here) discussing how the meat-packing industry set out to break both the law and the unions by moving their plants to small towns in rural areas and importing (often illegal) immigrants for labor. Neither the towns nor the workers have had the information or the financial backing to fight back. Four of the five current applications for horse slaughter plants are in small towns whose populations range from 520 to 2681 (click here). Even the largest town, Roswell, NM with a population of 48,386, is challenged by its past and ongoing battles arising out of Valley Meat’s ‘willful disregard’ for state environmental laws (click here) . This video about the impact of a horse slaughter-house on a small town in Texas gives some idea of the problems these communities face:
Finding hard facts on the economics of running a slaughter-house for horses is not easy either. I can surmise that if Canada slaughters over 130,000 horses each year and has 4 slaughter houses that each facility processes 35,000+ horses per year or approximately 100 horses each day. A mere 10% of slaughter horses may be wild, neglected, unwanted, sick, injured, and/or old horses. In the USA that 10% averages out to about 250 horses per state each year. The prospective Roswell NM slaughter-house alone would be in need of 34,750 horses above and beyond the number of unwanted horses available each year. New Mexico has averaged an annual horse population of 125,-150,000, animals so that one slaughter-house would require 25% of the entire horse population in the state each year to stay in business. The burning question is:
‘Where will those horses come from?’
The horse industry is better off without those breeders/trainers/owners that have to kill the horses they ruin in order to stay in business and the whole paradigm of criminal deception and abuse that considers the horse a short-lived product that must be easily ‘discarded’ for maximum profit needs to change. It is going to take ALOT of public pressure to do it, so please, keep on getting the word out!
Public pressure did manage to get funding for horse slaughter-house inspections removed from the 2014 Farm Appropriations Bill. Knowing that your voice makes a difference,
- PLEASE click here to let your elected representatives know both the facts and your feelings about horse slaughter.
- To connect with the Unwanted Horse Coalition click here
- To see some of the positive influence of horses and horse people on community and land use click here and
- check here for the latest from Equine Advocates.
- click here for Animal Angels and support their efforts to train law enforcement officials and educate a global audience
click for more on ethical horsemanship
And for the few who don’t seem to know:
- “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”
- is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers,
- particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments.
- It is also sometimes colloquially used to doubt statistics
- used to prove an opponent’s point.
- from wikipedia