Photograph courtesy of Jim Westin
Oct 17 2012
Just like America’s cats and dogs, there is an equine overpopulation problem in our country, accounting for a number of unwanted animals. The cause of homeless horses is a complex one. Economic down times arguably affect owners of equines more than those owners of cats and dogs, due to the larger expenses of feed, shelter, veterinary and hoof care. A bale of hay which was about $9 in 2002 has since tripled. The foreclosure crisis has made some losing their homes unable to care for their horses, mules, and burros. Many horses change from a valued asset and companion to a burden following divorce, injury, aging of their owners or a teen going to college. The competitive equine industry: horse shows, rodeo, and racing, as well as the breed registries, all breed more horses than are absorbed by those industries; not every Thoroughbred becomes a race horse. The “excess” animals are not provided for by these industries in an organized way; they must find some owner who will care for them for life which can be up to 35 years; failing that, they may end up in the pipeline to slaughter. There are also America’s mustangs, of which more are captive, in government sponsored long term holding, than are left wild on the ranges that Congress deeded to them. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management, the agency charged with managing the wild herds, removes thousands more each year. The mustangs and wild burros are offered to the public for adoption for a fee, but there is far too little demand and thus many add to the numbers each year of America’s unwanted horses.
Then there are the backyard breeders, those who think they might make a little money or they would just love a foal from their beloved mare. Baby horses are adorable but grow up fast and many times the breeders find the buyers are just not there for an untrained colt, cute though he may be. Or the colt finds a home, but the new owners lose interest in training, or have a change of circumstance. Now the cute colt is a five year old, untrained stallion. In an environment of too many available horses, Junior is unlikely to find that perfect “forever home”.
These are the horses, not the sickly or the starving, but the unquestionably unlucky that join the hundred of thousands each year that are slaughtered for meat. The journey is terrifying and inhumane, and once arriving at the slaughterhouse, the horses are then only stunned by a “captive bolt” to the head, to be hung by their hooves and bled out while still alive. For a horse whose primary survival skill is to detect danger and flee, the experience of being prodded with electrical shock or whipped towards the place of blood and horses screaming surely is unimaginable torture.
Breaking News: Europe Refuses Tainted American Horsemeat
Last Friday, thrilling news broke that set social media sites buzzing: Canada and Mexico had closed their doors to American horses sent there to be slaughtered. By Sunday it appeared that Mexico was still taking U.S. horses, but reports of Canadian slaughterhouses refusing truckloads of doomed horses were affirmed as true. According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, the New Holland Auction in Pennsylvania, Sugarcreek Auction in Ohio, and Shipshewana Auction in Indiana all confirmed rumors that although the Canadian borders were open, the trucks were turned away as they arrived at the slaughterhouses.
The last American horse slaughter plants closed in 2007. Since that time the shipping of horses to Canada and Mexico has increased; in 2011 the US exported over 130,000 horses. They are killed for meat for human consumption which is exported mainly to Europe. The closure of the plants Friday could be related to European Union concerns over U.S. slaughter horses’ medication histories and veterinary documentation. E.U. health officials found that American horsemeat samples had been tainted by steroids and carcinogens, and reportedly asked Canadian suppliers to stop buying American horses. “The systems in place for identification, the food chain information and in particular the affidavits concerning the non-treatment for six months with certain medical substances, both for the horses imported from the U.S. as well as for the Mexican horses are insufficient…,” the report said.
Since America’s unwanted horses didn’t start out that way, at some point most have received some routine veterinary care. The thriving billion dollar veterinary pharmaceutical industry provides medications to help horses stay healthy and fight illness. But no system is in place to track an individual horse’s lifetime of medications like there is in production agriculture, animals bred for food production like cows, chickens, and pigs.
The most common treatment a horse might get is de-worming. However, labeling on all packaging clearly states that horses given the medicine are not intended for human consumption. Horses are routinely given chloramphenicol for respiratory infections. It is illegal to use this drug in animals that may enter the food chain;it can cause irreversible aplastic anemia in humans. Phenylbutazone is given for pain and is so commonly used it’s also called “horse aspirin”. It remains in tissues indefinitely and is a known carcinogen.