Since 2005, our government has prevented the commercial slaughter of horses in the United States by refusing to fund personnel that would inspect the horse meat. As a consequence of this “de-funding,” the last slaughter plants were closed in 2007. On Nov. 18, the Agriculture Appropriations Bill as approved by Congress was signed into law by the president. This law eliminated the language that barred the use of federal funds to inspect the slaughter plants thereby paving the way for the resumption of commercial horse slaughter in this country.

Horse meat is not an American food staple and horses are not raised for this function. Current law, however, does permit the export of our horses to Canada and Mexico where they are slaughtered for human consumption in other countries. To that end “kill buyers” shop for horses from a variety of sources ranging from a human’s no longer loved companion to a no longer earning race track thoroughbred. They buy horses at auctions (often outbidding individuals or humane societies), answer personal ads and contract to remove them as one would employ an exterminator. Make no mistake — this is a big business. Many of these horses are in good condition and healthy, and often, sellers don’t know, or don’t want to know where their horse is really going.

These horses endure grueling transport conditions, suffer injuries and/or illnesses with no relief, and bear the attendant emotional despair which accompanies such treatment, only to reach their final destination where they are subjected to barbaric and inhumane treatment before and during slaughter. This is not a kind or humane way to dispose of horses nor is it akin to euthanasia — an easy painless death.

This is what we can expect in the United States as well when slaughter plants reopen. It is important to note that horses are already moving through our country with the imprimatur of state laws in order to reach Mexico and Canada. These laws, such as those allowing the highly dangerous double decked trailers, are not slated to change any time soon. In other words, the slaughter location may change, but the process will not.

The notion that a slaughter plant is considered a “job creator” is a myth. The presence of a slaughter plant brings down the collective value of a community due to the stench and stigma of the operation, while any jobs created are menial, transient and relatively few in number. Conversely, prioritizing this for and facilitating this at the taxpayer’s expense is costly, irresponsible and irrational. The current infrastructure needs of our nation notwithstanding, it seems impossible that horse meat could ever pass a USDA inspection and be declared fit for human consumption pursuant to American standards. Horses are not raised as food animals with the associated restrictions and regulations governing their diet and medications. Painkillers, dewormers, ointments, diuretics, and an array of other drugs are present on and in horses. It seems an exercise in futility to fund inspections doomed to failure, as well as an ethically questionable practice to know this and to export the meat anyway.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011 (S.1176/H.R. 2966) is currently in Congress. It would not only ban horse slaughter in this country but it would also prohibit the transport of horses for slaughter elsewhere. It could undo the damage done on Nov. 18.

The horse is the very soul of the animal welfare movement. It was the physical abuse of carriage horses that served as the catalyst for the creation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in this country. (SPCAs are not legally connected to or related to one another.) SPCA Los Angeles, one of the oldest of such corporations, was incorporated in 1877 to protect horses, beasts of burden, pets, women and children, all legally classified at the time as property, from being overworked, over-driven, starved, exploited and tormented. We must not stop protecting them now. We must not allow them to be relegated to the status of disposable pests, to be betrayed by those in our government charged with their protection, to be used for financial gain by “kill buyers” and to be sacrificed by special interest groups such as cattle farmers who need them eliminated as they interfere with their businesses.

We can start by urging the passage of The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011 and remaining vigilant and analytical as issues involving horses arise both nationally and in individual states. We can also voice our disappointment with the current law that now makes possible the opening of slaughter plants in this country.

Madeline Bernstein is the president of SPCA Los Angeles. Learn more at www.spcala.com.

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