Did President Obama just authorize the slaughter of horses in the US?

I loved and rode horses as child.  Chester, a spirited, chestnut horse, was my friend and partner on the trails surrounding Walden Pond in Massachusetts.  The two of us spent countless days together, enjoying our exercise and our friendship.  Horses in America are companion animals – friends like dogs, cats and other domestic pets.

Only later, after I decided to devote my career to animal protection, did I discover that horses in America were slaughtered for human consumption – almost 105,000 individuals in 2006, mostly for dinner plates in Europe and Asia.  Thankfully, just as I began my career, hard work by concerned Americans and numerous animal welfare advocacy groups pressured the U.S. government into banning domestic horse slaughter. 

But this week, President Obama signed a government spending bill into law, effectively lifting the 5-year-old ban. This reversal will almost certainly lead to a drastic increase in the slaughter of animals that most Americans think of as pets. Even when they don’t own or ride horses themselves, Americans rarely if ever think of horses as food.

Pro-horse slaughter advocates (strange to think that these special-interest groups exist, but they do) are trying to cast factory slaughter plants as humane alternatives to neglect and abandonment, incidents of which have increased as the U.S. economy struggles to find its way out of recession. 

Less than a year ago, an International Fund for Animal Welfare Emergency Relief team responded to the worst case of horse neglect in Arkansas history, working with partners to help rescue 114 severely malnourished and mistreated horses and burros from a horse dealer who was later charged with 118 counts of felony and misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.

But slaughter is not a humane alternative even in cases like this.  Horses suffer horribly on the way to and during slaughter.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released shocking evidence of horse abuse at slaughter plants, ranging from broken bones to horses giving birth on the slaughter room floor.

There are clear and obvious alternatives to horse slaughter in the U.S.  Responsible ownership – which should always be a legal requirement – is the best thing we can do for horses.  And in those situations where circumstances force a horse owner to find a new home for their animal or animals, sanctuaries will often provide a second opportunity.  Or in a worst-case scenario and when necessary to avoid suffering, horses should be afforded the same dignity we give to other pets – euthanasia by a trained veterinarian.

IFAW supported the now defunct U.S. horse slaughter ban, and supported efforts to also prohibit the international transport of horses destined for slaughter in Mexico and Canada.  It is time for Congress to pass legislation that would protect horses in the U.S.  

-- NH

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
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Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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