Feds to investigate horse slaughter & welfare

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2009:

 

WASHINGTON D.C.–Who wants or needs horse slaughter? The
Government Accountability Office is to spend the next few months finding out.
Signed by U.S. President Barack Obama on October 21, 2009,
the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Adminis-tration,
and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 included a clause
continuing the three-year-old prohibition of USDA inspection of
horsemeat, which brought the closure of the last three U.S. horse
slaughterhouses.


At the urging of the commercial horse breeding industry,
however, the appropriations act also includes funding for a formal
investigation of the impact of the prohibition.
“One of the primary arguments of the pro-slaughter movement,”
summarized The Horse Channel news web site, “is that the closure of
horse slaughter plants in the U.S. has directly contributed toward
increased neglect and abandonment of American horses. A Senate
report accompanying [the appropriations act] directs the GAO to
conduct a study on the state of horse welfare in America as it
relates to the end of the domestic slaughter industry. The study
will specifically examine how horse welfare, horse rescue
organizations, farm industry income, and overall horse sales,
imports and exports have been affected by the slaughterhouse
closures. Results of this study are expected by March of 2010.”
The difference between the cost of killing and burying a
horse and the gain from selling the horse to slaughter is between
$250 and $500, depending on the weight and health of the horse.
Inability to sell horses to slaughter within the U.S. does
not appear to have inhibited the slaughter traffic. Indeed, the 2008
total numbers of horses sold to slaughter were the highest since
2005, according to USDA data. U.S. brokers sent 56,731 horses to
Mexico to be killed, and sent 77,073 to Canada. The number of U.S.
horses killed in Mexico alone in 2008 exceeded the total killed in
the U.S. during the whole of 2004. The number of U.S. horses killed
in Canada in 2008 soared above the toll of 60,736 U.S. horses killed
in Canada in 1986, and exceeded by more than 10,000 the sum of
66,562 U.S. horses killed in Canada from 2004 through 2006.
Anxiety that horses exported from the U.S. for slaughter may
have been treated with drugs that may harm human consumers in August
2009 prompted the European Union and Canadian Food Inspection Agency
to jointly announce that horse slaughterhouses must begin taking new
precautions, effective in April 2010. Each horse must now be
accompanied by complete heath records showing that the horse has not
been given any drug dangerous to humans, or must be quarantined for
six months prior to slaughter.
Drugs of concern “range from toxic wormers to phenylbutazone
(PBZ), the “aspirin” of the horse world, and even include fertility
drugs that can cause miscarriages,” summarized the Equine Welfare
Alliance.
The quarantine requirement is expected to steeply reduce the
profitability of horse slaughter in Canada. The Mexican horse
slaughter industry is meanwhile trying to develop markets for
horsemeat outside the European Union, and will soon begin exporting
horsemeat to Russia, National Agricultural Products Health Service
of Mexico director Sanchez Cruz told Meat International.
About 50% of the meat consumed in Russia is imported, but
Russia has for nearly 20 years been an exporter of horsemeat and
horses for slaughter, as result of increasing mechanization of
Russian farms.
Horse impoundments in neglect cases have increased in 2009,
according to data logs compiled by ANIMAL PEOPLE from news accounts,
but not by very much. At Halloween 2009, 1,435 horses had been
impounded in neglect cases, up from about 1,345 in three of the four
preceding years, but the 2009 total appears unlikely to approach the
1,890 neglected horses who were impounded in 2007. The highest total
since ANIMAL PEOPLE began tracking horse impoundments was 2,375 in
1998.
The Nevins Farm Equine & Farm Animal Adoption Center in
Methuen, Massachusetts, operated by the Massachusetts SPCA, in
August 2009 reported receiving a record number of surrendered horses,
for the second year in a row: 48, up from 35.
In Maine, where hay prices have more than quadrupled in two
years, state animal welfare program director Norma Worley told
Sharon Kiley Mack of the Bangor Daily News that impoundments had
increased from 32 in 2008 to 50 by mid-September 2009.
Other horse rescue facilities have reported increasing
numbers of calls from people trying to place horses. But for many
the problem appears to be mostly that economic stress has reduced
horse adoptions, leaving the rescues with few openings for new
arrivals.
Often horses are not be impounded if rescue placements are unavailable.
“The Animal Humane Society of Golden Valley, Minnesota,
investigated cases involving 1,636 horses in 2008–a fourfold
increase since 2003,” reported Bob Shaw of the St. Paul Pioneer
Press. Few of these horses were actually taken into physical custody.
“We are all wrestling with how to reduce the number of
unwanted horses,” Minnesota Horse Coalition spokesperson Cherie
McKenzie told Shaw. Toward that end, the coalition in September
2009 presented a clinic that castrated horses for free at the
Washington County Fairgrounds in Baytown Township.
Promoting horse sterilization–rare until recently–has
become a national trend.
“The Kentucky Horse Council has become the latest group to
launch an education campaign” against horse overpopulation,
Associated Press writer Jeffrey McMurray reported in late October
2009. “Owners who show financial need can be reimbursed up to $100
to have their horse gelded. Similar campaigns have popped up from
California to North Carolina,” McMurray said.
Commercial horse breeding has declined, whether
because of racetrack closures, the high cost of hay, or the
decreased profitability of selling surplus horses to slaughter.
Jockey Club registry data released on October 22, 2009 showed a drop
of 2,258 mares bred by Kentucky stallions, reported Janet Patton of
the Lexington Herald Leader. “Nation-ally, the number of mares bred
fell 13.5%,” Patton wrote. The 2009 drop in mares bred was about
7,000, following a drop of 4,000 in 2008.

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