Sketchy Government Accounting Office report tends to favor horse slaughter

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2011:


WASHINGTON D.C.–The title of Horse Welfare: Action Needed
to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic
Slaughter hints at the conclusions and recommendations that the
Government Accountability Office report offered to Congress on June
23, 2011.
But the GAO report includes numerous acknowledgements of a
lack of data supporting the conclusions and recommendations. Failing
to discover and use data collected by the humane community about
trends in horse neglect and abandonment, including data collected by
ANIMAL PEOPLE and which is readily available online,
the GAO authors relied heavily on unsubstantiated anecdotal claims by
sources within the horse and livestock industries, including 17
state veterinarians whose duties are primarily to facilitate horse
and livestock commerce.

“Congress may wish to reconsider the annual restrictions
first instituted in fiscal year 2006 on USDA’s use of appropriated
funds to inspect horses in transit to, and at, domestic
slaughtering facilities,” the GAO concluded. “Specifically, to
allow USDA to better ensure horse welfare and identify potential
violations of the Commercial Transport-ation of Equines to Slaughter
regulation, Congress may wish to consider allowing USDA to again use
appropriated funds to inspect U.S. horses being transported to
slaughter. Also, Congress may wish to consider allowing USDA to
again use appropriated funds to inspect horses at domestic
slaughtering facilities, as authorized by the Federal Meat
Inspect-ion Act. Alternatively,” the GAO acknowledged, “Congress
may wish to consider instituting an explicit ban on the domestic
slaughter of horses and export of U.S. horses intended for slaughter
in foreign countries.
“Since domestic horse slaughter ceased in 2007,” the GAO
found, confirming reports by horse advocates, “U.S. horse exports
for slaughter increased by 148% and 660% to Canada and Mexico,
respectively. As a result, nearly the same number of U.S. horses
were transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010 -nearly
138,000-as were slaughtered before domestic slaughter ceased.
Available data show that horse prices declined since 2007,” the GAO
said, “mainly for the lower-priced horses that are more likely to be
bought for slaughter.
“Comprehensive, national data are lacking,” the GAO claimed,
“but state, local government, and animal welfare organizations
report a rise in investigations for horse neglect and more abandoned
horses since 2007.” ANIMAL PEOPLE, however, has collected the
particulars of horse impoundments in neglect and abandonment since
inception. The peak number of horse impoundments was 2,375 in 1996.
The totals were just under 1,350 in 2005 and 2006; rose to 1,890 in
2007, when the last U.S. horse slaughterhouses were shut in
mid-year; then fell to 1,600 in 2008, 1,450 in 2009 and 1,270 in
“In interviewing the 17 state veterinarians,” the GAO said,
“we asked whether the states had data for cases of horse
abandonments, abuse, and neglect. Most veterinarians from these
states said they do not routinely collect such data. Nearly all the
state veterinarians, however, reported anecdotes indicating that
abandonments and abuse or neglect have increased in recent years.
For example, several state veterinarians, including those from
California, Florida, and Texas, reported an increase in horses
abandoned on private or state park land since 2007, although
specific data quantifying those abandonments were not available.”
Apparently the state veterinarians took no notice of
wildfires that swept horse country in all three states during the
years in question, razing hundreds of miles of fencing and causing
spooked horses to run for their lives. Southern California horse
country was hit hard in three consecutive years, 2007-2009, with a
record 63 major wildfires in 2009 alone.
The GAO presented actual statistics from only one state.
“Colorado data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse
increased more than 60% from 975 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009,” the GAO
said. But the GAO failed to note that in May 2007–at almost the
same time as the closure of the last U.S. horse
slaughterhouses–Colorado law began requiring veterinarians to report
neglect and abuse. This preceded a 20% increase in Colorado Bureau
of Animal Protection investigations of all types.
The GAO report acknowledged indirectly that closing the U.S.
horse slaughterhouses contributed to a drop in adoptions of wild
horses and burros removed from the western range by the Bureau of
Land Manage-ment. The BLM adoption program, established by the 1971
Wild and Free Ranging Horse and Burro Protection Act, has long been
suspected of supplying wild equines to slaughter brokers, contrary
to the intent of the law as it existed until a November 2005
amendment ordered the BLM to sell “without limitation” any “excess”
wild equine who is more than 10 years of age, or who has been
offered for adoption three times without a taker.
Contrary to the intent of the amendment, introduced by horse
slaughter proponent and former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns, BLM horse
adoptions have fallen from about 8,000 in 2005 to circa 3,000 in 2010.
“Some proponents of horse slaughter are using the GAO as a
rallying cry to re-open equine abattoirs,” said Humane Legislative
Fund president Mike Markarian. “But the GAO report is a lot more
nuanced than the horse slaughter industry suggests, and provides
some good insights into better policy solutions for horse welfare.
And it confirms that shipping horses long distances in double-decker
trailers and killing them for food exports isn’t good for the
horses,” Markarian added.
“”We never viewed the shutdown of the U.S. plants as the end
of the process,” commented Humane Society of the U.S. president
Wayne Pacelle. “We’ve known we must stop the export of live horses
to our neighboring nations if we are going to shut down slaughter.
We think the GAO report gives us powerful new ammunition to pass
federal legislation to do that,” Pacelle concluded.

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