Agriculture's Big Picture
AgWeb Editor Greg Vincent takes a big-picture look at agriculture and current events.
Gramps Would Not Call This Humane
May 14, 2010
Horses are among the most majestic domesticated animals on earth. They’re a symbol of our country’s westward expansion...the spirit of America. There is nothing more inhumane than watching a horse, or any animal for that matter, starve to death or suffer from neglect. End of story.
Yet, through the reality of unintended consequences, that’s happening today thanks to the successful efforts of animal rights groups to (effectively) ban horse slaughter in the United States. It’s also why today’s opinion piece written by Kansas City Star editorial board member Barbara Shelly, Puppies and Horse Meat? Missouri’s Become a Zoo
, raised my ire.
First, some background. My grandfather was a farmer, but he was a stockman first: a horseman in particular. He didn’t just have horses, he loved them. Often this was to his detriment.
My dad tells the story of my grandfather, a reluctant convert to mechanized agriculture, and the day he sold his final team of Percherons as the only time he refused to leave the house. Dad and his older brother went the barn to load the horses on the truck in the early 1960s. A part of gramps died that day when they were taken to slaughter.
Gramps understood the ethical necessity of caring for his animals and he did so with passion. He also realized his ethical responsibility when they could no longer serve their intended purpose. The humane thing to do was to treat them with dignity and respect.
Today with no slaughter availability, that’s not happening. Montana farmer Mitch Konen tells stories of horses being abandoned in his state. “Everyone’s pretty tight-lipped about it, but people that had horses before don’t have them now. Where are they going?” asks Konen, who doesn’t own horses himself.
A group of Missouri legislators has launched a drive to bring horse slaughter back to the state. The effective ban on horse slaughter is a result of USDA no longer funding meat inspectors for horse slaughter plants here. Without that stamp of USDA approval, the meat cannot be exported to mostly European countries like France where the meat is considered a delicacy.
Shelly, the KC Star’s opinion writer, says in her column that Jim Viebrock, a Republican representative who supports the bill in Missouri, claims the closing of U.S. slaughter has “caused an increase in horse neglect.” She goes on to say “but the economy is probably more of a factor. And it’s not like animals targeted for slaughter have great lives. Look at hogs and chickens.”
Confinement discussions are for another blog, today is horse talk. Considering most horse owners aren’t raising them in feedlots for the purpose of slaughter it is also a moot point. According to Barbara Linke, Public Policy director at the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), most of their members have between 3-5 horses. Not exactly the “factory” picture some like to paint when talking about livestock production.
As for the economy lending to the mistreatment of animals, there may be some truth to that. But let’s look at the whole story.
Since the (effective) horse-slaughter ban, there is a depleted market for horses since there is no market for horse meat.
According to the Web site www.amillionhorses.com
the cost of caring for a horse, minus veterinary expenses and farrier care averages $1,825/year. Not exactly chump change for sure.
In 2006, the year before the (effective) ban came, there were more than 100,000 horses slaughtered in the U.S. There are still horses and probably 100,000 a year that are ripe for starvation and neglect, though I’m sure most are probably well-cared for. But what about those that are not?
What if there was a market for those animals past their prime? The owners could sell these horses to a packer for slaughter and have some money to buy horses from those who can no longer afford to feed them, due to the tough economy.
So, while the economy is likely a factor for the rising number of neglected horses…a small factor. The horses are still there. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a place for them to go? A place where humans can benefit from them, even if it is as a main course?
The Missouri bill would allow for a user fee to be assessed on a per head basis. This fee would then go back to the USDA to pay for the meat inspectors: a zero-sum equation for USDA. To date, it looks like that will not come to fruition since the bill has been blocked and the legislature is set to close up shop for the year at 6:00 p.m. Friday. Even then, USDA has not given an answer on whether they would supply an inspector if the bill passed, according to Linke at AQHA.
It’s not a pleasant thought that of having a symbol of American spirit end up on a dinner plate in some foreign country. But it’s nowhere near the vile and disgusting thought of having a horse abandoned and left to starve to death because there is no market for healthy animals, let alone the ones who will soon die of old age.
You see, gramps could have kept his team; locked them in a barn and let them slowly deteriorate into nothing. This man that loved his horses chose the more dignified route. Isn’t it time we do the same thing?