Lexington, Ky.-In the wake of a reintroduced bill in Congress to ban horse slaughter in the United States, the American Association
of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has reiterated, via a position statement, that the organization is not pro-slaughter.
Instead, in an official statement released in the fall, AAEP discloses, "We are pro-welfare of the horse" and says it recognizes
horse slaughter is an important welfare issue for the entire equine industry.
Dr. Tom Lenz, outgoing AAEP president, says AAEP is not "proactively opposing" the bill. "Our approach is to educate the horse
owner and the legislature and try to protect the health and welfare of the horse."
Dr. Tom Lenz
Lenz adds, "Honestly the people who propose these bills and support them don't honestly understand the issue. They tend to
look at this as an emotional issue – these are horses, our companions and we're sending them off to slaughter."
Or, the sheer numbers alarm them: approximately 55,000 horses are slaughtered annually in the U.S., according to AAEP statistics.
Yet such horses are taken to a processing facility because they are either no longer serviceable, are infirm, dangerous or
their owners are no longer able to care for them, according to AAEP.
That said, AAEP's statement acknowledges: "Our association believes slaughter is not the most desirable option for addressing
the problem of unwanted horses. However, if a horse owner is not able or willing to provide humane care, the AAEP believes
that euthanasia at a processing facility is a humane alternative to a life of suffering, inadequate care and possibly abandonment."
In light of AAEP's position, in November, shortly after the equine group released the statement, Blue Horse Charities, a nonprofit
group dedicated to protecting horses from slaughter, engaged in some finger-pointing targeting AAEP and other horse-related
industry groups. In an accusatory letter distributed to the racing industry, Blue Horse Charities claims the groups organized
to stall passage of the bill.
To the contrary, contends Lenz. Although AAEP has not responded to Blue Horse's allegations officially, with the exception
of AAEP's executive director's personal letter to the group, the association reiterates it "would endorse the bill if they
made some provisions for caring for unwanted horses and if they made some provisions to stop transport of horses."
Specific to the bill, H.R. 857, referred to as the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, AAEP says it would consider supporting
passage if specific revisions were made:
- Funding of care for unwanted horses. As the bill stands, it does not address financial support for unwanted horses voluntarily
given up by their owners. AAEP expresses concern that horse rescue and retirement groups will not have adequate resources
without federal funding.
"The bill says the fed funds may be appropriated if horses are confiscated," Lenz says. "But we don't think that's adequate-'maybe.'
We definitely have to have some funds allocated to that."
- Development of a specific enforcement plan to stop illegal transporters. Because slaughter plants exist in Mexico and Canada,
AAEP contends that if humane slaughter is banned in the U.S., then it is imperative that U.S. authorities aggressively enforce
the law to prevent a black market of horses transported out of the country. Currently the bill does not include a specific
plan detailing which agencies would oversee this component.
The concern to AAEP is that if the bill passes, many more horses will be shipped to Canada and to Mexico for slaughter, along
with the thousands already being exported. Last year, the USDA reported 30,000 horses were exported to Canada for slaughter.
Lenz suspects that number likely would double at least, if slaughter plants were to close. Lenz says no one "has a clue" how
many horses are transported to Mexico.
Secondary bill component
Equally worrisome to Lenz and AAEP is the bill's view on euthanasia. "They're making a judgment on what's an acceptable humane
form of euthanasia."
For instance, he says AAEP supports use of captive bolt euthanasia. "I've been to the slaughter plant in Texas and it is extremely
humane. Proponents of the bill are misleading people in describing the procedure.
"This is an issue that has to be based on scientific fact. Our goal is to be the voice of reason, because the proponents tend
to push this on an emotional level," he adds.