GAO: Neglect on the rise since closure of domestic equine slaughter operations - DVM
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GAO: Neglect on the rise since closure of domestic equine slaughter operations


New changes could add more challenges

Canada and Mexico, throughout 2009 and 2010, began placing new restrictions on horses imported for slaughter, requiring documentation that the horses were free of certain medications for a specified period prior to shipping. In 2013, the European Union (EU), a chief importer of horsemeat for human consumption, will start requiring lifetime drug records for all horses slaughtered in non-EU countries before accepting their meat for human consumption.

Additionally, a federal bill introduced in the U.S. Senate could ban the export of horses bound for slaughter for human consumption all together.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2011 (SB 1176) would amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the interstate or foreign sale or transport of horses for the purpose of processing them for human consumption.

HSUS supports the legislation, saying that 92 percent of horses sent to slaughter are in good condition and could lead healthy, productive lives.

"This bill could finally take American horses off the menu for good, and put an end to shocking and inhumane treatment of these animals," says Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of HSUS.

HSUS says a national poll indicates that 70 percent of Americans favor a ban on horse slaughter, but Moyer says legislation that gives horse owners even fewer options for dealing with unwanted horses may only make matters worse.

While veterinarians want to be at the forefront of animal welfare debates such as this, Moyer believes the profession end up in a difficult position by trying to navigate between public perception and what is in the animal's best interest.

"It's part of that whole societal dilemma. We've got a percentage of population in the United States that think beef comes from a wrapper. A big percentage of the population is urban and simply does not know what it is involved in caring for horses and livestock," he says. "It becomes one of those issues where, because of lack of understanding of what takes place in the animal world, you could come out looking like that bad guy."

Without more resources for dealing with the growing number of unwanted horses, Moyer says he fears equine welfare would suffer even more should the new legislation be enacted

"If Congress pursues the option of banning the processing of U.S. horses without appropriate funding and infrastructure in place to appropriately care for these animals, this action may only amplify the negative welfare implications for this highly vulnerable population of horses," Moyer says.

The next step

GAO suggests both banning domestic slaughter and the exportation of horses for foreign slaughter completely, and once again allowing domestic slaughter as solutions to the equine welfare crisis. Without giving a clear recommendation either way, GAO recommends actions be taken to better protect the welfare of horses transported to slaughter, including issuing a final rule to give USDA more enforcement power, using other agencies to better assure the completion of shipping certificates, and securing agreements for better slaughterhouse reporting from Canadian and Mexican authorities.

"Our recommendation on this is pretty clear—the USDA needs to be funded in order to manage this transportation situation. There has to be some mechanism put into place where we could be reasonably assured that the welfare of these animals is being handled properly," Moyer says.

"The lack of federal funding for the USDA's transport oversight program cripples the agency's ability to properly protect horses that are shipped to processing facilities," he adds, speaking for AAEP. "Our association supports the return of funding to the USDA. The AAEP feels it is equally important that the USDA quickly issues its final rule on transport regulations so the agency's oversight will extend to more of the transportation chain."

HSUS, on the other hand, supports the all-out ban on horse slaughter, blaming "the agribusiness lobby and some veterinarians aligned with industry" for blocking attempts to stop long-distance transportation of horses to slaughter.

"When a handful of slaughter plants did operate in the U.S., horse still traveled long distances across the country ... and the transport and slaughter processes involved were inherently inhumane," says Markarian. "There's no reason to believe that slaughter plants would spring up in every community to make the transport distances shorter."

As of press time, SB 1176 had been read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and USDA had pledged to GAO to move forward on efforts to publish a final rule on equine transportation regulations.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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