Washington — Ending horse slaughter would cause more suffering of horses, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recently testified before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.
A bill that would prohibit the transport, sale, delivery, or export of horses for slaughter for human consumption currently is being considered by the House, and opponents say it would leave thousands of unwanted horses to slowly languish, with many starving to death, if passed.
After the last three slaughterhouses in the nation were shut down in 2007, there was more than a 300 percent increase in the number of horses shipped to Canada, Mexico and other countries for slaughter.
The bill — latest in a string of legislation that has received strong support from the government only to stall in committee — is backed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and animal-rights groups, but the AAEP and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) continue to express concern that the bill would lead to the neglect and starvation of unwanted horses.
The AAEP says in a statement that H.R. 6598 — the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008 — eliminates what is "currently a necessary end-of-life option" for unwanted horses.
Dr. Douglas G. Corey, immediate past-president of AAEP, says the unwanted horse issue presents a crisis in a time of weak economy, high hay and grain prices, increasing gasoline prices and the closure of the three U.S. slaughterhouses. So far, more than 45,000 horses have been sent across U.S. borders to slaughter.
Besides the issue of creating more neglected horses, the legislation doesn't address the funds needed for their long-term care if they cannot be slaughtered, Corey says.
At about $5 a day, not including veterinary costs, the care of a horse runs about $1,800 a year. The increased number of unwanted horses means millions would be needed to care for them, he adds.
"Seventy-five percent of our members believe horse processing should remain at this time," Corey testifies.
Others, like Dr. Nicholas Dodman, co-founder of Veterinarians for Equine Welfare and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, liken the foreign slaughterhouses to an "Auschwitz for horses. It is the worst death you can imagine."
Dodman testifies the slaughter industry is "predatory and brutal" and is "sucking healthy horses out of owners' hands to support the industry.
"Any group or organization that supports it really needs to evaluate what they are all about," he says.
While the AAEP concedes it has not observed euthanasia of horses in Canada or Mexico, it still supports humane euthanasia of horses as designated by the AVMA. AAEP has been trying to schedule a trip to Mexico since before November 2007, but says processing-plant owners there have canceled.
The status of a future trip remains uncertain.