Obama Legalizes Horse Slaughter for Human Consumption

On the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, Barack Obama broke a campaign pledge and signed a bill legalizing the slaughter of American horses for human consumption.

Congress banned the slaughter of horses in 2006 by withholding funding for inspectors. A handful of Congressmen removed the amendment from a mandatory spending bill that arrived on the president’s desk just before Thanksgiving.

Obama quietly signed the bill on November 18, despite having promised to maintain the ban at all costs during the 2008 campaign. Asked in a questionnaire, “Will you support legislation…to institute a permanent ban on horse slaughter and exports of horses for human consumption,” Obama simply responded, “Yes.”

Horse slaughter plants are now planned in at least eight states, including Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Georgia.

Already more than 100,000 American horses are slaughtered each year, including 10,000 Thoroughbreds.

Horses are regularly administered drugs that are unsafe for human consumption. For example, equine pain is often treated with Phenylbutazone (or “bute”), a carcinogen the FDA banned for human use after observing regular “toxic reactions,” such as “blood dyscrasias, including aplastic anemia, leukopenia, agranulocytosis, thrombocytopenia, and deaths.”

Nonetheless, horse meat is considered a delicacy in France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

Vickery Eckhoff of Forbes documented the suffering horses endure during the transportation process alone:

The livestock trucks were not designed to accommodate horses’ longer necks and legs and higher center of gravity. Put a horse in a cattle car, and it can’t stand upright. Imagine stallions packed in next to mares (in foal or with foals at their sides), the sick next to the healthy, all off balance, banging their heads, slipping and falling as they become more agitated, exhausted, dehydrated. Much of the resulting suffering—gouged-out eyes and gruesome head injuries, open fractures, broken legs and severed hooves, trampling and bleeding to death—has been documented by USDA photos obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Some of those graphic images may be seen here.

Eckhoff notes, due to the difficulties of knocking them out, many horses are slaughtered while still fully conscious.

Approximately 125,000 of the nation’s nine million horses are slaughtered every year. Wyoming state representative Sue Wallis expects the number to increase to perhaps 200,000 annually.

Proponents of legalizing horse slaughter say the practice never died; it simply went abroad. The GAO released a report in June estimating 137,984 U.S. horses were shipped to Canada or Mexico, nations that still permit horse slaughter, up by more than 50,000 since the domestic shutdown in 2007. They contend abandonment cases have increased, and the prices of less desirable horses have fallen as much as 20 percent due to the slaughter ban.

Critics say not to expect the new plants to translate into new jobs or tax revenue. According to The Desert Independent, horse slaughter “never created more than a total of 178 jobs.” Paula Bacon, the former mayor of Kaufman, Texas, has experience in communities with horse slaughter plants. “This so-called business brought in virtually no tax revenues,” Bacon said, “and local governments incurred substantial enforcement costs in trying to regulate these facilities.” (Bacon’s detailed list of the facility’s faults may be read here.)

Twenty-six senators have introduced S. 1176, “The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011.”