Instead, they are in Mexico and Canada. Now horses are shipped much greater distances and at higher costs to slaughter, and are slaughtered without USDA regulation. Last year, over 150,000 horses were sent across the boarders to be processed. Horse processing serves to set a floor price for horses. The higher cost of shipping them to Canada and Mexico has lowered the price owners receive for any horse, and the effects ripple through the entire horse industry. Many U.S. zoos use horsemeat to feed their animals because it’s high in protein and low in fat. Ironically, those zoos now have to buy horsemeat - derived from American horses - from Mexico or Canada.
Advocates in favor of this irresponsible policy, like my former colleague, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), say that horse processing is "not humane." He's wrong, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) say he’s wrong. Before they closed, the U.S. plants used "penetrating captive bolt" to euthanize horses, a technique common to the beef industry and considered humane for horses by AVMA and AAEP. As with processing plants for all animals, there are laws on the books for humane slaughter methods for horses, and FSIS inspectors present to ensure those laws are followed.
Concerns about the safeness of horsemeat are misplaced. Both USDA and the European Union regulate horsemeat stringently, and the U.S. processing plants kept horses for withdrawal periods depending on the drugs (if any) that had been administered to them. The plants also performed constant residue testing in their holding pens, and if a harmful substance was detected the entire lot would be condemned. To my knowledge, the EU has never had any issues with "contaminated" horsemeat imported from the U.S.
I believe the shuttering of the processing plants, combined with the recession has led to an increase in abandoned and neglected horses. Others disagree. GAO is planning to release a report on the impact of the closing of the processing plants on horses hopefully by the end of the month, yet the House is scheduled to vote on Tuesday to continue this policy without having the benefit of this report's conclusions, whatever they may be. I think that is bad governing.
Let’s be clear: horses are livestock under the law - not companion animals such as dogs as Rep. Moran has said - and are allowed to be deducted as diminishing assets and their expenses written off accordingly. Horses are expensive to maintain, and can cost $500 to $2,000 to euthanize by lethal injection and bury - assuming you can find a place that is willing to dispose of a 1,500 pound animal filled with drugs. Horse owners deserve a humane end of life option for their horses that has monetary value. Right now, Republicans and Democrats are using emotional arguments to an ill-informed public to deny horse owners their rights. In the process, they are preventing the creation of American jobs and causing more inhumane treatment of horses.
Charles W. Stenholm served the 17th U.S. House District of Texas as a Democrat, 1979 – 2005. He is now a Senior Policy Advisor with Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz PC.