The ban was established in 2006, closing United States horse slaughter houses in an effort to encourage equine rescues. However, the measure did not restrict owners, breeders and “kill buyers,” who purchase equines to profit from their slaughter, from exporting live horses to operations outside the United States. In some countries, like France and Canada, horse is a delicacy; in the United States, where equines are considered “companion pets,” like cats and dogs, studies show that an overwhelming majority of consumers would be opposed to eating the meat.
“More than 70 percent of the American people are strongly opposed to horse slaughter,” said Susan Wagner, president of Equine Advocates, an organization dedicated to promoting the humane treatment of horses. “We consider horses to be sporting, recreational and companion animals never to be eaten. They are favored animals in our culture. Dogs and cats are also eaten in other countries. Is that next? Horses today - dogs and cats tomorrow?”
Opposition to the U.S. horse slaughter industry is a popular sentiment in our region, where the equine industry is a major economic contributor. The New York State Racing Association (NYRA) in December 2009 introduced an anti-slaughter policy declaring that any owner or trainer stabled at a NYRA track that has directly or indirectly sold a horse for slaughter would have their stalls permanently revoked from all tracks.
As stated in NYRA’s December 10, 2009, press release introducing the policy, “NYRA requires its horsemen to conduct due diligence on those buying horses and encourages them to support rescue and adoption efforts and to find humane ways of dealing with horses unable to continue racing.”
More recently, a bill pending in the state assembly would prohibit the slaughtering of horses for human consumption. According to Assemblyman Bob Reilly (109th District), a member of the Agriculture Committee, New York State would make a statement against the new federal legislation in passing this bill.
“It would prohibit horses being transported out of New York State for the purpose of being slaughtered,” Reilly said. “I think that a very large [majority], if not everyone in the state assembly, will be supportive of this bill.”
However, Reilly said the bill would not solve the issue.
“What we do with excess horses is a real problem; it’s a problem we have to look at,” he said.
Whether it is due to over breeding or the economy (many owners are forced to give up their horses because they can no longer afford to care for them), the issue is that there are too many horses. Rescue facilities exist, like Old Friends at Cabin Creek in Greenfield, but many are strained and some say it’s unrealistic to assume every unwanted horse will find a welcoming home.
But according to Marion Altieri, a Saratoga resident well-known for her Thoroughbred writing and equine advocacy, there is no reason to slaughter a horse.
“There is a gentle way if you just can’t take care of a horse anymore; there is a needle used to euthanize,” Altieri said, adding that even that should be a last resort. “There is always somebody who wants your horse.”
Altieri also pointed to over breeding as a root of the problem, explaining that even the Thoroughbred industry is guilty of it. She said she was appalled by the news that Congress had lifted the ban last week, and that anyone who lives in Saratoga Springs, where Thoroughbred racing is a significant economic contributor, should be equally disgusted.
“It’s a sad day for America when we turn our back on what is in spirit [our] national animal,” she said. “A horse is like a kitten; it’s totally defenseless. They have chosen the perfect victim.”
“Horse slaughter is an American disgrace. It’s the ultimate betrayal of an animal [that] is as symbolic of the United States as the bald eagle,” Wagner said. “It is unconscionable that our tax dollars will be used to fund this cruel, unspeakable practice.”