Monday, September 19, 2011

YUM! Horsemeat!!

One of the most divisive issues within the horse industry these days is slaughter.  The debate over whether the US should allow horses to be processed, who is responsible for the care of the horses prior to being processed, how the slaughter ban has affected the unwanted horses situation are all topics that have been burning up Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms and magazine editorials.  The anti-slaughter people are militant in their quest to save horses from being killed and eaten, the pro-slaughter people are equally as zealous in their advocacy that slaughter will restore the horse industry and is "more humane than starvation."

I have made my slaughter views public here on this blog;  I am firmly against it because it is wasteful, unregulated, and removes any consequences or responsibility people ought to face for their breeding and training practices.  I am well aware, though, that those who stand in favor of re-instating slaughter in the US are numerous, especially among those who are members of the American Quarter Horse Association. 

On September 6th, I received an email from the AQHA Public Policy office regarding the Agriculture Appropriations Act.  It urged members of the AQHA to put pressure on their Senators to vote it down, saying its, "...unintended consequences include a sizeable negative economic impact on the horse industry and incidents of inhumane treatment of horses has risen.  The facts are in, the restriction is hurting industry and hurting animal welfare."  When I received the email I was dismayed; since when does a horse association, tasked with registration, show approvals, and breed promotion, get involved in politics?  It makes me uncomfortable.  The fact that AQHA promotes slaughter as a reasonable alternative to more responsible breeding practices (registering fewer horses per year) makes me uncomfortable too.  Their willingness to throw their weight around in the slaughter debate make me wonder who benefits from slaughter being passed, both politically and economically.

AQHA declared, "the facts are in."  Well, guess facts are in!  An article came across my desk this morning that may make the AQHA, and every other pro-slaughter proponent, step back and reconsider.  This article discusses the real and potential risks of human consumption of horse meat.  An Irish research study of horse meat has found that Bute (phenylbutazone) is extremely toxic to humans, especially in children where it can cause aplastic anemia, a condition where bone marrow does not produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells.  Researchers have found that even a trace amount can cause these health problems, and that the compounds of Bute can remain in the animal's tissues indefinitely.   The European Union has made it a requirement that by 2013, all foreign entities shipping meat to Europe must comply with their traceability standards, in an effort to keep these dangerous drugs out of the food chain.

Americans tend to aspire to be mavericks, embracing a don't-tread-on-me attitude of independence.  We don't want to be regulated, nor do we want "Big Brother" to watch what we do, or have a hand in how we run our businesses and make a profit.  This has made it so that every time the governmental powers-that-be have tried to institute a national animal tracking program, the constituents of the horse industry have shot it down.  Every program was deemed to invasive or too expensive or impractical.  So we have no way of knowing where any of our unwanted horses came from, what they have been treated with and how safe they are to be consumed by humans. 

The Europeans have deemed that any horse over six months old must have a passport that details a completely clean drug history in order to be processed for slaughter.  Here in the US, nearly every horse over the age of six months has been wormed, most receive vaccinations, and, given that Bute is the most popular drug prescribed by veterinarians, a vast majority get Bute at least once in their lives.  How can we be sure what ANY of these compounds do to humans over time?  What about all the other drugs our horses get that we haven't studied yet?  We do not farm horses exclusively for slaughter here,  we breed them to perform, for pleasure and companionship, so almost all the horses that we send to slaughter are probably in violation of the standards that the EU is proposing.

Do we care - above and beyond our bottom line?  I know that there is a segment of our population that will continue to ship our horses to Mexico and Canada for processing, with the attitude that they matter less than us or that out of sight is out of mind.  But what if those neighbors of ours start to refuse the meat as well, taking a stand for their own public health?  I can only imagine what kind of liability nightmare this would bring to our country; given that we have refused to regulate and refused to track the industry.  What is ironic is that I bet the same crowd that refused to go along with governmental tracking of all horses in the US a few years ago are the same people that are proponents of slaughter. 

So let this be a wake up call to the horse industry.  We are being faced with a new reality.  Slaughter is not the way that we are going to save the horse industry.  We have to take responsibility for all the animals we produce; we need to breed fewer horses, we need to breed better horses. We need to educate people better so that they understand the implications of horse ownership, the consequences of breeding more horses, and how to give their horses basic skills that would allow the horse to be usable, and thus, saleable.  We need to consider our neighbors and our allies in other countries, and treat them as we would want our families treated. 

The horse industry has faced many eras of growth AND contraction, and it will survive, but we need to tailor our expectations of growth.  Growth at any cost has no place in an industry where lives, both of the horse and of those who consume them, are at stake.  Slaughter used to be an artificial corrector to the downward skew of quality vs quantity in the horse industry.  In other words, what we lacked in quality, we made up for in quantity, knowing a certain percentage of our horses bred would be high quality competition horses where money was to be made, a large percentage would be pleasure horses with a sliding scale from show horses  down to the undesirable horses that for whatever reason are deemed unusable.  Slaughter took those bottom horses out of the equation, erasing our mistakes and artificially painting a rosy picture.  Until we see our situation for what it truly is, and find proactive ways of solving it, we will continue to fight each other, and continue to risk poisoning ourselves.