Don’t eat it

Why Americans should demand a halt to horse slaughter

I will never try horse meat. I write that statement without reservation. If you have no idea why I’m bringing this up, flip to pages 7 and 12 to find out. In this week’s Streettalk question, we asked local citizens whether they would feast on horse. And in our environmental section, Greenways, contributing writer Meredith J. Graham delves into the subject of equines being used for human consumption.

It’s a timely topic, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently given approval for horse slaughtering to a couple of companies, one in New Mexico and one in Iowa. It’s been nearly six years since the last horse-processing facility in the United States shut its doors.

Many horse lovers—myself included—had hoped the ban would remain in place indefinitely.

And yes, I am biased.

I got my first horse, a blue roan named Ginger, when I was about 11 years old. I’d been asking for a horse for as long as I could remember, and found an opportunity to lease Ginger in partial exchange for mucking stalls. Ginger’s owners put her up for sale about a year into the lease, and I spent every penny I’d ever earned or saved from birthdays and Christmases to buy her.

I can see where someone would call me hypocritical for being against horse slaughter since, try as I might to be vegetarian, I eat other meat, though much more occasionally these days.

But as someone who knows horses, I believe there’s a greater argument for keeping the ban in place. For starters, horses are companion animals as well as work animals. But that’s an emotional argument, and there are other, more logical reasons that horses shouldn’t be killed for food.

One of the main reasons is that horses, unlike other herd animals, do not react well to being crammed together in confined spaces. They become aggressive, often flailing about. Horses do not stand quietly as a stranger points a bolt gun to their head. I’ll leave out the goriest details, and just note that slaughterhouse horse skulls are evidence of the horrendous end to these magnificent creatures’ lives.

From a purely economic standpoint, horses are a poor investment compared to cattle. They take a lot more feed while producing much less flesh. Finally, since horses aren’t raised for human consumption, they aren’t raised cleanly. That is, they are routinely given drugs, such as oral deworming medication, antibiotics and vaccines—making their flesh unfit to eat. When slaughter was legal years ago, a majority of the tainted meat was shipped out of the country. That practice must be banned.

The first step is to tell U.S. representatives to support legislation such as the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which would put a stop to slaughter in the States and also ban the transport of live animals intended for slaughterhouses in other countries.

A ban on horse slaughter doesn’t solve the overpopulation of unwanted equines, and some will argue that using the animals for food is sustainable. But there has to be a better, more humane way to deal with the issue.