A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concludes that from 2006 to 2010 the number of horses exported to Mexico for processing rose 660 percent. The number of horses exported to Canadian processing plants increased 148 percent during the same time frame, the report states.
The GAO conducted the study, issued June 22, by order of the U.S. Senate Appropriations' Committee. The committee wanted answers to how the horse processing plant closures in 2007 affected the American horse industry. The study looked at how processing plant closures influenced the number of horses sold, exported, adopted, or abandoned in the U.S. The Appropriations Committee also wanted statistics on how the closures affected farm income and trade, and how the USDA has overseen the transport of horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.
As a result of the GAO report, The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) says the equine industry must maintain its focus on reducing the rising unwanted horse population in the U.S.
“Responsible horse ownership is a critical piece of this challenge,” says William Moyer, DVM, president of AAEP. “Current and potential horse owners should consider buying rather than breeding and when possible, adopting rather than buying. While the GAO report confirmed several concerns the AAEP has expressed about the current state of horse welfare, we hope this information will spur increased attention to equine welfare, responsible ownership and reduction of the unwanted horse population.”
AAEP says federal government attention further emphasizes the seriousness of this issue to America’s horses. The number of horses involved in animal cruelty and abandonment investigations increased since processing plants closed in 2007, according to GAO.
GAO reports that since the ban, low- and medium-priced horses, those likely to be brought for slaughter, have seen an 8 percent to 21 percent decrease in market prices. In Colorado, cruelty investigations increased more than 60 percent from 975 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009, the report shows. Officials in California, Texas and Florida reported increases in abandoned animals on private property since the 2007 slaughter ban.
“As doctors of veterinary medicine, we agree with the GAO's conclusions regarding the unintended consequences of the domestic slaughter ban,” Dr. Moyer says. “The reported increase in horse neglect and abandonment, combined with the lack of placement options for horses that can no longer be cared for by their owners, has been and continues to be a significant equine welfare challenge facing the equine industry.”
According to the GAO report, nearly 138,000 U.S. horses were transported to Mexico and Canada for slaughter in 2010, the same as before domestic slaughter ban. As of a result of its findings, the GAO recommended that Congress reinstate funding for USDA food safety inspections at horse processing plants or completely ban slaughter of U.S. horses.
Legislation addressing GAO proposals has been introduced. In May the U.S. House of Representatives amended the Agricultural Appropriations Act of 2012 to continue the defunding of USDA horse processing plant inspections. In June Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced SB 1176, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011. If passed the bill would amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the sale or transport of horses or equine parts in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent of processing them for human consumption.
“Regarding the GAO’s recommendations, the lack of federal funding for the USDA’s transport oversight program cripples the agency’s ability to properly protect horses that are shipped to processing facilities,” Moyer says. “Eliminating the funding for inspecting this population of horses has, as outlined by the GAO report, decreased the welfare of these horses. Our association supports the return of funding to the USDA. The AAEP feels it is equally important that the USDA quickly issues its final rule on transport regulations so the agency's oversight will extend to more of the transportation chain for horses shipped to slaughter.”
AAEP speculates that a Congressional pursuit of banning the processing of U.S. horses without the appropriate funding and infrastructure to care for the horses, the action may amplify the negative welfare implications for horses.
“The AAEP believes that horse processing is not the ideal solution for addressing the large number of unwanted horses in the U.S.,” Moyer says. “However, if a horse owner is unable or unwilling to provide humane care and no one is able to assume the responsibility, euthanasia in a manner designated as humane by the American Veterinary Medical Association is an acceptable alternative to a life of suffering, inadequate care or abandonment.”