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Equine welfare: Unwanted horses — an epidemic
As numbers of unwanted horses multiply, experts cite economic woes, closure of processing plants


The slaughter issue

Aside from the economy, some of the major veterinary organizations point to what they believe is another key contributing factor, one that is complex and charged with emotion: the shutdown of the last three U.S. slaughterhouses in 2007 and a House bill that has been evolving since 2001 and in its current form would prohibit future transport, sale, delivery or export of horses for slaughter for human consumption — barring even the shipment of horses to Mexico and Canada for that purpose.

An AAEP delegation told a U.S. House subcommittee recently that the legislation, if passed in 2009, will lead to more unwanted horses left to languish and suffer.

The AAEP, along with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and other veterinary and horse-industry groups, warned for years that closing the plants would lead to more unwanted and neglected horses, even though their own membership support on that stance, while a large majority, isn't at 100 percent. A number of veterinarians consider horse slaughter predatory and cruel, and support the current House-passed bill that is likely to be taken up in Congress this year.

The AAEP states formally that it "is not pro-slaughter," but believes that "until the unwanted horse issue can be resolved, euthanasia at a federally regulated processing plant is an acceptable alternative to abuse, neglect or abandonment."

"If this legislation would allow a significant period of time, say for example until 2015, to prohibit slaughter here and close the borders to shipping horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter, it would give the horse industry time to solve this problem," Lenz says. "We're working hard on it now and will solve it, but the legislation as written bars slaughter immediately, closes the borders and thus makes a solution that much more difficult."

The horse industry's other concerns with the legislation is that it provides no infrastructure for the welfare of horses no longer removed for slaughter, doesn't address carcass disposal, doesn't provide an enforcement plan or agency and provides no funding to care for unwanted horses.

"This legislation, which would make it a felony to knowingly sell a horse to be slaughtered for human consumption and moves enforcement to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Attorney General rather than the Secretary of Agriculture, is based on the supposition that slaughter is cruel," Lenz says.

But when the AAEP toured the former U.S. processing plants, it found that horses were treated with dignity and euthanized humanely under USDA veterinary oversight, Lenz says.

AAEP visits Mexican plants

Can the same be said of the plants in Mexico?

Lenz got to see for himself in November, when he, along with Dr. Douglas G. Corey, another AAEP past-president, and Dr. Sergio Salinas, the international member on the AAEP's board of directors, finally were permitted to tour some plants in Mexico. Mexican officals and plant owners earlier had been reluctant to allow such tours after the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released undercover video in 2007 showing a horse being stabbed in a Mexican facility, followed by a wave of negative publicity.

What were the AAEP group's impressions of the Mexican operations?

"There are three types of processing plants in Mexico — TIF or federal inspection-type plants, municipal plants and some clandestine ones that are privately owned and unregulated," Lenz explains.

"All U.S. horses go to the TIF plants, which meet European standards, have veterinary inspectors and use penetrating captive-bolt euthanasia, which is an acceptable and humane method," Lenz pointed out in a presentation at the AAEP convention.

"The municipal plants process only Mexican horses, meet Mexican standards and use the same form of euthanasia. We didn't see anything out of line or offensive at either of these type of plants. They of course could have staged some of this for us, but I doubt that was the case."


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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