Saturday, May 1, 2010

Wallis' Horse-slaughter Plan Thawarted!

Horse slaughter plan isn't worth fighting for
By the Star-Tribune Editorial Board Posted: Friday, April 30, 2010 11:31 am

How Americans dispose of unwanted horses has been controversial for many years, especially since all horse slaughtering facilities in the country were essentially closed by the federal government in 2007.

A new law in Wyoming that goes into effect in July would allow certain horses to be humanely slaughtered in the state for human consumption at state restaurants or state institutions. But several national animal rights organizations have already pledged to file lawsuits to keep the killing from happening.

In addition, while the new law says the Wyoming Livestock Board can enter agreements with licensed meat processing plants to sell the meat to state institutions and nonprofit organizations, the board's director, Jim Schwartz, bluntly said, "That's not going to happen."

Schwartz said the board will continue to sell horses at auction. "Send to slaughter is not an option in my opinion, and I would never want to dispose of them, although I may have to someday," the director said.

The bill, which passed both houses of the Legislature by wide margins with little public attention paid to the issue, was sponsored by Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse. Wallis is also director of the nonprofit United Organizations of the Horse, which plans to set up an operation at the old railroad stockyards in Cheyenne to screen horses and provide rehabilitation, training or slaughter, depending on their condition.

There is one advantage to such a system: Some owners who have old horses past a productive life or that are dangerous or untrainable simply let the animals roam, effectively leaving them to starve to death on the range. That's certainly inhumane and not an acceptable option. Wallis said an animal behaviorist and scientist at Colorado State University is working with her group to develop a humane way to slaughter the horses given to the organization that fall into the above categories.

Horse meat is consumed in many countries in Europe, South America and Central Asia and is often considered a delicacy. However, because of the role horses have played as a companion and a worker, plus concerns about the cruelty of the horse slaughter process, it is a taboo food in many cultures, including ours.

Americans have shown in poll after poll that they oppose the slaughter of horses. A 2009 poll by Public Opinion Strategies found that 69 percent of American voters are opposed to killing horses for people to eat. Horses simply are not raised for meat production in this country. Instead, they are raised as pets, for working purposes (border patrol, police work and ranching) or for sport.

We don't expect that attitude to change, as it's deeply ingrained in our culture. Most Americans -- and we suspect many people in Wyoming -- view eating a horse as akin to eating a dog or cat.

There are also some serious health concerns about humans consuming horse meat. Since there is no system for tracking drugs or other substances given to them, horse meat can contain toxic wormers and phenylbutazone, a known carcinogen that can cause bone marrow suppression in humans.

Given the opposition of the Wyoming Livestock Board and the certain legal challenges, it doesn't make sense for Wyoming to fight for the right to slaughter horses so they can be sold to state institutions. The federal prohibition of horse slaughterhouses, combined with the strong resistance to the idea from a majority of Americans and the cost of defending against lawsuits, make it a lose-lose-lose proposition for Wyoming.

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