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Moving in the Wrong Direction for Horses

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The media has been in an absolute frenzy this past month over the appalling discovery that horse meat has been co-mingled and passed off as beef in frozen food products distributed across Europe. These are not isolated outbreaks in small companies either, but are massive scandals that have ensnared some of the biggest names in food production in the world: Nestle, Sodexho, IKEA, Burger King, and Tesco, to name a few. If the shock of learning that for months, if not years, Europeans have been eating horses when they thought they were eating beef wasn't enough, the human health concerns associated with the consumption of toxic horsemeat seals the deal on the warranted panic.

Horsemeat is unsafe for human consumption for the very reason we strongly oppose this practice. Horses are not raised as food animals; they are raised to be companions, sport competitors or work partners. Throughout their lives, horses are given medications and substances that are dangerous for people to consume and prohibited by food monitoring agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. De-wormers, fly treatments and pain-killers full of chemicals banned for human consumption are given daily to horses on the track, in the show ring, and on the ranch.

There are also many drugs regularly used on horses that have never been tested on humans and the potential danger of ingesting these substances is completely unknown. There is currently no agency preventing horses from being picked up at our auctions and trucked over the border for slaughter even though we know that slaughtering American horses for human consumption abroad poses a major health risk for consumers.

Horse slaughter not only threatens human health -- it is a torturous nightmare for horses. There is no demand for this industry so it remains relatively small and therefore horses are trucked long distances -- regardless of whether plants are in the U.S. or over the border. These trips involve slipping, trampling injuries and death for many horses. Those who survive this travel then must suffer at the hands of their butchers. Horse slaughter is inherently cruel and inhumane. Horses' instinctual flight response makes them ill-suited for stunning, so they often endure repeated blows and sometimes remain conscious during their dismemberment. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors have, in the past, discovered rampant violations and cruelty in domestic horse slaughter plants.

The USDA notes that more than 92 percent of American horses sent to slaughter are in good condition; healthy horses who could go on to lead productive lives in loving homes. Horse slaughter is not a form of euthanasia, and it is a myth that only aging, unwanted or sickly horses are slaughtered.

The horse slaughter industry is about making money while horses suffer and human health is put at risk.

While no horse slaughterhouses currently operate in the U.S., it is true that last year over 160,000 American horses were trucked over our borders to slaughtering facilities in Mexico and Canada. The few domestic slaughterhouses in operation closed in 2007, when a federal ban on inspections was imposed.

What is the USDA doing to stop this terrible problem? Unbelievably, we understand they intend to move forward with processing one of the pending applications before them for a horse slaughter operation here in the U.S. New Mexico should brace itself for the firestorm of public outrage and a tsunami of horse cruelty should Roswell, N.M., become ground zero for horse suffering. The resumption of horse slaughter in our country would undoubtedly result in the sale of meat containing life-threatening additives.

Horses have been central to the ASPCA's work since our founding in 1866, and we currently work to protect and aid horses through legislation, rescue, and millions of dollars of grants distributed through our Equine Fund. March 1 is celebrated as National Horse Appreciation Day, and we ask that you join with us in honoring these noble animals and advocating for a complete ban on horse slaughter so that no horse has to suffer this terrible fate.