How many times have we heard the phrase “unintended consequences” in reference to government actions? Some actions have great intentions, but result in a major calamity.
Let’s look at the issue of horse slaughter. There are no horse slaughter facilities operating in this country due to government actions.
Congressional efforts are afoot to turn this into an outright and permanent ban. My family owns and loves horses — we have for generations, but there are certain realities of dealing with unwanted horses. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of stopping horse slaughter were predictable.
It costs $2,300 per year to feed a horse and add to that veterinary services, care and equipment. We are seeing some cash-strapped horse owners, some losing their homes in foreclosure, first cut the feed ration and veterinary care. Next is abandonment at livestock auctions or releasing the horse into the desert where it has no idea how to find water or food. Horse shelters are already stretched and there is low demand for adoption. The Arizona Department of Agriculture is running low on resources to round up and feed abandoned horses. These cash-strapped owners make the decision to not spend the $300 to $500 to properly dispose of an unwanted horse. It is not the right decision, but it is reality.
What should be done with these unwanted animals due to economic times, age or the owner deciding the animal is not trainable or wanted? A horse can live 25 years or so. Until government shut down regulated and humane slaughter in this country, there was a local demand and value for unwanted horses.
The Humane Society of the United States says we protest too much. Large animal veterinarians, animal control and livestock officers around the country don’t seem to think so. They see the abuses firsthand. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Quarter Horse Association, to name just a few credible organizations, agree these abuses are occurring.
Of course horse ownership should be responsible. Abandoning horses, failing to provide adequate food and water and neglect constitute animal abuse. However, the reality is animals are being abused because we have eliminated an option, i.e. strictly regulated horse slaughter facilities as an outlet and market for unwanted and uncared for animals. There is a market for horse meat in the world. For example: we are shipping live horses to Canada for slaughter and the product is coming back to U.S. zoos — does this make any sense?
Again, my family loves horses. We board and provide a training facility on our farm for other horse-owning families and we hate the abuse resulting from good intentions — simply because some people recoil from the thought of an animal being slaughtered.
At the same time, no one is arguing that horses should not be euthanized, when sickness, old age or infirmity requires it, but when we stopped U.S. slaughter we pulled the rug from the economics. The radical ban has not been good for the horse, the horse owner or the entire horse industry. It is time for states and Congress to rethink this issue before more horses suffer abuse.
Kevin Rogers is president of the Arizona Farm Bureau.