It's with a heavy sigh that we agree with those who say slaughter is the only viable way to end the physical suffering of many abandoned or mistreated horses, and the economic suffering of their owners.
That's not to say that we think it's an ideal solution, or one that everyone in and out of the horse community will embrace. Sometimes there are no pleasant choices.
Congress effectively banned horse slaughter in 2007. People in the industry say horses were worth more than $70 a hundredweight at slaughter, and that market provided a floor for horse prices across the country. When the ban took effect, auction prices for lower-end animals dropped to as low as $25 a hundredweight.
As the value of the animals dropped, the cost of corn and hay started to increase. Then the recession hit, and many owners found it difficult to feed their families, let alone a horse that can eat its own weight in forage every two months.
Congress lifted the ban after the Government Accountability Office concluded last year that closing domestic horse slaughtering facilities had significantly reduced prices for lower- to medium-priced horses and led to increased cases of abandoned horses. Now three slaughter plants are being planned in the West, including one in Hermiston, Ore. It could be a long time, if ever, before any of the three get all the necessary approvals and are built.
The slaughter market has never been very big because Americans have never had a taste for horse meat. Prior to the ban, what was produced went mostly to the export market, or was used in pet food. Supporters of the slaughter plants say between 120,000 and 200,000 horses would be slaughtered each year in the U.S. if plants are opened. That's a fraction of the 9 million to 10 million horses in the U.S.
There are those who say that horses are different from other farm animals. As they see it, horses are companion animals and work partners who form bonds with humans that aren't possible with cattle, pigs or sheep. They say slaughtering horses is inherently inhumane. They would like to see unwanted horses adopted, but if horses must be euthanized, it should be done by a veterinarian.
There are others who see their horses as work animals, a commodity that has monetary value throughout the stages of its life.
And there's a group in the middle who see the slaughter market as the only viable option for animals they can either no longer care for, or that are old and infirm. They say the costs of euthanasia and the options for legally disposing of the remains vary widely, and are often too high for many owners to cover.
We appreciate the position of those who are against slaughtering horses. But for those who want to utilize it, and for those who find themselves without any other viable option, it should be available. Sometimes there are no pleasant choices.