The closure of the last U.S. horse slaughter plants in the fall of 2007 has failed to reduce the number of horses shipped to slaughter. Instead, the federal funding ban had the unintended consequence of forcing horses to be shipped great distances to be slaughtered in Canada or Mexico where they are killed, and not necessarily humanely.
That's one key conclusion from a 62-page report released Wednesday from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress.
The report confirms what many horse owners have been saying for years: Because of a glut in the horse market, prices for all but the most expensive horses are seriously depressed.
Local veterinarians are also feeling the effects of a depressed horse market.
With low prices come fewer sales, further restricting options for horse owners. Horses are being abandoned, turned out to fend for themselves, especially onto tribal lands, or neglected, the GAO concluded.
In 2006, the last full year the U.S. plants operated, 105,000 horses were slaughtered domestically. In 2010, at least 138,000 horses were shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, the GAO reported.
Seventeen state veterinarians told the GAO that equine welfare had declined since the economic crash in 2008, the closure of the slaughterhouses and the drought, among other factors.
"Clearly the cessation of domestic slaughter has had unintended consequences, most importantly, perhaps, the decline in horse welfare in the United States," the report stated.
In the 1980s, the U.S. had 16 horse slaughterhouses where the meat was mainly exported for sale in Asia and Europe. The last three slaughterhouses closed in 2007 after opponents of horse slaughter had federal funding cut for inspecting horse meat. Unless meat is federally inspected, it cannot be shipped across state lines.
The GAO recommends that Congress consider reversing a ban that keeps the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using federal funds to inspect horse shipments. That would help ensure that the horses are not injured on the way to slaughter.
The GAO also said Congress should consider ending the ban on using federal funds to inspect horse slaughter plants.
But the GAO report also suggested that Congress may consider an outright ban on U.S. horse slaughter plants, rather than just cutting the funding.
Reprinted in part from Billings Gazette