Montana senator calls for reopening of horse slaughterhouses
The last horse slaughterhouse in the U.S. shut down in 2007, but in Montana, they're pushing to get the industry going again -- an answer, some state officials say, to the growing number of horses left unfed and otherwise neglected in the current economic climate by owners who can no longer afford to care for them.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said the Senate Appropriations Committee is moving forward with a spending bill that would resume funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect horse slaughtering facilities, an important step to provide a domestic alternative to shipping horses to Mexico and Canada for meatpacking.
"We've seen some pretty shocking cases across Montana of horse abandonment and neglect as owners face tough economic times. This ban is a part of the problem and has resulted in the inhumane treatment of injured and sick horses along with hurting the economy. We have an opportunity here to do the right thing for our farmers and ranchers while improving the welfare of horses," Baucus said in a statement.
Many animal welfare organizations have opposed any move to resume horse slaughter, saying it often results in inhumane shipment and painful deaths and is not the only alternative to preventing neglect. The Humane Society of the United States said in a report that 92% of horses slaughtered are in good condition.
But several Western states have discussed resuming domestic slaughter in recent years. Montana in 2009 passed a law removing most legal roadblocks to constructing a facility, which officials here said could handle the process more humanely and more economically than facilities outside the U.S., some of which operate with few regulations.
But no plant has been built in the state, Baucus said, because Congress in 2006 blocked funding for USDA inspection of horse slaughtering facilities, effectively banning horse slaughter because the meat cannot be shipped across state lines and abroad.
The ban resulted in a more than 600% increase in the number of horses being shipped to Mexico, where animal welfare groups say facilities are often horrific, along with a large increase to Canada as well, according to the Goverment Accountability Office, which reported on the issue at Baucus' request in June.
The ban also lowered domestic horse prices, particuarly for lower-quality horses, while there were substantial increases in the number of abused or neglected horses, the GAO said.
It said Congress may want to reauthorize USDA to inspect horse slaughtering facilities, as the measure Baucus is championing proposes, or else impose an explicit ban on horse slaughter and the transport of horses abroad for slaughter, as another bill before Congress would do.
"U.S. horses intended for slaughter are now traveling significantly greater distances to reach their final destination, where they are not covered by U.S. humane slaughter protections," the report said.
--Kim Murphy in Bozeman, Mont.
Photo: Horses at an equine shelter in Carlisle, Ky., one of many shelters forced to take in more horses as the number of neglected horses increases. Credit: Jim Winn for the Los Angeles Times