Horse slaughter poised to resume in U.S. -- with PETA's approval?
Turns out, this animal issue is not as black and white as one might think.
Most Americans would never consider eating horse meat. The creatures are a cherished symbol of the West, are kept by many as beloved pets and family members, and celebrated in literature, TV and movies.
But other countries, including France, Canada and Mexico have no problem with putting horse meat on the dinner table. U.S. slaughterhouses helped feed this demand by exporting horse meat -- until Congress effectively banned the practice by refusing to fund the necessary government oversight. (Meat is legally required to undergo a federal inspection in the U.S.)
The move was cheered by many animal right activists. But some -- such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA -- said there were unintended side effects. For one, the ban did not halt the practice of eating horse meat. Horses that were abandoned, rounded up or seized weren't put to death in the U.S., true. They were instead shipped under inhumane conditions to other countries for slaughter there.
So, let's make it clear: PETA -- which is known for taking provocative positions in its fight to protect animals -- continues to oppose the slaughter of horses for meat. But it says that allowing the reopening of U.S. slaughterhouses may ultimately reduce the animals' suffering.
A better alternative, PETA says, is to ban both the domestic slaughter of horses and the export of horses for slaughter.
"PETA was always worried about the horse-slaughter bill, fearing that it might cause more suffering while the option existed to ship horses on a frightening, long, and miserable journey to Canada or Mexico to meet their end in slaughterhouses there," the animal rights organization said in a statement released to The Times.
The statement adds: "This transport of live horses -- often in vehicles with low ceilings in which horses must hunch over, slipping and sliding on their own waste ... is an indictment of the horse-breeding and -ranching business. To reduce suffering, there should be a ban on the export of live horses, even if that means opening slaughterhouses in the U.S. again."
"But the better option is to ban slaughter in the U.S. and ban the export of live horses so that no one is slaughtering America's horses."
Not incidental to this controversy, or PETA's position: The mere prospect of reopening slaughterhouses in the U.S. will cast a greater spotlight on a practice that could raise the ire of even the most devoted steak eaters.
Such a showdown could occur in a matter of months. Congress' decision to lift the de facto ban via its new spending bill does not explicitly set aside money for slaughterhouse oversight. But the U.S. Department of Argriculture confirmed this week that if a slaughterhouse were to open, the agency would conduct inspections, reports the Billings Gazette.
The paper adds that plans for a slaughterhouse in either Wyoming or Montana could be up and running by spring. And according to a pro-slaughter group called United Horsemen, meat processors are now considering opening facilities in at least a half-dozen states across the U.S. including Georgia, North Dakota, and Oregon, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
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File photo: Animal rights activists have long opposed the slaughter of horses, including wild horses, above, for meat. Credit: Associated Press