Welcome to The American Horse Crisis – An Overview, the first of our three part series over a prominent issue in America: reopening horse processing facilities in the United States. We hope to illustrate the pressure of feral horse overpopulation, economic and cultural benefits of the facilities, as well as how they play a positive role in the advancement of animal welfare.
The word crisis is defined as “a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention”, and there is not a better word to describe the state of American horses.
The Appropriate Management Level for wild horses on public lands is roughly 26,600 (1). With BLM estimates double that (and others as high as 100,000 feral horses), and with farmers losing the financial capabilities to care for their own animals, the number of unwanted horses is stretching the Bureau of Land Management and its $80.2 million budget thin (2). Despite the $45,000 spent by taxpayers on each wild horse throughout its lifetime, the holding facilities are full and are having to release animals back onto the grossly overpopulated public lands – lands that farmers and ranchers depend on to raise cattle.
There are not enough resources available to sustain the feral horses, let alone the horses and livestock that our nation depends on for food. With no natural predators, herds grow 20% each year, are doubled after just 4 years, and are racing towards the inevitable: mass starvation and death.
Yet, the situation was not always this perilous. For many years those who were affected by the negative consequences of horse overpopulation could seek help in the production of horse meat for consumption. Not only did these facilities take wild and unwanted horses, converting them from a burden to a financial stimulus, but they provided a vital source of food for our nation and many others.
A minority of the population had a problem with this practical and culturally reinforced tradition, however, and lobbied congress to put a stop to this common sense solution. In 2005, through an underhanded attempt to end the consumption of horsemeat in America, the government eliminated funding for the inspection of horse processing facilities. By 2007, the last horse processing facility was closed.
Their attempts were only partially successful. We faced many of the same problems that we do today, but some groups sent the unwanted horses to other countries to have them processed and then imported the meat back for consumption. This solution was practically perfected and by 2011 Americans imported around 1,380,000 pounds of horse meat per year (3). Many Native American tribes had great relationships with Canada or Mexico and would round up the horses depleting the resources of the land to send there for a profit.
The government, of course, did not approve of this sidestep to their overreaching laws. This method involved less control and oversight of the longer transportation periods, and animal welfare threats forced them to bring inspector funding back in 2011 as animal rights activists regrouped to think of a more manipulative way to control the market and eliminate horse meat.
In 2013, they picked the fight back up by cutting the funding for horse processing facility inspectors out of the fiscal year 2014 budget and attempting to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports Act of 2013 (SAFE). The senate bill S. 541, introduced by Mary Landrieu and Lindsey Graham, and H.R. 1094 intended to: “make the sale or transport of equines or their parts, or the importing or exporting of equines or their parts into or out of the United States, by any person who knows or should have known that such equines are to be slaughtered for human consumption as food illegal.”
This time their funding cut also came with a law that would make it a crime to import or export horse meat for consumption — see what they did there?
The bill did not pass, but we are left in a tight situation when it comes to horse overpopulation because there is still no funding for needed inspectors. Because of this, the number of abandoned horses has continued to increase immensely. The Unwanted Horse Coalition stated that 81% of unwanted horses are because their owners could no long afford them. Instead of paying the several hundred dollars to euthanize them or send them overseas to be processed, they leave them on the side of the road to starve (4). On their 4 part list of solutions was reopening horse processing facilities. 72% of horse breeders agree that the closing of processing facilities is the primary contributor to the rising problem of horse neglect.
This fight comes back to one as old as time: animal rights vs. animal welfare. Activist groups like HSUS and PETA believe that horses are not animals that should be utilized for food – mostly because of their aversion to meat in general. Those who care about animal welfare (i.e. farmers, ranchers, and the average citizen) know that the ramifications of limiting population control and thus conservation can have catastrophic results, as we are already beginning to see.
The biggest difference in the two groups is how they view horses in general. Animal rights activists see all horses as pets, just like cats and dogs. They are appalled at the idea of eating a loyal companion and friend. This simply isn’t the case. It is recognized by farmers and ranchers that there is a portion of the horse population used as pets and recreation, but a very small portion. Only 1.5% of U.S. households report having horses as pets (5). The rest of the horses in America are divided into two other categories: Livestock and Feral.
The plague that is overabundance of feral horses obviously needs to be controlled and it is senseless to attempt to stop processing facilities from utilizing this food source. Wild horses in their densely populated state are destroying lands and habitats that are vital to other sectors of food production. They are eating themselves and other animals out of a home and are threatening their own lives by how quickly their herds are growing on such little land. It is our responsibility to stop these horrible deaths of dehydration and starvation that have become all too frequent of late, and it is not fiscally possible to just add them to rescue and adoption facilities.
Most horses that were owned by U.S. citizens have been both traditionally and legally considered livestock (6). The overwhelming majority of horses owned in the United States are used on farms and ranches to reach commercial goals. They are animals raised for the use of humans, so what would make them different from other livestock animals like cows, chickens, or pigs? Their meat is just as valuable, and the government should not ban its production. Especially when the arguments against it are as unfounded as they are.
The main argument against horse meat consumption is the possibility of drug contamination from the different medications horses have been given throughout their lives. Wayne Pacelle, the President of the Humane Society of the United States, even said on a radio interview that he has no problem with the killing of horses with either drugs or a bullet; he just doesn’t want humans to consume them.
Ignoring the fact that a majority of the horses sent to production facilities were feral and never given medication, solid scientific evidence has been produced to debunk HSUS’s claim. In a 3 month period in the E.U., there were over 7,000 tests taken of horse meat. NONE of the samples taken from horse meat imported from or through the U.S. were contaminated. Only .5% of the samples from the E.U. itself had traces of any drugs (7). In fact, the European Food Safety Authority and European Medicines Agency released a joint statement saying that the chance of eating contaminated horsemeat was anywhere between 2 in a trillion and 1 in 100 million. Theoretically it could happen, but the likeliness makes it less than plausible.
Activists also argue that the horses could be harmed in transit, and that the negative stigma surrounding the facilities causes a negative economic impact for local communities. Again this is a case of HSUS ignoring fact. A 2001 study showed that 92% of horses arrived completely unharmed to the production facilities when they were in the U.S. With the horses now having to be shipped across borders where the government cannot observe and regulate them, the horses are in more danger than before. Also, the economic loss from closing the facilities was estimated to be $152-222 million annually (8). Any negative impact from the facilities being operational in an area would quickly be dwarfed by its economic benefits.
The force driving opposition to horse meat consumption is mainly shortsighted emotion. They are aware that their arguments make no logical sense, but they stay strong because of false conviction. This is why it is important for us to fight ignorance with knowledge and sentiment with true care for the long term welfare of horses.
The solution is within our grasp. It is statistically proven that reopening horse processing facilities will ensure a prosperous horse population for generations to come. Science has shown us that there is no risk, and the only arguments against these facilities fail miserably to stand up against the evidence in support of them.
Whatever your reason (protection from overreaching government regulation, longstanding tradition, or simply for the long term welfare of our nation’s horses) will you stand with us to fight to fund the inspection of horse processing facilities in the U.S.?