Welcome to the final article in our American Horse Crisis series. Thus far we have discussed the historical context of the fight against cheval production and the economic and environmental impact of closing the production facilities. If you are not caught up on the series, we encourage you to take a look at the other two articles. Today we will be discussing the responsibility of farmers/ranchers/average citizens to this issue and what that entails.
As we touched on briefly, this issue is the epitome of the animal welfare vs. animal rights battle. There is no question if the closing of horse processing facilities hurts both wild and domestic horses, because it most certainly does. The question lies with the value that individuals put on these animals’ welfare, and what degree of suffering justifies animal rights.
The relationship between horses and humans is less complicated than animal rights radicals would have you believe. Horses exist to fulfill the needs of humans, whether for companionship, labor, or food. For centuries horses have fulfilled all of these needs, and in turn we have taken care of them, fed them, conserved populations, and ensured their quality of life. Horses are dependent on humans and we cannot abandon them.
Since the funding for horse processing facilities was cut, there has been a sharp rise in individual abandonment of horses. Without these facilities as an out for farmers and ranchers to take their unaffordable horses to a humane end, they are forced to more drastic measures. Much of the time horses get left on the side of the road to fend for themselves and they often perish. However, the demise of one horse is just the beginning of our abandonment of this majestic species.
The animals that gallant war generals used to ride into battle have been reduced to herds of starving and dehydrated beasts on the search for anything to prolong their subsistence. Before the closure of facilities, the horse populations were easy to control. Now that there is no mechanism in place to limit their explosive growth rate, the density of herds on public lands is far larger than appropriate management levels. With no natural predators, and the outlaw of production facilities, herds expand by up to 20% a year. This increased demand on the environment is reaching catastrophic levels.
As you all know, hunting is a huge tool of conservation. In periods of severe drought, like what the west coast currently faces, the government often increases the number of hunting permits and tags as to make the wildlife drain on the land lower. With less animals there is also less suffering from starvation by those who depend on the land for food in its depleted state.
When it comes to horses, the inability to lower their population in any way has severely hurt the horse population as a whole. It is not uncommon in the current times to find a dead horse from starvation or dehydration. Their huge population has exhausted all of the natural resources in their area; they left themselves no food or water for the days to come. Nothing is left for them but long periods of agony followed by certain death. Even the president of World Horse Welfare, Britain’s princess Anne, says that people should consider eating more horse meat. Any effort to limit the horse population would improve standards of care for the animals and improve overall horse welfare.
An area seeing some of the worst of the feral horse problem is Yakama Nation, Washington. The horses are technically owned by the tribe, so they are forced to find a way to deal with them alone and without the budget of the Bureau of Land Management. They have tried many different population control methods over the past few years, but they have been greatly limited because of their lack of capital. Since they could not stop the population boom, the estimated number of horses in Yakama Nation is now over 18,000 – more than 10 times the number that the 410,000 acres can effectively sustain.
This overpopulation problem caused the decimation of habitats not only for horses, but for native wildlife as well. Deer and elk populations that were once thriving in the area have almost disappeared. Any hopes to reintroduce pronghorn antelope, big horn sheep, and sage grouse have been abandoned due to the stress the horses have put on the environment. The wild horses have eaten themselves and many other populations out of a home. This resulted in many animals, horses and others, left to starvation.
Recent work with Canadian processing facilities, however, has given Yakama some hope for their beloved land. Although the numbers are still in the hundreds, they have begun rounding up wild horses and selling them for consumption over the national border. This work is promising for the tribe, and the results are profound. Horse processing plants are undoubtedly the savior of horse populations and habitats that we and horses both need. Yet, shipping animals across national borders is an unnecessary hindrance to the process and puts the animals at greater risk. It is the reopening of the plants within the United States that is imperative to ensure the welfare of horses.
All of the arguments thus far have been about the welfare of animals, but the issue is much more complicated than that. Horse meat is a traditional product that can lower market prices for other meats and provide a more affordable option for those that need it most. An overwhelming majority of society either eats meat themselves or recognizes the nutritional value of meat. Cutting out an affordable option compared to beef or pork increases the hardships of many Americans living in poverty.
Not all individuals have the money to buy specialized products, especially one as pricy as meat. Rather than go without, some take the option of purchasing horse meat so that their families can get the nutrients that they need. That is their right. No person should be able to hinder another’s efforts to feed his/her family.
There is a demand for horse meat; the U.S. imported over 1,380,000 pounds of horse meat in 2011 alone. The defeat of the SAFE Act in Congress, meant to ban the import or export of horses or horse meat for human consumption, is a fine example of how this tradition is not going anywhere. It is senseless to continue forcing citizens to get the meat from other nations and send our horses there. As it currently is, the horses are at a higher risk of harm and inhumane treatment without government oversight, we reap no economic benefit from the industry, and the cost of the meat is naturally higher because of transport costs and tariffs.
Thus, it is our responsibility to fight for the reopening of equine production facilities. It is our responsibility to help control the population of wild horses to save them and many other animals. And it is our responsibility to ensure an open, capitalistic, market so that individuals can get the food they need at the price that they can afford.
A lot of weight is on our shoulders, but we share it with you and thousands of other Americans. Whether you are a farmer, rancher, or CEO of a multinational corporation, one of the reasons we have talked about has to hit home with you. If you are still not convinced that you are needed in this fight, watch this video over the American Horse Crisis and try to grasp the pain of these thousands of horses.
What is your reason to stand up against animal rights extremists and fight for the reopening of horse processing facilities in America?
Thank you for taking the time to become informed about this modern American crisis. We hope that you will do all you can to help horses and our country, and we encourage you to share any thoughts that you have over this issue or our articles in the comment section.