Along with the morning report on weather and ski trails, each day during our stay in Jackson Hole, I picked up the Jackson Hole Daily paper, intrigued by the local news as much as national current events. The local paper had some fantastic front-page pics of local wildlife, including one of some bighorn sheep having a skirmish with each other on the National Elk Refuge. A long way from city life and the urban culture I know best, I’m always impressed by how much towns like Jackson Hole appreciate wildlife and place it in the spotlight.
A front-page story that was unfolding while we were spending our time on the slopes was the first Summit of the Horse conference that was being held in Las Vegas that week. Despite its name, this conference was hardly in any horse’s interest. Rather, it was big-business all the way: ranchers, breeders, and lawmakers were gathering to discuss wild horse round-ups and strategies for reviving the slaughter and processing of horses for food. Ugh.
Wild Horse Round-Ups
Thousands of beautiful wild mustangs and other horses live on government land, which is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Round-ups are the Bureau’s answer to population management. However, with each round-up, many frightened and frantic horses die, and pregnant mares spontaneously abort. While the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act supposedly offers protection, the Bureau over the years has reduced the open range for wild horses by 20 million acres. And horses subjected to the brutal round-up operations face helicopter stampedes where they are removed from the land and herded into government holding facilities. The lucky ones might be adopted; but because there are so many horses and not nearly enough homes, many end up being sold outside of the U.S. for slaughter. The Bureau of Land Management needs to find a new, non-lethal way to “manage”; and the horses need some of that 20 million acres back.
Horse Slaughter for Consumption
In 2007, the last three horse slaughterhouses in the United States were closed. However, thousands of American horses still are transported in atrocious conditions for the purpose of slaughter, so that their meat can be sold in other countries (such as Mexico, France, Belgium, and Japan) for human consumption. It may surprise you to find out that it’s actually only illegal in TWO states to slaughter horses for human consumption; and, with the economy hurting small farmers and big business alike, there’s movement on the state level to revitalize the slaughter industry here in the United States. Despite legislative efforts such as the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, and the more recent Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, horses still lack the protection by law that they need. Specifically, we need a federal law that would prohibit the trade and transport of horse meat or live horses that are intended for slaughter for consumption. (Horse meat also is used in pet food and food for carnivores in zoo facilities.)
While some try to argue that horses used for slaughter and sale are a viable economic resource, are a viable source of food for people who need it, and that the slaughter of horses can be carried out in a “humane” way, my only response is this: if we could really have a “summit of the horses” where they had a say regarding their own fate, I’m sure they would say slaughter — in any shape or form — is not humane. As many people who have horses as companion animals know, these living beings are full of personality and spirit and affection. While I was growing up, my Uncle Frankie had horses that were among my first friends in this lifetime. One of my very first words was “Smokey” — the name of one of my uncle’s horses. Over the years, I’ve ridden and had many conversations with horses that have come into my life. Horses are my friends!
Thankfully, many citizens work tirelessly towards the creation and enforcement of laws that will protect our horses. However, with powerful interest groups gathering, it’s clear this is an area of law that we all need to keep our eyes on, to make sure proponents of horse slaughter and their lobbying efforts don’t undermine the increasing public awareness and support.
*UPDATE: December 1, 2011. The ban on horse slaughter has been lifted. On November 18th, The Agricultural Appropriations bill was signed by President Obama (see Huffington Post article for details). I have contacted my federal legislators, and I encourage everyone to do the same: ask them to cosponsor the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (S. 1176/H.R. 2966). This Humane Society of the United States page makes it easy to lend our voices and send a message to the appropriate legislators (based on zip code). It only takes a couple of minutes — and it can make a huge difference to these beautiful horses.