Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Different View

I begin with a welcome to Dean Sealing. As has been evident in many of our past posts, we have a wide variety of opinions and a diverse range of topics on Agricultural Law, and "the more the merrier."

I offer some contrasting thoughts on the issue slaughtering horses for human consumption, an issue that is admittedly complex but that I find very troubling
  • Proponents of the horse slaughter ban base many of their arguments on the special bond that exists between humans and horses. Thus, the cultural foundation of the ban on slaughtering horses for meat must be recognized. Consider, for example, that all of the same arguments regarding the waste of a "protein source" and the concern about what we are going to do with all the unwanted horses could be made with regard to dogs and cats. Yet, few would argue for slaughterhouses to be constructed to make "better use" of Fido and Fluffy when they wind up at the animal shelter. Instead, our efforts are directed toward adoption, population reduction, and humane euthanasia.
  • While there are important questions regarding what happens to horses that cannot be slaughtered in the United States, these questions do not support the return of the slaughterhouse without proper consideration of alternatives and without the recognition that the slaughterhouse as a market has helped to create many of the problems in the equine industry. Ease of disposal often brings about its own problematic consequences.
  • There are serious food safety issues presented by the consumption of U.S. horse meat. Laws regarding drug use for livestock used for human consumption are not in place for horses, and many potentially dangerous drugs are routinely used on horses, particularly in the racing industry, an industry not likely to allow a ban akin to that of livestock.
  • If we really wish to develop a worldwide strategy for addressing global food issues, shouldn't our focus be on eating less meat rather than expanding the choices of red meat available for human consumption?
  • And, finally, the most painful topic to address. Consumer preferences for commercially marketed meat products require that our farm animals be "bled out." Exsanguination, or “bleeding out” is thus the typical method of slaughter. Under humane slaughter rules, the animal to be slaughtered is to be “stunned” prior to this process, and the usual technique for large animals is to use a captive bolt device. This device is placed tightly against the skull of the animal and fired, driving a bolt into the brain. The animal can then be raised into the air and it’s neck slit. The animal then bleeds to death. It is correct that the same method of stunning and slaughtering is used on both cows and horses, however the inference that this means it is humane for both is incorrect. Horses are very different animals in physiology, strength, and temperament. While it may be possible to hold a cow's head still while it is stunned, it is often literally impossible to hold a strong and terrified horse. The stunning that occurs is often extremely painful but does not accomplish its goal. The horse may well be fully awake, albeit in pain, when it is hung up and its throat slit. I will save our readers the pain of linking to the videos that confirm this disturbing problem.
I end this post with a decidedly non-academic and personal comment. Pictured at the beginning of this post is Dancing Flamme, my friend for about 25 years. When she became ill, we made the decision to have her put down, and a neighbor braved 20-below-zero weather to help dig a grave for her. Did this make economic sense? No, surely not, and perhaps many who have not known horses would find it quite foolish. But I have no doubt that it was the right thing to do.

Of course there is the appropriate question about whether my sensibilities should be imposed on others. Perhaps not. But, I suggest consideration not of my sensibilities compared to another person's, but rather the welfare of the horse whose owner tires of him and who is sold at an auction where the highest bidder is the slaughterhouse. As to society's interests, the good or ill may depend not upon legal or economic analysis, but upon how one views the appropriate role for humans with respect to animals, and in particular, humans with respect to the horse. How we define our compassion toward animals tells us much about ourselves.