American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) President William Moyer, DVM issued the following statement yesterday in response to the publication last week of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report examining the status of horse welfare since the end of domestic slaughter in 2007:
"The AAEP appreciates Congress requesting the GAO analyze the effect of the closing of processing plants on the nation's horse population. This attention from the federal government further emphasizes the seriousness of this issue to America's horses.
"As doctors of veterinary medicine, we agree with the GAO's conclusions regarding the unintended consequences of the domestic slaughter ban. The reported increase in horse neglect and abandonment, combined with the lack of placement options for horses that can no longer be cared for by their owners, has been and continues to be a significant equine welfare challenge facing the equine industry.
"Regarding the GAO's recommendations, the lack of federal funding for the USDA's transport oversight program cripples the agency's ability to properly protect horses that are shipped to processing facilities. Eliminating the funding for inspecting this population of horses has, as outlined by the GAO report, decreased the welfare of these horses. Our association supports the return of funding to the USDA.
"The AAEP feels it is equally important that the USDA quickly issues its final rule on transport regulations so the agency's oversight will extend to more of the transportation chain for horses shipped to slaughter.
"If Congress pursues the option of banning the processing of U.S. horses without the appropriate funding and infrastructure in place to appropriately care for these animals, this action may only amplify the negative welfare implications for this highly vulnerable population of horses.
"The AAEP believes that horse processing is not the ideal solution for addressing the large number of unwanted horses in the U.S. However, if a horse owner is unable or unwilling to provide humane care and no one is able to assume the responsibility, euthanasia in a manner designated as humane by the American Veterinary Medical Association is an acceptable alternative to a life of suffering, inadequate care or abandonment.
"The equine industry must maintain its focus on reducing the rising unwanted horse population in the U.S. Responsible horse ownership is a critical piece of this challenge. Current and potential horse owners should consider buying rather than breeding, and when possible, adopting rather than buying.
"While the GAO report confirmed several concerns the AAEP has expressed about the current state of horse welfare, we hope this information will spur increased attention to equine welfare, responsible ownership and reduction of the unwanted horse population."
Editor's note: Dr. Moyer's statement is published in its entirety and unedited, as presented by the AAEP. The GAO report is available to be read in its entirety on the GAO web page. A short page of recommended actions is posted, or you can download the entire report (68 pages). There is also a summary page that might be helpful.