Reporting on horse slaughter is always interesting. It's like watching a movie with the same theme, but it's always filmed in a different landscape, or in a different language, or with different actors. The dialogue changes, the costumes changes. Only the basic plot stays the same. And rarely does the audience leave the theater with a change in its position on the issue. But here we go, anyway, with a hot button within a hot button: the transport of horses to slaughter.
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If you are concerned about the issue of horse slaughter, anywhere in the world, I hope you will take a moment to watch this video. You might have to watch it twice.
The first time you watch it, you might think I've asked you to watch a boring series of talking heads. It's a video without much action, just a few trucks rolling, some horses standing still in stalls. But I think that's the whole point.
Very often, videos we receive from non-profits with welfare or animal rights agendas are action-packed and edited with great skill to bring the precise emotional reaction that the producer wants. If all goes as planned, your emotional response will be followed by another response, which will be carefully directed: write your congressman, write the government agency, send a check, buy something, read something, share something with friends,? or perhaps come to a rally.
World Horse Welfare does that at times, too.
But this is different, and I really believe that many Americans don't understand the difference between horse slaughter in the USA vs Europe. There isn't much emotion shown by the speakers. They are all calm, rational and composed. This could just as easily be one of meetings held back in May over EHV. People are speaking on their specialty areas of expertise.
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This video from the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service explains some of the issues surrounding horses-to-slaughter transport in the United States.
In the USA, we have technically banned slaughter, but we have sentenced horses to a much longer and unregulated journey to the same ultimate end. Some groups are using the dark side of unregulated long-distance transport as a reason to build slaughter plants again in the USA. Should they succeed, they might build some new slaughterhouses for horses, most likely in the Midwest or West. This would shorten the hauling distance for some horses, but not all. If a horse spends two days in a truck instead of three days, is that a victory for welfare? It wasn't a good system for horses before and it wouldn't be a good system to bring back.
Anti-slaughter advocates, of course, see the goal as a total ban on slaughter, including outlawing the transport of horses to slaughter completely, so that the ban on slaughter in the United States itself was simply Step One in a series of steps of the bigger plan.But the focus is on the evils of slaughter, not the evils of long, miserable transporting conditions for slaughter-bound horses.
In Europe, slaughter has been more or less accepted as inevitable. So the battleground is transport. Regulations for transporting horses across Europe to be slaughtered have been partially won, but horse advocates are still not happy. Groups like World Horse Welfare would like to end live horse transport to slaughter altogether and put a cap on the number of hours a horse could be transported. Instead, horses would be slaughtered locally and their refrigerated carcasses would be shipped to meat processors.
In the meantime, they have been working tirelessly to improve conditions for horses during transport. There are regulations for transporting horses to slaughter, with mandatory rest stops for food and water. Are they enforced? Do sick and injured horses still arrive at journey's end? No, and yes. Horses are routinely hauled from eastern countries like Poland and Romania so they can be slaughtered in Italy. That gives them the desired "Product of Italy" label so that products like salami can be exported.
A great deal of professional and academic time and energy has been spent to research the conditions of transporting animals to slaughter and the physiological effects it has on horses. The Europeans have carefully separated studies on slaughter-bound horses from data on sport and recreational horse transport.
One thing is for certain: in spite of governmental oversight and enforceable regulations on the books, horses still suffer. And their advocates fight on. It seems to be a universal theme.
The information on horses-to-slaughter transport that is available in Europe could be much better publicized in the United States. Information from Europe is valuable to people on both sides of the debate. This older video from the ILPH (now known as World Horse Welfare) gives good background on the European issues and highlights that, at the time this video was made, the number of horses transported long distances for slaughter in Europe was very close to the number of horses in the United States exported to Canada and Mexico for the same reason.
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To learn more:
Dr. Temple Grandin's Survey of Trucking Practices and Injury to Slaughter Horses (published in the 1990s)
Dr. Caroline Stull's paper Evolution of the Proposed Federal Slaughter Horse Transport Regulations (1990s, American Society of Animal Science)