Q&A on Horse Slaughter with Dr. Nick Dodman


Briefly, can you summarize your position on the equine slaughter controversy?

In the US, horses are companion animals and are part of our national heritage. Some parts of the are lucky enough to have horses running wild and free but most are bred and raised and bought and sold for our pleasure and entertainment. Whether they are race horses, show horses, or riding horses, they are owned by people who pay a considerable amount of money for them plus hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a month to keep them. At the end of their useful working lives the best arrangement would be for horses to be retired and literally put out to grass but a second and sometimes necessary option is to have them humanely destroyed through a process termed euthanasia. Euthanasia literally means good death and should involve something akin to falling asleep and then simply passing away. This is, in my opinion, best achieved by lethal injection of an overdose of barbiturates. This is the least that an owner can do for a faithful companion animal that has served its master throughout its lifetime. For such an animal to be openly or covertly spirited away by a killer buyer, transported hundreds, if not thousands, of miles, terrified, in overcrowded and inhumane conditions to a feed lot, subsequently to a slaughter plant to be shot and butchered for the gastronomic pleasure of people in another country is an abomination that is beyond my comprehension. I cannot understand why anybody would condone such a practice.
Why do you take issue with the AVMA'S position on this issue?
Answer:  Knowing that the whole process of horse slaughter is inhumane, I could barely believe my eyes when I read the AVMA’s position that they were pro-slaughter. Their argument was it is the least inhumane of two inhumane options for horses at the end of their tether. One option is slaughter and the other is neglect and abuse. Instead of opting for either of these unacceptable options, I would like to have seen my parent body, the AVMA, stand up for what I see is a third option, that is, humane treatment of horses under all circumstances and in all situations. I think the advice the AVMA has received from their euthanasia committee and its “experts” has been poor, to say the least. They have also been influenced by companies who stand to gain financially from the horse slaughter. These unconscienced people have managed to pull the wool over the AVMA’s eyes by hiding the truth, arranging and orchestrating and staged demonstrations of slaughterhouse practice, and frightening the AVMA with unsubstantiable warnings of equine abuse and neglect that they say would occur if slaughter was banned.
What makes equine slaughter for meat consumption any different than cow, pig or chicken slaughter for identical purposes?
Answer:  As I mentioned, horses are companion animals not food animals, at least not in the US. We do not slaughter and export our dogs or our cats for consumption and it’s my considered opinion that we should not slaughter and export horse flesh either. Horses, like cats and dogs, have been raised as companions. They are interacted with, socialized, named and brought into our families thus adding to their suffering when they are sent to slaughter. Because horses are not food animals, they can be and are treated with medications that are not approved for use in food animals and this constitutes a health hazard for the consumer. As consumption of food animals treated with these drugs would not be permitted in the . But the FDA does not control the consumption of tainted meat in foreign countries and the AVMA doesn’t seem to care so it is a case of (foreign) “consumer beware”.
Furthermore, since the is not geared up for horse slaughter, neither the transportation nor slaughter processes itself are humane.  Horses are temperamentally completely different from cattle, should not be transported in the same way, and should not be slaughtered in the same way.
Following up on this ethical consistency question, how do you respond to the argument that we should no more condone horse slaughter for human consumption than we would cat or dog slaughter for export for human consumption?
Answer:  I absolutely agree with this point as mentioned previously that horses are pet animals and companion animals, like dogs and cats, and should not be slaughtered and eaten or exported for human consumption.  This is not simply an ethical question it is also a safety question because of the medications that are used to treat non-food animals.
Is it reckless to support a bill banning equine slaughter without providing any financial support to house, care for or humanely euthanize unwanted horses?
Answer:  I don’t believe that it is reckless to support a bill banning equine slaughter because there is already an acceptable alternative to horse slaughter. It is euthanasia by lethal injection with barbiturates.  People who can afford to buy and keep horses can certainly afford for the final coup de grâce and should not be permitted to avoid this final relatively small expense by being permitted to make a small amount of money from permitting their animal to be inhumanely treated and dispatched.
Over 99% of the horses that die each year in the are from natural causes or euthanasia.  The pro-horse slaughter side wants everyone to believe that horse slaughter is a vital part of the horse industry when, in reality, slaughter probably contributes little to the overall situation.
All of the groups supporting an end to horse slaughter including the Thoroughbred industry and humane community are spending large sums of money to educate horse owners on responsible ownership and humane alternatives.  I find it ironic that the groups opposed to a ban on horse slaughter spend nothing on assisting equine rescues.  This is where we should come together, but only one side is being responsible.
Will the welfare of horses be adversely affected by legally prohibiting equine slaughter in the US ?
Answer:  There is no evidence that the welfare of horses will be adversely affected by prohibiting equine slaughter in the .  A lot of the supposed evidence that banning slaughter will increase abandonment and neglect is trumped up scare tactics by cattlemen and slaughter house aficionados who stand to benefit financially from continuing this malpractice.
California, the largest state and second in horse population banned horse slaughter in 1998 amid the same “sky is falling” predictions, but none of them turned out to be true.  Horse theft dropped dramatically while there has been no increase in cruelty, neglect or abandonment cases.
What about concerns that prohibiting equine slaughter in the will dramatically increase the number of abandoned, neglected or improperly euthanized horses?
Answer:  When the Texas plants were closed, pro-slaughter folk claimed that there had been a sudden increase in the number of abandoned horses in West Kentucky .  This proved to be fiction.  They also talked about horses being left tied to trees to die but when this was checked out by the foresters on orders of a senator, it was found to be patently untrue. In fact, in Texas, when the slaughter plants were operating, equine abuse and neglect was higher in that state than in any other.  Also, when the Cavel plant closed following a fire, equine abuse and neglect in Illinois actually fell slightly. It is illegal to abandon and neglect animals in the .  We should work to enforce those laws and not reward individuals we know will be abusing animals.
Will prohibiting this practice in the simply divert many of these horses to Mexican slaughterhouses where monitoring, handling and euthanasia of these animals may not meet USDA standards?
Answer:  This will happen if it is not prohibited by law.  Sadly, the AVMA and others opposing the bill show their complete misunderstanding of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503/S. 311).  There is clear language to prevent the export of live horses for slaughter as well in the existing legislation.  The horse slaughter industry is completely export driven so this was important for the bills sponsors.   Now that the slaughter plants for horses have been closed, the pro-slaughter people, opportunists that they are, will transport horses across borders to resurrect their failing industry as long as this is permitted.  Ironically, the pro-horse slaughter advocates, working with the slaughter houses, are contributing to this.  Beltex, one of the three remaining US-based horse slaughterhouses continues to buy large numbers of horses in the for shipment to a Beltex owned plant in . It is extremely important that this loophole is closed.
Does the AVMA take into account the role horses have played in our country's history and their current status in somewhat of a "grey zone" between pet and working animal, when they crafted their position on equine slaughter?
Answer:  I think the AVMA should take into account the role that horses have played in the country’s history and should recognize horses as pet and companion animals. But, instead, they seem to have adopted an automatonish approach that fails to address the relationships that Americans have with their horses. The AVMA has been badly advised by the committee on euthanasia, has listened to the wrong experts, has formulated opinions that seem more political than humanitarian, and now refuse to change their position.
Does the AVMA believe that a majority of its members support their position on equine slaughter?
Answer:  I do not know what the AVMA believes regarding the views of its membership but it should be their job as leaders of the veterinary profession to guide us members to make the right decisions regarding the humane treatment of animals - not the other way around.
What if any impact do you think the AVMA's outspoken criticism of bills banning equine slaughter will have as a PR issue for the public as well as AVMA members?
Answer:  I and many of my colleagues, both veterinary and otherwise, are stunned at the AVMA’s heartless position on horse slaughter. To others it has come as no surprise since the AVMA has, by them, been regarded for many years as merely the political wing of the veterinary profession as opposed to a group having any genuine concern about equine welfare or other humanitarian issues.  The AVMA already supports intensive factory farming practices so this appears to be nothing new.
How does the AVMA respond to charges that condoning equine slaughter is inconsistent with its stated mission of protecting the welfare of animals?
Answer:  It is hard to see how they justify their position on horse slaughter but I believe they must have convinced themselves about the fallacious argument of horses accumulated in massive numbers and suffering abuse and neglect if horse slaughter is not permitted to continue.  They should really have studied the data more carefully before coming to their current ill-advised position.