No, Horse Slaughter Won’t Solve the US Welfare Problem – Here’s Why

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The US House Appropriations Committee has just voted to lift the ban on funding for federal inspections for horse slaughter, thus potentially paving the way for new US equine abattoirs to open up. I wrote extensively about the history of horsemeat in the USA in The Age of the Horse in order to try to explain how the ban came about in the first place. I’ve also written a brief summary for The Atlantic‘s Object Lessons blog (here).

Many are arguing that slaughter is good for the horse population as a whole, but unfortunately their arguments don’t work. The “greater welfare” argument has been part of the pro-hippophagy movement since the nineteenth century, but because of horsemeat’s status in the West and the way in which the meat industry in general has developed, it just doesn’t add up. Here’s why:

“Horse slaughter in the USA is more humane than horse slaughter in Mexico or Canada”

Well, no. The 2006/7 bans and the earlier ban in California came about in part because conditions were so bad in US slaughter plants and in transportation to those plants.

“At least the horses won’t have to travel so far”

Again, no. Before the ban horses were still shipped to Canada and Mexico. Furthermore, there were only three plants in the USA, which in itself involved long drives for many slaughter-bound horses. Why so few plants? Look at the meat industry in general – there’s a trend over a century long to reduce the number of processing locations.

“Horse slaughter increases the value of horses, leading to better conditions”

Nope. One of the reasons the US horsemeat business functioned was that the raw material was so cheap. The expense of breeding and raising the animals was undertaken by owners, not the horsemeat industry, who were able to snap up neglected, injured or sick horses at low prices at public auctions. In recent years, the horses shipped to Canada and Mexico for meat have also included the neglected, injured and sick. At an auction run and frequented by kill buyers in July 2014, I saw a starved horse and one with an open wound with what looked like bone sticking out of it. Not uncommon, according to those who observe auctions regularly.

The UK has legal and pretty highly regulated horse slaughter thanks to EU rules. This has not stopped a) a massive, Europe-wide scandal in which horsemeat was passed off as beef, b) the exposure of false paperwork in slaughter-bound horses, c) horses that have been treated with drugs that should be banned from the food chain still making it into the food chain, d) record numbers of abandoned and neglected horses that have to be taken in by charities or local authorities  – it’s often the “meat herds” that are kept in the worst conditions – and e) exposés of abuse in equine abattoirs. Oh, and we still have “worthless” horses and ponies, too.

Maybe farmers who raise horses solely for meat and follow the same sort of strict conditions applied to cattle or sheep get it right. But for horses that are dual purpose, slaughter is touted as a way of cleaning up waste material from a leisure riding industry, and this leads to loop holes and the problems described above.

UNFORTUNATE UPDATE 17/7/2017: Well, another horsemeat scandal in Europe busted wide open. Sixty-six arrested after police across Europe worked together to uncover an operation slaughtering horses that were unfit for human consumption. The horses had been treated with medication unsuitable for meat animals, were elderly or injured. The documentation had been tampered with and it looks like microchips were cut out of horses’ necks.

“Once the industry starts making money, things will improve”

Before the effective ban in the USA, Europe still bought American horsemeat. However, in recent years the EU has banned imports of horsemeat from Mexico due to doubts about its safety and welfare conditions. It has also asked Canadian plants to keep horses for six months prior to slaughter to ensure that they are free of drug residue. If you really are doing horsecare right, that’s six months of good grazing conditions and fodder, hoofcare, dentistry and veterinary treatment – and suddenly your horsemeat is not so cheap. If you sent your horse to slaughter because it was in constant pain, now your horse has to go without painkillers for six months. That, surely, was not the point of sending it to slaughter in the first place…

Maybe other overseas markets are less fussy. But “take our meat, it’s from randomly sourced, potentially diseased and contaminated animals” is really not a lasting selling point.

“It will create jobs”

Most people assume that horse slaughter was banned because Americans were oversensitive about horses being eaten. There were actually two prongs to the cessation – one was the effective federal block caused by suspending the funding for inspections. The other was at state level – Texas and Illinois residents were deeply unhappy about practices and lack of local contributions from the three surviving slaughter houses. They didn’t want them in their towns. When the ban was lifted a few years ago, many new slaughter plants were proposed and all were blocked locally by residents.

The jobs? Again, look at the meat industry in general in America. This is not a money pot that will Make America Great Again. It’s an industry that consumes low-paid, easily disposible migrant workers. And again, according to testimony gathered by Cathleen Doyle in California in the late 1990s, it was very hard for kill buyers to make money even with a legal horse slaughter industry in place.

“But if it’s well regulated, it’ll be OK”

The current US administration is laying waste to its budget. It is proposing stripping funding from things that no one thought would ever be defunded. Do you really think it’s going to splash out adequate cash to regulate a business that’s scattered (via auctions) in small locations across America, that’s part of a wider equine industry that’s so underregulated that we don’t even know how many horses there are in the country, that’s full of loop holes and entry points, and producing goods only for an overseas market? And a massively unpopular industry at that? To a higher standard that the EU? I don’t think so.

In over a decade of researching the history of horsemeat (I guess we all need hobbies), it’s become clear to me that there are two inherent scandals that recur over centuries of practice in the West:

1) That horsemeat gets passed off as beef, venison, or, in one case, foie gras.
2) That the horses killed for meat make for unwholesome eating either because they’re treated with medications, are sick, are elderly, injured or otherwise less than enticing as a food stuff.

I could find you umpteen historical instances of both of these scandals. Then there’s the recurring welfare issue of the process itself. Europe has been campaigning for over a century to stop the long distance transport of horses for slaughter and progress is minute, even in what must be one of the most animal-friendly legislations in the world and history, and long before the “sausage boats” to Belgium began, there were knackers yards full of starving horses. We’re not learning anything much from history.

 

The Emininently Recyclable Horse

 

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From Internet Archive’s scan of The Anatomy and Physiology of the Horse (1863) via Wiki Commons

In The Age of the Horse I gave readers some idea of the ingenuity humans used to recycle the bodies of horses used in the nineteenth century west. Of course, this inventiveness was not restricted to the Victorian era nor to the more rapidly industrialised nations – and we’re still finding new uses for horses’ bodies. Here is a brief, morbid and often suprising list of them, from armour to face lifts.

Hide

As shelters in the eighteenth century by the Puelche and Pehuenche of Argentina and Chile. (Horse Nations: The worldwide impact of the horse on indigenous societies post-1492, by Peter Mitchell, 2015, p281)

The skin from colts’ and mares’ lower legs were used to make gauchos’ “bota de potro” footwear. (Mitchell, 2015, p282)

Drumheads; Blackfoot Indians, (The Role of the Horse in Man’s Culture, by Harold B Barclay, 1980, p177)

Leather for covering large boardroom and office tables (Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances: Or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields by Peter Lund Simmonds, 1862, p364)

“Leather guards on [German] cavalry trousers”, carriage roofs or whip lashes. (The Horse-World of London by W J Gordon, 1893, p187)

Shoe leather or “porpoise hide”  (“Horse Meat for Food” by Frank G Carpenter, The National Tribune, 19 January 1893, p9)

Saddles and boot tops (twentieth century America)

For making braided reins, bridles, girths, cruppers and whips in Kazakhstan. (Barclay, 1980, p319)

Bags and shoe soles in Mongolia (Barclay, 1980, p302)

Cordovan leather, shield and buckler parts, coat worn under armour, harness (Barclay, 1980, p133)

Fat

Distilled for use in lamps, etc. (Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances: Or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields by Peter Lund Simmonds, 1862, p364)

In skin care products in South Korea (Shark, 2017).

Intestines

Sausage skins, gut strings (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Bones

Grease and bones burned for fuel on the Pampas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (Barclay, 1980, p187)

“Lucifer matches” (Simmonds, 1862, p340)

Knife handles, phosphorus, super-phosphate of lime (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Oil for candlemaking, leather dressing and lubricating. (Gordon, 1893, p186)

Ground and mixed with sulphuric acid for fertiliser, or simply ground into bone meal for manure making. (Gordon, 1893, p186)

Button-making (Gordon, 1893, p186)

Ribs and scapulae for smoothing clay pots, cannon bones for spear heads, jawbones to scrape leather thongs, pastern bones to make ornaments. (Copper Age Botai culture, Kazakhstan)

Teeth

As necklaces by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)

Tendons

Glue and gelatine (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

“Nithya” – a botox-like cosmetic treatment that stimulates the cells that produce collagen.

Hair of Mane, Tail

Tapestry making, girths, ropes, fetters, collars for horses and cattle, shoe covers, rain hats and fishing nets in Buryatia, Siberia.

Hair-cloth, mattress stuffing, woven into bags for crushing seed in oil mills (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Furniture stuffing, fishing lines. (Gordon, 1893, p187)

Plaited to make ropes, nets, lassoes and fly whisks by the Yakut of Siberia, who also use it for decorative work and stuffing saddles. (Barclay, 1980, p327)

Tipi decorations among some Native American groups (Barclay, 1980, p177)

Clothing or harness decoration by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)

The shirts of penitents (Barclay, 1980, p133)

Mixed with rubber to create “hairloch”, which was used as padding for the equipment dropped into Occupied France for use by the Special Operations Executive in World War Two (The Women who Lived for Danger, Marcus Binney, 2002, p26)

As crests for helmets (Ancient Greece, Persia) and on war standards carried by the Mongolian Army.

For bows for violins, cellos, double basses, violas and other stringed instruments (fascinating facts to be found here) including the Mongolian morin khuur or horse-head fiddle.

Callouses/Chestnuts (?)

Used in perfume making by the Blackfoot (Barclay, 1980, p177)

Flesh

Boiled for men, dogs and poultry (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Cat and dog meat (Gordon, 1893, p187)

Fed to animals on fur farms (Horse meat for fur farms: its chemical composition by Sedgwick E Smith, Washington, Department of the Interior, 1940)

Fed to zoo animals in Central Park (The Daily Yellowstone Journal, 2nd December 1887, p1)

Fed to hunting hounds (UK)

Fed to pigs raised at knackers yards and sold for commercial pork-pie making in the UK (Among Horses in Russia by Captain M H Hayes, 1900)

Hoofs

Trimmings turned into funeral wreaths (Luc Sante’s The Other Paris); bright blue dye (Simmonds, 1862, p340)

Gelatine, prussiate, “fancy snuff boxes” (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Glue, blue-maker manufacture (Gordon, 1893, p186)

As pendants by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)

Armour – “These mares [the Sarmatians use] not only use for war, but also sacrifice them to the local gods and eat them for food. Their hoofs they collect, clean, split, and make from them as it were python scales. . . . These pieces they bore and stitch together with the sinews of horses and oxen, and then use them as breastplates that are as handsome and strong as those of the Greeks. For they can withstand blows of missiles and those struck in close combat.” (Description of Greece, Pausanias, translated by W H S Jones)

Blood

Button manufacture; albumen extracted and used for making photographs  (Carpenter, 1893, p9)

Dung

For making cores/loose internal parts of casting moulds in foundries “in some foreign countries” (Simmonds, 1862, p368)

Collected, moulded into cakes for fuel and sold (China) (Simmonds, 1862, p369)

To insulate roofs (Copper Age Botai culture, Kazakhstan)

Urine

For making PreMarin, a hormone used to allay menopause symptoms and in feminizing hormone therapy for transwomen.

Boiled to preserve seeds, in a mythical Chinese pharmacopoeia.

Bezoar (a solid mass that forms in the digestive tract of some animals)

“It has the medicinal properties of settling fright and resolving phlegm, clearing heat and dispelling poisons. It is used to treat internal proliferation of phlegm-heat, manic depression (diankuang) and fright epilepsy (jingxian), malign poisons, ulcers and swellings, disturbances of consciousness, etc.” (Bencao gangmu, a Chinese Systematic Materia Medica by Li Shizhen, 1590)

Horse-shoes

Shipped to China, straightened and sharpened into razors (Carpenter, 1893, p9)

Horse-shoe Nails

“Horse-shoe nails, kicked about the world by horses innumerable, are not the useless fragments we might naturally deem them. Gun-makers tell us that no iron is so well fitted for their purpose as that which is derived from horse-shoe nails and similar worn fragments. The nails are, in the first instance, made of good sound iron, and the violent concussions they receive when a horse is walking over a stony road, give a peculiar annealing and toughnening to the metal, highly beneficial to its subsequent use for gun-barrels” (Simmonds, 1862, p418)

Body

If you’ve had your horse cremated, the cremains can be transformed into diamonds or glass jewellery as a keepsake.

Alternatively, the horse can be allowed to break down into compost.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

DoenerHorseBerlin

Yes, we’re still deep in the horse meat scandal.

  • You can now buy a “horse burger” fancy dress costume (Business Insider)
  • Only 13% of Americans would consider eating horse meat (almost twice the percentage who would eat dog), whereas 34% would consider alligator lasagna (KTAR)
  • Groups in Oklahoma want to build a horse abattoir. (SFGate.com and Fox23.com) As does a business in Roswell, New Mexico (Koat.com) And a Philly restaurant wants to add horse meat to the menu (Consumerist)
  • Grub Street suggests 20 places to eat horse, including locavore horse lasagna in Scotland. (Grub Street)
  • A visit to a Kazakh horse meat market (NPR) and a visit to a Polish horse sale (Baltimore Sun)
  • In the merry-go-round that is the international, industrialised food chain, an Irish slaughterhouse sent “beef” to the Czech Republic which was in fact horse. (USA Today)
  • A German politician and clergyman are drubbed for saying that the rejected horse-beef food should be given to the poor. (The Local)
  • Russia threatens to suspend horse meat imports from the EU – something of a joke given that they continue to import possibly bute-laced horse meat from the USA. (Fox News)
  • Could the incorrect labelling have begun in Romania after all? Mislabelled horse meat found in the country (Bloomberg)
  • China reacts to the horse meat scandal (Bloomberg)
  • Meanwhile, I have more local news stories about neglected horses in the US than I can load up here.
  • Non-meat-related uses for horses: a California teen escapes gang culture through his horse. The pastor who helped Dawan Whitmore get riding lessons comments: “He learned how to feed the horse every day twice a day, rain or shine. Forget football practice, forget all those other things. It teaches him a great deal of responsibility. Not to mention self worth.” (23ABC News)

The Baker’s Horse Takes On Royalty

Today’s Times has a piece by Adam Sage on Saonois, a favourite for the 2012 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It’s behind a pay wall here, for those with access. Saonois belongs to 34-year-old village baker, Pascal Treyve, who snapped him up for €8,000 when he was rejected by the industry as being “too small”. Saonois started out at provincial race courses but rose to win the Prix du Jockey Club, nicknamed the French Derby. Altogether he’s won seven races and €1,743,000 in prize money. Now the same big names who rejected him are beating a path to the bakery door, waving wads of money. Sage writes:

Mr Treyve, who has always lived in Bellegarde-en-Forez, grew up with a horse-mad father who took him to the races before he could walk. He thought about becoming a horse and cart-racing driver before opting for baking because “I put security first”. But in 2004 he saw a foal, Cadran, up for sale and bought a 50 per cent stake in it. “It was dream I’d had ever since I was a teenager,” he said. “And I fell in love with that foal. I only bought half because it was very expensive. I said to myself, ‘If it turns out to be a mistake, never mind’.”

Cadran ran in 54 races and won €140,400 in prize money. So when Jean-Pierre Gauvin, a friend and local trainer, suggested buying Saonois, he was able to stump up €4,000.

Elite flat racing tends to be short on fairy tale endings, but who wouldn’t love to see the baker beat the Aga Khan and Saudi royalty?

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

Prague carriage horses

  • Questions are raised over the treatment of horses on film and TV show sets. Are trainers’ welfare concerns being overruled? (LA Times)
  • A “horse palace” in Montreal seeks donors for a makeover. (Montreal Gazette)
  • A woman “gives birth to a pony” during a church service in Nigeria. (PM News)
  • Lady Gaga arrived at the launch of her new signature fragrance in a horse-drawn carriage shaped like the perfume flask. (Ace ShowBiz)
  • Don’t touch the horse! An arrest for drunkenness and touching a police horse. (Tampa Bay Times) Elsewhere, in Philly, a police horse is punched. (Policeone.com)
  • Claims of assault fly in the fight to save wild horses in Reno. (Examiner.com)
  • A smalltown official who defrauded millions sees her illgotten gains – pedigree quarter horses – sold for over a million dollars at internet auction. (Chicago Tribune)
  • A little girl’s dream comes true when she comes home from school to find her very own pony waiting for her. (This is Gloucestershire)
  • The first Exmoor Pony Festival works like a charm (This is the West Country)
  • Muslims in Gaza have to break Islamic “best practice” and eat horsemeat. (NYT)
  • The number of horse rescues in the US has nearly doubled in five years. Major welfare groups suggest accreditation for newcomers (Ventura County Star)

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

Berlin graffiti

  • A young Scottish showjumper who’s only been riding for three years has been sponsored by Euromillions lottery winners. (Horse and Hound)
  • Meanwhile a nineteen-year-old started a millionaire’s fund of his own when he became the youngest ever winner of the showjumping CN International via Karen K. (Spruce Meadows)
  • Corrective surgery for thoroughbred yearlings before auction. Do they need it? Should it be disclosed? How much goes on?  As one concerned owner points out, “A stallion retires to stud that might not have held up to racing say in 1965 or 1975 and now you’ve got these horses going into the gene pool. I think that unquestionably changes the face of the genetics going forward.” (Kentucky.com)
  • The US federal Horse Protection Act is criticsed by those trying to prosecute abusers of Tennessee Walking Horses. They say the penalties must be much stiffer. (SF Chronicle)
  • In Britain a couple are fined over a thousand pounds and banned from keeping animals for ten years after keeping a pony in a 6ft by 4ft shed. (Daily  Mail)
  • Korean pop group KARA flash their gams and do the “horse riding dance”, which is apparently all the rage among the young folk. (allkpop.com) UPDATE: Thank you to the Atlantic and Ben Perry for this detailed explanation of the horse riding dance.
  • Documentary Wild Horse, Wild Ride, tells the story of trainers preparing fresh-off-the-range horses for the Mustang Makeover. Think Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s Six Ponies and then some. (LA Times)
  • The Seventh Russian polo Open at Moscow. (Living Polo)
  • Przewalski horses return to the wild in China. (Horse Talk NZ)
  • The ill-gotten gains of a city official in Illinois are up at auction: hundreds of top-rank Quarter Horses. (Wall Street Journal)
  • And last but definitely not least, these surprising and moving animal portraits by photographer Charlotte Dumas. Look! Look! (Flavorwire)

Totipocalypse: Totilas Before and After

At the 2010 World Equestrian Games, the Dutch stallion Moorlands Totilas swept all before him with his rider Edward Gal. They took all three gold medals, capping a four-year partnership in which the pair had shattered dressage records around the world. Here’s their freestyle kur at Lexington in autumn 2010:


Only days later, the stallion’s sale was announced. Totilas was sold to German showjumper and sportshorse mogul Paul Schockemoehle for – it was said – fifteen million euros. Edward Gal lost the riding rights, which were sold to Ann-Kathrin Linsenhoff, who placed her 26-year-old stepson Matthias Rath on the KWPN’s back. Not surprisingly outrage and various rumours followed. That Totilas was crippled by suspensory ligament problems. That the German method of training would not suit him. That he would be incapable of performing both as a Grand Prix horse and as a stallion for Schockemoehle’s farm. That Rath was overhorsed and unhappy. That Totilas was unhappy or even lame. Certainly, the combination were unable to replicate Gal and Totilas’ record, but perhaps that would just take time and adjustment.

In February 2012, at the beginning of the Olympic year, Rath and Totilas appeared at a stallion show at Vechta in Germany. The difference was stunning and the audience seemed shocked:

What on earth happened?

UPDATED TO ADD: I picked up these two videos from online discussions on the “new” Totilas. The first shows Totilas in 2005 before he went to Edward Gal:

And the second shows a 2007 training session with Gal:

 

UPDATE: TOTILAS IS NOT COMPETEING IN THE 2012 OLYMPICS AS MATTHIAS RATH HAS GLANDULAR FEVER.