Saturday, December 11, 2010

Welfare Reform

I spent most of this past week in Baltimore attending the 56th Annual Convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners ( This meeting brings together some 5,000 equine health professionals and has evolved into the premier source of the latest advances in equine veterinary medicine. I hope to share some of the highlights from this meeting with you over the next couple of weeks.

The conference opened with a talk about the latest buzzword: welfare. The continually growing issue of unwanted horses is bringing a significant amount of attention to how we can provide for the welfare of these horses. A recent survey attributed the rapid increase in ‘unwanted’ horses to the closing of horse slaughter facilities, a crippled economy, euthanasia costs and indiscriminate breeding.

Since the ban on horse slaughter a couple of years ago, the ‘unwanted horse’ problem has become a significant issue. Despite the work of some legislatures, it appears unlikely that horse slaughter will ever return to the U.S. While very little horse meat is consumed in the U.S., worldwide the demand for horse meat is at an all time high. Every year there are approximately 5 million horses processed for meat. That is a 28% increase from 1990.

So what are the solutions to the problem? That is the problem, currently there are not any easy ones. Current suggestions are to re-open domestic slaughter facilities (seems unlikely that will ever happen), increase the number (and funding) of horse sanctuaries and educate the public on responsible horse ownership. Some would like to see an increase in the number of adoption facilities, but nationwide only about half of the horses that enter an adoption facility are every adopted out. So it does not take long for an adoption facility to turn into a sanctuary.

Our views of animal welfare are conditioned by our personal knowledge base and life experiences. People view welfare in different perspectives: what is the healthiest for the animal vs. what allows the animal to ‘feel’ the best, or have the least amount of stress vs. what the natural behavior of the animal is. As the public has become progressively more disengaged in animal agriculture their personal knowledge base and life experiences have shifted which one of these perspectives they value most. In the end, if society perceives something is wrong, science and logic are unlikely to change that perception.

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