Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Welfare Reform

The ongoing discussions in the both the horse community and legislature about the social consciousness of horse slaughter continues. In 2006, Congress defunded inspection of horse slaughter plants. This act functionally shut down the two remaining horse slaughter plants in the U.S. That act brought discussions about the complexities of animal welfare to the forefront for everyone involved in the equine industry. This past week the GAO released a report asking Congress to either institute a permanent ban on horse slaughter or allow it. This recent report by the GAO has put a renewed light on the horse slaughter debate.

The issue of welfare (the non-entitlement kind) is well beyond the scope of what I can adequately address here. The complexities of the debate about animal welfare is, in large part, fed by individuals different perceptions of what is truly the best welfare option. Last year’s annual meeting of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) devoted their keynote address to this topic. As I listened to this presentation it really hit me how stark the disparity is between differing individuals beliefs of what really constitutes the ‘best’ practices of animal welfare. Is protection from natural predators better welfare than free ranging in a ‘natural’ environment? Is a low level of infectious disease better welfare than having social interaction? More poignant to this discussion: is humane slaughter under federal inspection better welfare than malnourishment? is humane slaughter of equids a better option than owner neglect or owner performed euthanasia? is it more humane to use animal products for human consumption or to put a carcass in a landfill? These are complex issues vehemently argued by camps with opposing presuppositions.

Regardless of perspective, this recent GAO report refreshes the discussion of the current stalemate on the horse slaughter issue. According to this most recent GAO report the current plant closures have pushed the horse slaughter market to Canada and Mexico (which do not have the same regulations for humane transport and handling as we do here), have resulted in significantly lower sales prices of lower grade horses and have had a negative impact on the welfare of these horses by greatly increasing the long distance travel times to horse slaughter facilities.

The basic conclusion of the GAO is that we, as a society, need to move out of purgatory and decide on either re-implementing the option of the humane slaughter of horses or move to a formal ban. The current legislation that functionally does an end around on humane slaughter only leaves those seeking to have it overturned, to do so by another legal end around. The result is that the best intentions often end in the worst outcomes.

For a more in depth look at this issue click here

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