As a rule, Americans don’t eat horse meat. We dropped the habit after World War II, but 14 percent of the world’s population still has a taste for it. That’s more than one billion people. Should Americans be allowed to serve that market?
It’s an increasingly thorny question. Until recently, a handful of U.S. slaughterhouses processed horse meat for consumers overseas. But in 2007 Congress cut off the USDA’s funding for inspectors. Since then, says a study published last month in the Journal of Animal Science, a flood of unwanted horses has been unleashed on the American west.
About 100,000 unwanted American horses turn up every year. And the Journal of Animal Science authors note that the capacity of all the U.S. equine recues and sanctuaries combined is just 13,400.
To animal rights activists who never met an animal they couldn’t lecture you over, there’s no excuse for slaughtering a horse. The wealthy Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) led the push to shutter the industry four years ago.
Last week a national “horse summit” convened in Las Vegas to discuss this issue. And there’s lots to talk about. Tens of thousands of horses are starving at any given time in the United States. And many U.S. horses are still slaughtered for food, but now (thanks to HSUS) they’re trucked great distances to Canada and Mexico.
In 2000, virtually no horses were exported from the U.S. to Mexico for slaughter. Last year 50,000 made the trip. American humane slaughter regulations carry no weight South of the Border, so activists trying to save horses from what they considered a cruel death may have guaranteed them something far worse.
And for every American horse that sees a Mexican kill floor, another like it is left to fend for itself, often dying slowly from starvation. In the current economy, some horse owners are left without options. They used to be able to sell their animals for slaughter, but no more. Some can’t afford the $500 it typically costs to hire a veterinarian to euthanize and dispose of a single horse. Instead, many just “shoot, shovel, and shut up.”
Talk about unintended consequences. Unintended, but not unforeseeable.
The American Veterinary Medical Association figured out years ago what would happen in the wake of a horse-slaughter ban. So did many state-level Veterinary Medical Associations. But the Humane Society of the United States out-lobbied them.
To HSUS, PETA, and other groups like them, horses are pets, not food. They’re also lucrative pawns, playing second fiddle only to dogs and cats in terms of fundraising effectiveness.
So if you’re HSUS, and you’ve caused incalculable suffering to tens of thousands of horses, what do you do about it?
You “rescue” one of your own casualties. And then cynically use the animal to raise even more money.
HSUS collected $1.2 million during its recent holiday donation drive. Part of that campaign focused on an “Animal Survivor” story of a horse named Second Chance. “This is Second Chance,” HSUS’s website intoned. “He survived.”
The animal rights group rolled cameras while its young West Virginia director told the three-handkerchief tale of how the emaciated animal was nursed back to health. “Second Chance wouldn’t have made it without you,” she adds.
Apparently, no one told Second Chance he was supposed to be an “Animal Survivor.” He died in the middle of the fundraising season, just as HSUS was telling potential donors that he went “from a walking skeleton to a beautiful horse on the road to recovery.”
This is par for the course. Immediately after Michael Vick’s 2007 dogfighting arrest, HSUS began raising money on the promise that it would care for Vick’s dogs. HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle later admitted to The New York Times that his organization didn’t have the dogs, didn’t know where they were, and recommended that they should all be “put down” anyway.
Most of these dogs are now rehabilitated. Michael Vick’s public image survived nicely, too, thanks to his HSUS endorsement (coincidentally preceded by a $50,000 check from the Philadelphia Eagles to HSUS). Last month Wayne Pacelle had an epiphany, saying Vick “would do a good job as a pet owner.”
What’s the takeaway here? Whenever an animal-rights charity tugs on both your heartstrings and your purse-strings, fast-forward the story they’re telling you and think about how it might end. In the case of HSUS, sometimes it leads to the sort of animal cruelty that the group would be protesting if anyone else were responsible.
America may never again have a horse slaughter industry, but I suspect HSUS doesn’t much care. It’s already cashed in. No sense beating a dead horse.
Rick Berman is President of the public affairs firm Berman and Company. He has worked extensively in the food and beverage industries for the past 30 years. To learn more, visit www.BermanCo.com.