By Lily Wan
Above: Photo taken at Greener Pastures, a farm sanctuary on the southwestern edge of Gainesville, Fla.
Distancing ourselves from the faces behind the meat we (well, not me and maybe not you either, but most Americans) eat, we like to call it like it’s not. When we’re hungry, cows are beef and pigs are pork or bacon or ham. Chickens aren’t that cute, so we’ll just call them chickens.
Euphemisms aside, horse meat may soon be coming to a butcher near you. In November, President Obama signed a federal spending bill passed by Congress that included a clause lifting the ban on horse slaughterhouses.
In 2006, Congress cut all funding for horse meat inspections, therein banning horses for human consumption. In 2007, the last three remaining horse slaughterhouses in the United States were shut down.
With the ban lifted, as many as 200,000 horses per year could be slaughtered. And although this bill allows horse slaughterhouses to once again open their doors under USDA inspection, the bill doesn’t provide any money for the USDA to conduct these inspections.
Opponents are claiming that the inspection fees would then come from taxpayers — $3 million to $5 million per year, they’re estimating. Otherwise, the USDA would have to find a way to muster up the money in its already shrinking budget.
Back when these slaughterhouses used to be legal in the United States, the majority of the horse meat was exported to Europe. Since the ban has been lifted, horse meat sales will most likely continue to be export-heavy, but obviously some will also be consumed on the home front.
While the slaughterhouses were banned in the U.S. for the past five years, they were and are still legal in Mexico and Canada. Horse dealers in the U.S. often sell to slaughterhouses in neighboring countries.
Dealers buy horses from auctions or even just from Craigslist, where people who can no longer afford to take care of their horses and offer them either for free or very cheap to “good homes.”
“Someone can give their horse to another thinking it is going to a good home when, in reality, it may become someone’s dinner,” Theresa Batchelor said. Batchelor is the owner of Beauty’s Haven Farm and Equine Rescue in Ocala.
Ocala’s not just “that big city south of here” or another typical retiree-clad Floridan city. It’s actually known as the Horse Capital of the World.
In addition to horse farms, ranches and training centers, Ocala is also home to horse sanctuaries. Debilitated, old or unwanted horses are taken in and cared for in spacious and lush sanctuaries. Beauty’s Haven is just one of Ocala’s many shelters. Unfortunately, not every jaded horse makes it to rescue ranches.
The horses sent for slaughter are ones that can no longer be taken care of by owners who can’t find other homes for their horses or cannot afford to pay for their euthanization. But, as Batchelor pointed out, “there’s a common misconception that a lot of horses that go to the slaughterhouses are old, feeble horses, but in reality, a lot of perfectly healthy horses are sent there, too.”
Horses that breeders or owners feel don’t have good enough conformation, aren’t fast enough, etc., also often end up at slaughterhouses.
“It’s about money. Horse meat is bought by the pound,” Batchelor said.
The crippled economy is the cause behind both the neglected and unwanted horses and the slaughterhouse ban lifting. After all, the slaughterhouses were re-legalized as part of an agricultural spending bill in efforts to keep the government financially afloat.
Batchelor cited over-breeding as one major problem.
“Greedy people are using the slaughterhouse avenue to make money off horses that some people can no longer afford to feed any longer. People are losing their homes – the economy does not discriminate against the animals – including horses.”
“Horses are companion animals,” Batchelor said. “ They’ve been there since day one, carrying humans and goods across the United States. They fought alongside us in wars. Besides, horses are also used for therapy — horses are good for the mind, body, and soul.”