This article on the debate about slaughtering American horses for food is unexpectedly fascinating. Most Americans find the idea of eating horse meat repellant, primarily, I suspect, because of the horse’s high place in American imagery. But in restaurants in Canada, France, Italy, Belgium, and Japan, the meat is treated and priced as a delicacy. Some of that meat comes from three plants in the US, who export the meat or sell it to American zoos to use in feeding big cats.
Last fall, Congress included an amendment in an agricultural bill that would have shut the trade down. Though not banning horse slaughter, it forbade the use of taxpayer funds for the inspection of horse slaughtering facilities. This put the plants in the difficult position of being technically allowed to sell their meat, but unable to get regulatory approval of their product. It was basically Congress’s way of outlawing horse slaughter without having to take a vote on the subject explicitly.
In March, the Department of Agriculture amended its internal policies to get around the new law, allowing slaughterhouses to pay the $350,000/year inspection cost themselves. Congressmen are predictably upset, and Republicans in the House and Senate have introduced bills that would outlaw transporting and slaughtering horses for human consumption.
Arguments against horse slaughter tend to evoke noble animals involved in the Kentucky Derby, Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and the Pony Express. They also like to throw in that the three US plants are “foreign owned.” Opponents of the ban, including some veterinary groups, stress the potential unintended consequences. Unable to afford expensive euthanasia and rendering, they argue, horse owners deprived of the right to sell their animals to slaughterhouses will instead let them live on neglected and in inhumane conditions.
Personally, as long as horse slaughterhouses are held to the same standards as all others, I see no reason to ban them. But it will be interesting to see how this plays out in Congress. If the bill stays quiet, I wouldn’t be surprised if agricultural interests can keep the trade alive. If it garners public attention, I expect few congressmen will be anxious to come out in favor of eating Mr. Ed.
For more, see the Wikipedia entry on horse meat.