For millenniums, the horse has changed mankind. The ways in which we travel, trade, play, work and fight wars have been profoundly shaped our unique relationship with horses. Unfortunately, their unparalleled stature and legacy cannot save them from the ultimate disrespect and cruelty of a slaughterhouse. Maine Friends of Animals estimates approximately 1,500 horses each year are shipped from or through Maine to two slaughterhouses in Québec for human consumption in parts of Europe and Asia.

Domestic horse slaughter plants have been illegal in America since 2007 because the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not have the resources to oversee inspections. Sadly, that ban was lifted a year ago, resulting in concern that these facilities may re-open. Proposed legislation, LD 1286, not only bans the transport of horses from and through Maine to slaughter plants, it also prevents the establishment of these facilities in Maine.

Previous U.S. horse slaughter facilities were foreign-owned with profits going overseas. They have a well-documented history of noncompliance of environmental regulations, including 481 EPA violations in one Texas plant between 2004 and 2005. Further negative municipality impacts include an increase in illegal workers, hundreds of USDA violations, offensive odors, property devaluation, increased crime (including horse theft), strains on local infrastructures and extensive legal fees. One Texas plant was closed in 2007, but six years later the community is still trying to recover from the damage done by the horse slaughter plant located there.

The meat of American horses may be too toxic to eat. Show and race horses are often given anti-anxiety and anti-inflammation medications, notably phenylbutazone, which poses potentially serious risks to human consumers. U.S. horse racing is an industry still mired in a culture of drugs and inadequate regulation. Since profit, not animal welfare, is the priority, horses are drugged to enhance performance or the racing of an injured horse is allowed. If

tainted meat were traced back to Maine, the financial cost and that of Maine’s reputation for quality products, such as blueberries, lobsters and potatoes, could be significant.

In its Sept ember 2010 audit of the slaughter horse transport program, the Office of Inspector General cited wide-spread, flagrant abuse of horses and lack of enforcement. A 2011 Forbes article revealed routine suffering in a state-of-the-art horse slaughter plant in Canada.

Every aspect of slaughter is inhumane, from treatment at the auction, during transport, at feedlots and holding pens at the plants, to the final cruel act. Horses are sensitive, sentient, intelligent animals for which long-distance transport and the slaughter process are hugely distressing. Many horses are still conscious when they are shackled and hoisted by a rear leg to have their throats cut.

Some argue that “humane slaughter” is preferable to a horse slowly dying of neglect and abuse, or lack of food and proper shelter. “Humane slaughter” is the ultimate oxymoron, and anyone leaving horses in neglect are subject to animal cruelty laws and should be reported to authorities. If all channels are exhausted in saving and rehoming a horse, then “humane euthanasia” should be the end result, certainly a better option than a death fraught with terror, pain and needless suffering.

The American Veterinary Medical Association defines the horse as a “companion animal,” along with dogs and cats. They have not been bred in this country for food consumption as farm animals have. Today, horses are utilized for service, recreation and competition in the U.S. and are defined as non-food producing animals by the Food and Drug Administration.

Alternatives to slaughter include: supporting new and existing horse rescue facilities; retraining and placing unwanted horses; reducing over breeding; approaching secondary horse industries to assist financially; increasing public education regarding horse ownership; developing and maintaining resources to assist horse owners with feed and veterinarian care; and, as a last resort, humane euthanasia, part of responsible horse ownership.

Opposition rhetoric is often, “If these animal-rights advocates pass anti-slaughter legislation for horses, then the next will be cows, chickens and pigs.” It is a diversionary and false argument to classify this legislation as a conspiracy against all farm animals. This is about one issue and one issue only: the slaughter of horses for human consumption, which 80 percent of the American public opposes. It should not be a part of our culture.

Horse slaughter is bad for the environment, bad for human health, bad for communities, bad for workers and certainly bad for the horses. No animal that has served mankind so long, so well, so nobly, and in so many capacities, deserves such a fate. It is time to end Maine’s complicity in the practice of slaughtering horses. Contact your state legislators and ask them to support LD 1286.

Robert Fisk Jr. is president and director of Maine Friends of Animals, an animal protection organization with 1,500 members statewide.

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Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on domestic and...