Closing of U.S. slaughterhouses limits options for getting rid of marginal horses

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Some blame the horse glut partly on the closing of the last American horse slaughterhouse last year. Anyone wanting to sell a horse for slaughter now must ship it to Canada or Mexico.

Some horses shipped to those slaughterhouses end up as food for the big cats in zoos. The Humane Society of America favors proposed legislation that would make it illegal to export horses for slaughter at all.

In the past, some owners sent marginal horses to a kill market, Jackson equine veterinarian Dr. Linus Huck said. Now some of those horses are being neglected. He thinks shutting down the horse slaughterhouses has almost backfired because those plants were federally regulated. "I hate to see any horse go that way, but it was better than starving to death and better than being shipped unregulated on a double-deck trailer to Mexico," he said.

Anyone who sells a horse at auction runs the risk of putting it in the hands of a kill buyer, someone there to buy horses to resell to a Mexican or Canadian slaughterhouse. In the past these were marginal animals that were sick, broken down and old. Now people who can't afford to maintain their horses are selling them at auction for low prices. Or they're finding other ways to get rid of them. Huck said one horse owner registered his horses at an auction in Tennessee and then just disappeared.

A spokeswoman for Last Chance for Animals calls kill buyers "parasites of opportunity. I know some of the animals are going for low prices, less than you'd pay for a pair of boots," she said.

They prey on owners who have taken their horses to auction and, when nobody is bidding, become impatient to sell because they don't want to take the horse home with them.

One Web site lists the names of known kill buyers, including one in Missouri.

The Mexican slaughterhouses currently are getting bad publicity, with stories about workers walking around in pens and slitting the animals' throats. The LCA's position is that the Mexican slaughterhouses have always been horrific. The proposed law will enable the U.S. to have some control over the Mexican operations, she said. "They will try to get around it. But we have to still try to shut it down. We don't have to make it easy."

— SAM BLACKWELL

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