While politicians have been unable to reach consensus on the war, civil liberties, and the environment, members were eager to act on a national crisis a few years ago: French people eating American horses. Members passed legislation to ban the slaughter of American horses destined for French tables. However, it now appears that the legislation has merely led to horses being forced into a grueling transports to the Canadian and Mexican borders for slaughter.
Both that state and the federal legislatures have been working on the issue of horse meat for years with laws passed to ban such practices for food. For full disclosure, I have been a critic of the federal effort as violative of federalism principles. For a prior column, click here I personally find the human consumption of horses to be repugnant. However, I do not view this as properly a federal question. Moreover, the legislation inevitably produced an array of unintended consequences when legislators tried to curtail the international market for such meat. While there were exports for human consumption, this meat was being used in the United States for zoo animals. However, the legislative action has led to the closing of the large horse slaughtering plants. This has shifted zoos to beef and other products.
The New York Times reports that the state and federal action has led to the closing of horse slaughter houses in the United States — shifting the business to Mexico where the horses face unregulated and worse conditions.
At the weekly horse auction here, No. 274, a handsome chestnut-colored draft horse, looked at the surrounding men while being led into a small ring. Two of the men looked back, calculating how much meat the animal’s carcass would yield, and started bidding accordingly.
There is no pretense about what happens to the horses sold in this area of the auction, known as the kill pen. Just a few months ago, many of them would have met their end at a slaughterhouse in neighboring Illinois. Now almost all will be shipped to Canada and killed there.
Amid pressure from animal rights groups, horse slaughter virtually ended in the United States last year, as courts upheld state laws banning it in Texas and Illinois, home to the nation’s last three horse slaughterhouses.
But there have been unintended consequences, including more grueling travel for tens of thousands of horses now being sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico, where, animal advocates say, they sometimes face more gruesome deaths.
Sale and consumption of horse meat is illegal in states like California and Illinois. There were three large slaughter houses or abattoirs in the U.S. which largely supplied the meat to zoos as well as exports for human consumption to Europe, Mexico, or Japan. By 2007, all three abattoirs were closed.
Under the current rules, you can put down a horse and burn it, or you can sell the horse across the border — where it is eventually put down for its meat. The ability to prohibit such transfers was always dubious on a practical level. It merely requires a plausible horse buyer, who can decide later to sell the horse for meat.
For the full story on the recent movement of horses, click here