WASHINGTON — Members of Congress who decided to end the prohibition on domestic horse slaughtering relied heavily on research provided in June by the General Accountability Office, Congress' auditing arm.
At the request of top members of the subcommittees that oversee spending for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the GAO looked into the effects of the ban — in place since 2006 — and released a report entitled “Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter.”
Though there are some shades of gray, the report clearly connects the ban to an increase in abandoned horses, a drop in prices for some horses and a dramatic increases in exports of horses for slaughter.
“Horse welfare in the United States has generally declined since 2007, as evidenced by a reported increase in horse abandonments and an increase in investigations for horse abuse and neglect,'' the report states.
“The extent of the decline is unknown due to a lack of comprehensive, national data, but state officials attributed the decline in horse welfare to many factors, but primarily to the cessation of domestic slaughter and the U.S. economic downturn.
“Abandoned, abused, and neglected horses present challenges for state and local governments, tribes and animal welfare organizations.”
According to the report, horse prices have also declined since the ban — and the recession — “mainly for the lower-priced horses that are more likely to be bought for slaughter.”
Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wisconsin, and Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, were among the members of a House-Senate subcommittee that stripped out an amendment to keep the ban in place for another year. Kingston and Lynn Becker, a spokeswoman for Kohl, cited statistics from the GAO report in explaining why they took action.
The report says the number of horses exported to Mexico and Canada from the U.S. for slaughter increased to 138,000 last year, up from 33,000 in 2006. And, according to the report, both sides of the issue agree that horses must now travel much further to be slaughtered, without adequate rest, food and water and potentially in vehicles designed for smaller animals.
Lobbyists for animal rights groups say the GAO report ignores the fact that horses were being neglected and abused before the ban and were also being transported long distances within the United States for slaughter. They also say that the increase in abandonments is directly attributable to the economy, since many types of animals are abandoned when people no longer can afford to care for them.
The GAO recommended that Congress either end the ban and resume inspections that could improve the welfare of horses or make the ban explicit and extend it to exports.
BY THE NUMBERS
Horses slaughtered in the U.S.
• 1990: 345,900
• 2000: 47,134
• 2004: 66,183
• 2006: 104,899 (last full year of domestic slaughtering operations)
• 2007: 29,767 (last operations close; congressional ban on USDA inspections in effect)
Estimates of U.S. exports of horses for slaughter:
• 2004: 23,782
• 2007: 78,061 (last three domestic slaughterhouses closed)
• 2008: 99,049
• 2009: 109,487
• 2010: 137,984