An expanding European horse meat scandal has left many Americans wondering whether the same could happen here. Americans are unlikely to find a horse burger. Before celebrating, it might do some good to learn why.
In 2007, a confluence of federal and state laws came together to end horse slaughter in the U.S. Many animal welfare advocates hailed the victory, but stopping U.S. slaughter had an opposite effect than the one intended.
Unable to find a home for aged or crippled horses, ranchers faced high prices for euthanasia and disposal. Many horses were abandoned and left to starve. Investigations into horse abuse, for example, increased 60 percent in Colorado following slaughter cessation. Our research suggests that slaughter cessation caused a 36 percent drop in horse prices at a major Oklahoma auction and resulted in losses of $4 million per year in the yearling quarter horse market.
It was quickly realized that unwanted horses could be shipped to plants in Canada or Mexico. Horse slaughter didn't end, it just moved. Animal welfare advocates are rightfully concerned about transportation-related stress and injuries. Yet slaughter cessation exasperated those problems.
The severity of the issue reached such a level that Congress recently reversed its decision to defund federal horse slaughter inspection. Last week, both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly passed bills to end the state's ban on horse slaughter. However, the practice hasn't resumed. With such political and legal uncertainties, it's hard to say when that day might come.
What does this have to do with the European scandal? Americans are unlikely to find horse meat on their plate because we no longer produce any. It's possible that mislabeled products could be imported, but about 90 percent of the beef eaten by Americans is homegrown. If mislabeled products were found here, the answer wouldn't be, as we've seen, to ban horse slaughter. However much we are culturally predisposed to abhor eating horse, the reality is that it's safe and perfectly tasty. Just ask the French.